Now this isn’t a surprise and I have written about it before, but today we stop to talk about MSU’s soon-to-be named AD and what he brings to the table and the effect that it will have on the Spartan Athletic Department.


The Spartan Nation needs to know that although the University on June 15th released a list of what they were looking for as a successor to Ron Mason, all who read it and are aware of the goings on, saw it for what it was:  a resume of Mark Hollis.  Now I am not complaining, but that is what it was.


One of the people who is part of the decision process in Hollis getting the job told me that day, “It was pretty obvious, don’t you agree?”  I did, but if he is your guy, then why not.  Hollis isn’t getting the job, however, because he has been loyal, he is getting it because an overwhelming (or what they call in D.C. a supermajority) is solidly behind his candidacy and when the vote finally comes, it will get the nod from all eight of the trustees.


How did it all transpire? Well, last year when Ron Mason got the unique one year extension of his contract, it was with Hollis already having the majority of votes on the Board of Trustees, but there were some in leadership that wanted MSU to take the time to evaluate him closely, and he has essentially been running the department since then.


Hollis was the point man on the coaching search to replace JLS, and as I have already reported, two of the men that were interviewed for the job both told me at the time that it was very clear he was the man in charge.  He also was the point man for the Suzy Merchant hire.  MSU made a push for the coach at Vanderbilt (search the archives for article about MSU getting it right with second choices) and when she was not willing to accommodate MSU (even after getting an incredible $750,000 per year offer) he made the move to Merchant and LAKS was on board for the entirety of the process.


Hollis was considered for the AD job when Mason got it, but this time he won’t be overlooked.  Much to his credit, Hollis didn’t pout when he was passed over, instead he did all that he could do to help Mason and was always the consummate Spartan. 


That said, Hollis knew he was ready and was one of the final four for the South Florida, Athletic Director’s job but was eliminated in early May of 2004.  One of the people involved in the process at South Florida spoke to me about Hollis.  I went there to speak with them and they told me this about Mark, “I think he was probably the best candidate for the job as far as long term potential.  We chose a different course, but to be frank, wasn’t really a reflection of Mark.  We were kind of in a position politically that we needed to do what we did.  The funny thing was that almost everyone involved mentioned that MSU should hire that guy.  When we talked about him, it was like a guy that had been married for 80 years and just lost his wife.  He was so much in love with MSU and talked about the school in such glowing terms.  He is so incredibly talented, that we all agreed that it wasn’t a question of if, but when MSU would wise up and hire him.  I think he would have done a truly magnificent job here, but he would have been here a couple of years and if MSU was smart, he would have been back to East Lansing.  I specifically remember when we were eliminating from our final four to our final two choices, one person told me that he had to wonder if Hollis should make it that far, we weren’t even sold that he would leave East Lansing.  Not knowing if he would even leave MSU was one of the biggest reasons in my opinion that he didn’t get farther than the final four here.  If MSU hires him, that guy will be a lifer and won’t leave until his dead hands are pried from his desk.  His love is MSU.”


Needless to say, that was an incredible interview and it told me a lot about Mark.  That love for MSU, however, is what will set him apart and make him even more prepared for that job.  That is not a shot at Mason, who is a tried and true Spartan, and considering the cards he was dealt when he took the job politically, he has done a very good job.  Now before you kill me with email, please wait until Monday the 16th of July when I will explain in more detail what I am talking about and how, although, the JLS process was a terrible move, it wasn’t all Mason’s fault and I will explain then.


Hollis will be lauded and talked about for his hand in the Cold War at Spartan Stadium as well as his handling of the Basketbowl at Ford Field, but as awesome as those events were, there are other accomplishments Hollis has made. I will talk about the other issues.


I recently traveled out of state and spoke with a current Big 12 athletic director who had dealings with Hollis while he spent eight years rising through the ranks to the position of assistant commissioner.  He told me, “Mark was a natural.  Had he stayed with the WAC I don’t think anyone would have been surprised, in fact I would say they would have been surprised if he hadn’t been the commissioner of the WAC.  Even back then you could see that Mark had an incredible mind.  I think that is what people maybe don’t get about him.  Those events he did at MSU (Basketbowl/Cold War) didn’t shock anyone who knows him.  Mark’s mind is ten steps ahead of anyone, and that I think shocks people.  I remember once someone said that they didn’t know if Mark was a genius, or just smart enough to know he wasn’t, so he out thunk (yes people he said out thunk) everyone.  Either way that tells you something about Hollis.  When he goes into a meeting he WILL BE (emphasis by the speaker) the most prepared.  I think that people who get into debates or disagreements with him really don’t have a clue.  He is so well versed and has so thought out every decision that he makes, or idea that he endorses that it is very difficult for them to whip him.” 


