President Engler: Bill, thank you very much, and this is a not an invisible morning at all, this is a morning to celebrate your career to date and to wish you well in this new role, with all of the support that you have here across the University. We’ll take a few questions, maybe five or six, maybe, and then we’ll do some maybe one-on-one if there’s appetite for that, but if there’s a question or two now, we’ll be happy to do that.
Q: You mentioned initially how you would have a nationally search and then you kind of zeroed in on Bill as it went, but was there a search beyond this or were other people interviewed, or did you identify him pretty early?
President Engler: That was the intention, and as we started to make preparations for the search, and starting to talk about the qualities that we wanted to have in an athletic director, it was pressed on me as I talked to members of our coaching staff and members outside the University community, about the kind of qualities there needs to be, with a high commitment to compliance, with Bill’s legal training… I went to my first Big Ten meeting with Bill in Rosemont, Illinois, and was struck by the fact that the entire agenda was all about legal matters. It was really an interesting meeting, but in talking with other ADs from other schools, about what qualities they had to draw upon, and what qualities need to have available to an athletic director, I kept hearing about things that I thought Bill already possessed. Then as I talked to some of the people that know best: our coaching staff here, it kept being reinforced the job that Bill was doing. If you go back to Bill’s predecessor, Mark Hollis, Mark came up through the institution here and was a longtime part of the athletics department, and went on to have great success. I’m very confident in Bill and his qualities, as I said, his integrity and leadership, that’s been mentioned this morning. He has all of the skills necessary, and I think we could have looked across the country, but we would have been hard-pressed to find somebody would know Michigan State the way Bill does with the qualities that he has. So we ended up not needing to do the national search.
Q: Obviously, there’s a lot of great candidates around the country, but when your two foundation coaches in Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio so strongly supported him, how resounding of a statement was that to you?
President Engler: That’s pretty powerful, and these are two men that have conducted their programs and their entire lives, frankly, with integrity and they’re run the kind of programs that everyone else would like to have around the country. They’ve had success on the field, they’ve had success off the field, and when you’ve got ringing endorsements from those two… plus I think it’s important that Suzy (Merchant) is here today, but I saw Cathy George (head MSU volleyball coach), I saw Danton Cole (head MSU hockey coach), I’m not sure who else is all here, I didn’t catch all the other members of the coaching staff when I came down, but I talked to our men’s golf coach (Casey Lubahn), he’s out in California, but very supportive, our baseball coach Jake (Boss Jr.) is the same way, Jake is very supportive… and those are the kinds of endorsements, and these aren’t people that are front and center every day, you don’t give them as many inches in your publications or as much time on the air, but boy, it’s the kind of endorsement that I wish I could have.
Q: Bill was perceived as a long-shot in our world, but shows you what we know, but when you brought him on in the interim, was it the long-range plan that he would grow into this or did he win you over?
President Engler: No, there was no… at that point, we had a vacancy and we needed to bring leadership into the department, and Bill was, and is, highly regarded by the trustees and the trustees that have worked with Bill, you heard that from Brian (Breslin) on behalf of the board, and he mentioned the unanimous support that he enjoys, I mean I don’t enjoy unanimous support, so kudos to Bill (laughter), but seriously, I think the people on the board, who have known Bill, they know his qualities and they know the kind of integrity that he has. He was a little bit of an outsider coming into the department, that was deliberate, and I thought that was an important statement at the time, but there was no plan and truly the thought was a national search, but I mean, he did… and Tom Izzo kind of touched on this, these meetings and Bill has had a lot of meetings and a lot of conversations with a lot coaches, and the feedback consistently has been good. He’s done more than listen, he’s actually made changes here, and there’s been some adjustments already, and I think there will be more to come, he’s leading, he’s listening but he’s also leading.
Q: I’m just wondering about the timing of making this move. Obviously, you’re serving in interim position. Was there any thought waiting until a permanent president to do this? What led you to decide that then?
President Engler: No. No.
Q: You mention about Bill not having the athletic experience, he mentioned it in his bio. Not having the athletic department experience in navigating some of those things with athletic department issues, can yotu alk a little bit about the team around him to help him navigate that? Is that a help or hindrance?
