Friday, October 30, 2009

Bob Mulcahy Addresses The Rutgers TOUCHDOWN CLUB

I wanted to talk about this earlier but one World Series game (and a dose of real life) managed to jump in and keep me away from the keyboard for most of today. Last night at the Rutgers Touchdown Club meeting held at The RAC in Piscataway, NJ, former Rutgers Athletic director Bob Mulcahy spoke to the group, about 10 months after he was fired by Rutgers President Richard McCormick.

Bob Mulcahy received much criticism for lack of transparency in his administration, and became, in my opinion (and that of many others in the community), a sacrificial lamb fired to appease certain people of influence who were stirred up by a couple of overzealous writers from New Jersey's largest daily newspaper. Rather than rehash the whole story for the uninitiated, click here to see the dozen blog posts I wrote about the situation involving Bob, the paper, and President McCormick through last fall and into the winter of 2008-09.

Last night Bob Mulcahy told his story to the 500 or so assembled at The RAC. According to Bob he was called into McCormick's office last December, shortly before Christmas. McCormick told Mulcahy that he wanted to make a change at the top of the Department of Athletics; he wanted Mulcahy to resign. Bob refused to resign, and told McCormick that he would have to fire him.

A short time later Mulcahy called McCormick and offered this solution; he would retire at the end of the year. That would have been the logical way to handle a transition from one AD to his successor. But McCormick refused.

Bob Mulcahy talked about some of his favorite moments as athletic director of Rutgers. Clearly THE magical moment was the football win against #3 Louisville on national TV, a game ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit called college football's game of the year in 2006. Bob mentioned Rutgers first bowl game in 28 years, the 2005 INSIGHT BOWL in Phoenix as another highlight, and the warm reception given to the RU fans who had waited so long for that day. Bob told the story about being on the sidelines at last year's PAPA JOHN'S.COM BOWL when Rutgers safety Courtney Greene intercepted a crucial fourth quarter pass from the North Carolina State quarterback. Devin McCourty told Greene to "Give the ball to Mr. Mulcahy". Bob was already on his way out as AD- this would be his last trip with the team in that capacity. Greene gave the ball the Mulcahy. Later the team autographed the ball for him.

But....this ball belonged to North Carolina State! It had their logo on it. Mulcahy sent a check for $100 to NC State Head Coach Tom O'Brien. Coach O'Brien sent the check back, with a note saying "I can't take your money. You've given too much to the game."

Mulcahy told the story about the time his daughter Deidre was asked out on a date by Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart. Deidre asked for permission to date a guy from the football team. And its been said Ryan asked head coach Greg Schiano for permission to date the AD's daughter! worked. Today Deidre and Ryan are man and wife.

Bob talked about the APR rating of the Rutgers football team, the Academic Progress Report from the NCAA that measures the classroom performance of student athletes. For the past several years Rutgers has finished in the top five with the likes of Navy, Duke, Stanford, and Air Force- they are currently the top rated public university APR wise for football, doing it while going to four straight bowl games and winning three.

In his tenure there were championships in track and in baseball- and the women's basketball team went to two Final fours, and advanced to the National Championship game once.

His hardest decision was to cut six sports that the university could no longer afford to keep funding. The worst part, he said, was telling the student athletes that their teams were to be no more.

Another highlight was the improvements in facilities, particularly the new end zone seating at Rutgers Stadium, increasing the capacity from 42,000 to 53,000- this was a pipe dream back in the days of 19,000 people per game (and he admitted to boosting the number a bit).

There was the revelation by Rutgers assistant coach Joe Susan that Bob would attend Mass before every game, with Joe always sitting in front of him, out of superstition. And there was a member of the audience who stood up and chided the current politicians who never lifted a finger to help Mulcahy during the crisis and the firestorm; the man told the crowd former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne once called Bob Mulcahy the most decent man in politics he had ever seen.

How well regarded was Bob Mulcahy? He was an aide to Democrat Byrne, and was retained by Byrne's successor, Republican Tom Kean, as his chief of staff.

Bob admitted that the end hurt him...but it was especially tough on his wife, Terri, and on his children.

He deserved better. Few have given more to the university. Even fewer have been shown the way out more shabbily.

Bob was given a small trophy with a Waterford crystal football at the end of the presentation, with a life time membership in the Rutgers Touchdown Club. It was more than fitting.

This was a night when Bob Mulcahy spoke to us, and thanked us for all of the years of support. That wasn't necessary. It was we, the fans, who owe Bob Mulcahy thanks. It was his vision that brought an untested young head coach to The Banks in 2001.

Together they changed a culture....and helped to change a state.

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