Here I was with a very successful AD and he couldn’t stop praising Hollis.  That however was not all he said, and we both had a good laugh about Mark.  “I remember one time that there was a lady that was pretty mad that she had essentially lost a discussion with the commissioner that Mark had persuaded him on.  She was just fighting mad for about a week.  I mean if Mark walked in a room, she left.  Now he didn’t do anything wrong, but he did have all his ducks in a row and he just crushed her arguments with fact and while she got emotional he just held steady with his poker face and was ever the gentleman.  Anyways, after about a week she told some folks that she would never play poker with Hollis, and that she would say prayers for the woman he calls honey, cause she wasn’t never gonna win no argument with that SOB.”


Now make no mistake, Hollis has some hurdles to cross, but that is what leadership demands.  I am going to cover those next week each night on the news, and here on SpartanNation.com, but there is one thing that people need to know about Hollis.  He isn’t a puppet. 


He is close to Izzo, but won’t be afraid to disagree with him.  The good thing, however, is that he won’t be someone that comes in from the outside that feels he needs to “let Izzo” know who is the boss.  Let’s be frank, the AD at MSU, whomever it is, needs to stay out of Izzo’s office and let him run his program, or any program for that matter that is winning at the Izzo level with a commitment to education and doing it the right way that Izzo has.  Hollis won’t be afraid if he needs to walk into Tom’s office and close the door and more importantly, he would be one of few people in my opinion that could do it, and get Izzo’s attention.  One member of the athletic department that is not in favor of Hollis getting the job told two people that, “He is Izzo’s puppet.  All Hollis would be is a defacto athletic director for Izzo.”  Oh how mistaken that person is, and so is anyone that thinks it.


It is my opinion, and based on your emails, comments, and calls you agree, that MSU athletics is way too political.  Hollis is a bridge builder and will do his best to rather than let the politics that has divided MSU for so long continue to do such, he will try to reach out and make those differences unite the Spartan Nation.  Hollis isn’t a kept man, and he won’t be afraid to remind people that he is the AD, however, if some think that he “owes” them anything. 


I think that his “spunk” is very similar to LAKS and she has proven to the Trustees that she is indeed the President, and I think that Hollis is cut from the same mold.  Ironically, I think that Hollis has a lot of qualities that have marked President Simon as the hardest working President since Hannah and I think that Hollis will be known as one of the hardest working AD’s in MSU history.


He does have his detractors and there are some concerns, but let’s be honest and recognize that no one will step into the job complete.  The vast majority of the major donors that I have spoken to like Mark and are very supportive of him filling the AD’s office and although you certainly don’t let those people make the decision you have to accept the reality that whoever gets the job will work closely with them.  One major donor to MSU openly discussed, “Mark being able to organize a great show, but can he sit in the room and get the commercial support that he will have to gather?  Especially when he isn’t selling them on smart business deals, but when he is asking them to stroke a check for a donation?”  That is a fair question but I told the donor that Mark’s best move in my opinion was not the Basketbowl and Cold War but getting MSU on WJR.


When MSU made the move to WJR I don’t think the average person who isn’t married to MSU athletics and lives and breaths it 24/7 gets its huge significance.  WJR has one of the largest reaches in the nation; people from Texas on warm summer nights have been able to even hear it.  With Izzo and Dantonio getting to have their coaches’ shows and games on one of the finest stations in the country with such a vital reach, they essentially get extra recruiting visits in the home of every young man in the Midwest and around the nation that can pick up the station.  Dollars alone make the move an incredible example of Hollis’s brilliant business foresight and even more important his business acumen, along with taking your biggest rival off of its flagship station.


Others have been critical of his relationship with Izzo, and feel that he will “ignore” the non-revenue sports and that his friendship with Izzo precludes him from being fair to the other sports.  I hate to even address it here because those making the argument are trying more to protect themselves rather than look out for MSU.  An action that has been tolerated for too long at MSU, in my opinion, those with it, have to be weeded out and dispensed with.   I do, however, need to address the argument howbeit all silly that it is. 