President Engler: I should probably let Bill do that. He mentioned Jen (Smith) and Alan (Haller) and Jim (Pignataro). Those are three who have been here and played very strong roles. I will point out, Bill is now the third attorney to be an AD inside the Big Ten Conference. And if you count a Big Ten wanna-be, Notre Dame, he’d be the fourth. So that’s a pretty good recommendation. If you look around the country, there are also a number of what I’d call non-traditional selections. The biggest challenge we’ve got right now, is to make sure that Comcast listens to the needs of the Big Ten in the new contract negotiations. They’ve already denied Spartans in Texas and Florida, for example, access to the Big Ten Network. That doesn’t make us very happy. There’s those kinds of negotiations. We’ve got litigation out in California relative to what is the impact of compensation of student-athletes. That’s a tough, hard question. That’s a legal issue that’s being fought through and there’s constitutional claims being asserted. So there’s some of that kind of stuff that I think it’s helpful. Bill’s MBA, he’s a good manager. He’s got a $133 million budget and we’ve got what are described as, I guess, by you all, I don’t know if it’s an official categorization, what they’re calling non-revenue – in other words, they’re not making lots of money, but they’re awfully important sports here – but how can we support those programs and, as Bill says, put more plaques up here on the wall. So he’s got a lot of work. I’ll let Bill speak about his team because I know he’s very proud of them.
Beekman: I think we have a very strong team in the athletic department both in terms of our folks who work in this building, as well as our coaches, assistant coaches, our athletic training staff, our strength and conditioning staff. I think from top to bottom we’ve got, if not the best, one of the very best groups in the Big Ten. This is going to seem a little bizarre to say with a $133 million budget, but we’ve got a group of people who work really hard to do more with less relative to the other schools in the conference that might have budges of $30, $40 or $50 million more than ours. I’m very pleased with the team we’ve got and I think as we align ourselves, we’ll make great progress.
Q: There’s a portion of the Michigan State student body, faculty and community that have expressed they want fresh ideas and new leadership to come in when you make administrative changes. What would you say to that group to assuage their fears that Bill’s vast experience here…?
President Engler: I’d say check the box. We’ve got that in Bill Beekman. He’s fresh; he’s new. He’s not been here in the department before. He comes in with a great background to make the kind of changes that are necessary but know what went into the past. You build from strength. One of the things you do at a university is you take, say the nationally-ranked physics department, you build on that strength. You take our nationally-ranked education school, you build on that. You take a nationally regarded program like we’ve got in athletics and you build on it. You go to places that are weak and you build those up. But where you’ve got strength, you build on that. Other program around the country, I think, are envious of the integrity and performance of Michigan State Athletics. That’s true even inside the conference.
Q: You have maintained a remarkably low profile during the interim. None of us have heard from you, we’ve barely seen you. Was that by design or were you busy managing? Will that change? What was behind that?
Beekman: When you have a face made for radio …. from my perspective, as I said in my prepared remarks, I feel very strongly that it’s about our student-athletes, it’s not about me. I’m not opposed to talking to you all, and I’m sure I will many times going forward, but we’ve been working. We’re sort of like a duck; you may have noticed a whole lot above water, but below water, we’re doing a lot of churning. We’re working really hard. We’ve taken a hard look at the budget, we’ve reorganized sports administration, we’ve worked really hard to shore up our health, safety and wellness issues, so in the last five months we’ve been doing a lot of work.
I’m not opposed to talking to you all, I’m happy to do so. From my perspective, very practically, the media will probably tend to report on two things – wins and losses and bad behavior. What I’d like to encourage you to focus on is the extraordinary accomplishments of so many of our student-athletes.
I’ll just say one other thing. When I came into this role, I will never forget sitting over at Cole’s house on a Sunday afternoon, with President Engler and some of his team. It was our first meeting and I had a list of about 15 things that I thought we needed to tackle with him coming on board. I started with the interim athletic director role. I made a variety of suggestions and he said, I’d like you to do that. It was about the furthest thing from my mind. But as I’ve had an opportunity to meet with the coaches, to meet with many of the student-athletes, it’s just been an extraordinary experience just learning how wonderful these young men and women are and how much of their lives our coaches to give to make sure they’re successful. And successful not only on the field, but really more importantly, academically and in life.
So I will look forward to conversations, and I will look forward to pestering you all about the extraordinary young men and women we have at Michigan State.
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