Anyone who thinks that his friendship with one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time and one of the top three coaches in any sports in MSU history is ridiculous.  Izzo is a good man, and good people make friends with good people.  Who would you want the next MSU AD to be friends with?  Steve Fisher?  As far as him ignoring the non-revenue sports, that is and has been spoken by people who know that Hollis will bring a sense of accountability to the office.  It is like roaches running when someone turns on a light.  There are some people at MSU that may publicly now that it is known support Mark, but they are not excited because Hollis will hold each and every employee and coach accountable to win and bring success to whatever field they work for him in.


Hollis hasn’t rocketed through the ranks because he is a fool; he isn’t.  Hollis holds his performance to a high standard, and he will expect nothing less from anyone that works in his athletic department.  There are some people that I don’t think will cut it, and I can tell you that I whole heartedly believe that they have questions personally about themselves and if they can cut it.


There are strong reasons to believe that Izzo’s director of basketball operations, Rich Bader will eventually join Hollis’s staff in some capacity either overseeing or working with non-revenue sports.  That is something that Bader (who in the fall will begin his eighth season as Izzo’s top administrator) knows well.  He was the former men and women’s swimming and diving coach at MSU prior to his current job, and he has 17 years of coaching experience with non-revenues at the collegiate level.  Bader himself was a highly successful coach and a star athlete, both although certainly not essential, but very helpful in helping Hollis navigate his new job.


Another figure that is expected to figure prominently in the new Hollis administration is MSU men’s basketball SID (Sports Information Director) Matt Larson.  You may not know Larson but the information that you get from the Izzo program is directly tied to his working with the media.  Larson is lauded around the nation as being the overseer of the most open and respected media friendly programs anywhere.  All of that time you see Tom on TV nationally or on even rival schools radio and TV, Larson is front and center organizing that for Izzo.  Now, obviously, he can’t do it without Izzo, but he is also a key cog in how that wheel moves. 


Larson is so respected that last year someone at a Big Ten University contacted me to assess what I liked and thought of him.  This school is a very successful and respected University and they wanted Larson to come run all of their departments as their SID.  I later learned from the school employee that contacted me that, “Larson was offered the job but wanted to stay at MSU where his heart is at.”  Larson’s commitment to MSU and loyalty is proof that one doesn’t have to hold a degree from MSU to be a true Spartan but he does possess a quality that some with degrees fail to possess:  loyalty. 


It is expected, according to multiple sources, that Larson will be a key part of the Hollis regime.  One source associated with the Big Ten, but not an employee of MSU, told me last night, “Larson is going to have some significant dealings for MSU with the Big Ten network.  That makes sense; he is really smart and has the ability to work well with people.  I think that is such a great statement about Mark, in that he surrounds himself with people that are strong where he may not be and he just finds good people.”  Larson is multi-talented and has a very bright future at MSU. 


The Big Twelve AD that I cited earlier told me that, “The only job I think Hollis would leave MSU for would be the commissioner of the Big Ten.  Now that wouldn’t surprise me.  He could see that as a way to still help MSU.” If that happened, young talent like Larson could have a future with no ceiling, as his talents and ability will only grow under close tutelage with Hollis. 


Many people under estimate Larson, who is not afraid to tell anyone no, and more importantly has a tireless work ethic to see that anything that could possibly benefit MSU happens.  I have seen him work a room full of nationally celebrated media like the finest Washington D.C. politicians, and I have seen him role up his sleeves and move TV wire.  It is that commitment that Hollis has, and he certainly has, to recognize in Larson.

There is so much more to say, and I will address that at a later date, but Hollis is the man for the job.  Will he step in as a seasoned product?  No, he won’t, but I would bet that if you asked him, he would tell you that.


What Hollis does offer, is a chance for MSU to get this department to a new level.  Again, that is not a slam on Mason; that is simply a fact of what this new leader brings to the table.  When Mason took over, the University was in a dark period and the darkness was from a cloud of politics that was over the school.  I am not saying that today it is free of that, but I am saying that today it is managed better thanks to LAKS.


MSU has some issues no doubt, but giving Hollis the reigns is the right decision for MSU and one that will hopefully prove to be brilliant.  Hollis has the heart and the brain, but now he has to pull it off.  I am betting that he will.


On a side note:  I consider Mark and Larson my friends, but I want to give the Spartan Nation 100% assurance that they didn’t in ANY way contribute to this article.  Mark has not campaigned for this job nor politicked for it.  Anyone who attempts to present this article, in any way, as Mark’s doing is a total LIAR!  I know that seems strong, but sadly sometimes at MSU people are convinced that anything good that is said or written is a political move, and their childish inferiority complex about MSU keeps them from seeing it for what it is:  a great University.