When there's any sort of opening, be it coaching or playing, nothing is as exciting as a superstar. And in the world of sports administration, you won't come closer to "superstar" than Joe Castiglione.
No, he's not the Boston Red Sox play-by-play guy who shares his name; he's the AD at Oklahoma, and is probably one of the best in the country if not the best. He also has a "huge," seven-year contract at Oklahoma that would be a difficult buy-out for Michigan, let alone Maryland.
So where does Maryland get off thinking they're a viable option for this behemoth of athletic directing? Simple, even if its still a long shot: Castiglione, like Jeff Hathaway, went to Maryland, and even played on the football team. Sometimes there are pluses to being a great school for sports management.
Background: We'll start off with the very little bit of positive news we have about Castiglione possibly being interested: he graduated from Maryland in '79 and, like Kevin Plank after him, was a walk-on on the football. (On a side note, I'm fully expecting Ryan Schlothauer to become a business tycoon and continue the tradition of walk-on success). In 2007, UMD honored him with the Distinguished Alumnus Award, obviously hoping to curry favor for the job opening in three years (or not, whatever). Oh, and by the way, he happens to be a cousin to Maryland's current interim AD, Randy Eaton (and a first cousin too). Returning to his alma mater and working with his family sounds pretty good, at least to me.
He found his first job at Rice before moving to Georgetown for a year. Then he moved on to Missouri, where he would eventually become AD in 1993 for a five-year span. He parlayed his success there into a bigger job, now one of the biggest in sports, with Oklahoma in 1998. At the time, Oklahoma wasn't quite as attractive as they are now.
For one, the Sooners' football program was still reeling from the controversy of the Barry Switzer era, and their reputation was still tarnished. Gary Gibbs was solid but unspectacular as a head coach, and Howard Schnellenberger flamed out spectacularly before John Blake captained the three least successful consecutive seasons (all losing) since the Great Depression.
The department, thanks to the lack of football success, was mired with economic problems, and their reputation from the Switzer era still hadn't recovered. They were in the red and had been accruing debt for a decade. And all that changed when Castiglione came aboard in 1998.
For the past twelve years, he's been the ultra-successful captain of Oklahoma's again ultra-successful athletic department. In his reign, Sooners football took the world by storm, and unlike Hathaway he made at least one active decision leading to the success: hiring Bob Stoops. Basketball has more of a checkered record, but Kelvin Sampson and (Castiglione's hire) Jeff Capel have both found periods of major success, checked by periods of scandal.
And Oklahoma's not just a revenue-sport success story. Oklahoma women's basketball, which was an afterthought until the past decade, has become a national contender under his watch. Oklahoma baseball made the College World Series this season for the first time in 15 years, mostly thanks to the shadow cast on the program by Larry Cochell's less-than-graceful exit. And try as Maryland might, they could muster only a 28th place finish in the Director's Cup; Oklahoma came in 12th place, behind only the regular contenders, like Stanford and Virginia, and ahead of some Director's Cup powerhouses, like Texas and USC.
Needless to say, Oklahoma is one of the bigger and better athletic departments in the NCAA, a fact which is no doubt aided by their wealth. But Castiglione has been honored for his service on multiple occasions, including most recently in 2009, when he won Athletic Director of the Year. In 2004 he won the Bobby Dodd AD of the Year Award, and in 2007 his department was given the PRISM Award for "industry-leading excellence."
Like Jeff Hathaway, who also has some major awards, Castiglione has seen his fair share of scandal. But he's on an NCAA board for academic reform for student-athletes, and is rarely indicted in the controversy the way Hathaway has, particularly by sportswriters.
So yeah, Castiglione is, in the words of Dennis Dodd, "the equivalent of [Bob] Stoops and [Urban] Meyer. A superstar." He also recently signed that aforementioned massive contract that a cash-strapped University System might be pressed to afford. And he's been described as an "Oklahoma lifer," even though he was evasive when asked that question in an interview recently.
But was UConn a better department than Maryland when Lew Perkins left? Was Kansas better than UConn when Perkins made that switch? Is N.C. State better than Maryland? He's been at Oklahoma for 12 years, a long time for an AD by any standard, and if any school could get him out of Sooner territory, it'd probably be Maryland.
Football: You'd think that winning in football at Oklahoma wouldn't be hard, and you'd probably be right. Still, as Georgia has shown (and UCLA at basketball, for another example), powerhouses can fall. And before Castiglione came aboard, Oklahoma had fallen.
Barry Switzer, as legendary as his teams were, fell apart in the late 1980s. You may or may not know or remember the story, but the program was overrun by shooting, rape, drugs, and robbery (of Switzer's own home by a player, no less). That's not mentioning the plethora of rules that Switzer broke, which resulted in a two-year ban from TV and a major scholarship reduction. We're talking Calhoun-esque errors here.
After Switzer came Gary Gibbs, who was serviceable but unspectacular; Howard Schnellenburger, who was spectacular for the wrong reasons; and John Blake, who was woefully over his head and led his teams to records of 3-8, 4-8, and 5-6 - the first three consecutive losing seasons Oklahoma has had since the 20s.
Enter Castiglione. One of his very first moves as AD was to hire Bob Stoops as football HC, a move which was considered a bit of a gamble at the time. It's been very obviously the right choice. They've been to four BCS games the past decade and won a national championship.
Obviously, Castiglione really didn't have any choice but to heavily support football: it's the lifeblood of Oklahoma athletics. It was win or you're out, and Castiglione won. There were some minor bumps along the road - mainly a scandal involving Rhett Bomar that resulted in the NCAA vacating several wins and some medium-level sanctions being placed on the program and an extension of the probation levied by the Sampson controversy (more on that below), although the wins were later reinstated.
Meanwhile, the results have been up-and-down in the past few years, but the program's efficiency is still remarkable: it accounts for 70% of the athletic department's revenue, and just 30% of the expenses. One of the biggest complaints about Debbie Yow was that she didn't support revenue sports enough, failing to see their revenue potential. It's a good bet that Castiglione has learned that lesson well.
Basketball: When Castiglione came into Oklahoma, Sooners basketball was pretty well set. They were less than a decade removed from a short period of being one of the elite programs under Billy Tubbs, and Kelvin Sampson had been the coach for about 4 years and had led OU to several consecutive NCAA appearances. In the years directly following Castiglione's arrival, Sampson claimed the highest winning percentage in school history, recruited two All-Americans in Eduardo Najera and Hollis Price, and led the Sooners to seven consecutive 20-win seasons, including a Big 12 title in 2005 and several Big 12 Tournament championships.
That type of success is difficult to ignore, so eventually Indiana came and snagged up one of Oklahoma's best coaches ever. And then the problems started.
Oklahoma was placed under a three-year investigation for violations committed by Sampson: 577 illegal phone calls made between 2000 and 2004. When the investigation finished, the NCAA applied the hardest penalty to Sampson, though Oklahoma was also put under some self-imposed restrictions, as well as a probation.
Soon after that came Jeff Capel, which was the second major hire by Castiglione, and it was the second one that worked pretty darn well. Capel is a recruiting mastermind - more on that later - and famously landed Blake Griffin and Willie Warren to make the program elite for about two years, including an Elite 8 appearance. After Griffin left, Capel reloaded with two more All-Americans, but missed the NCAA Tournament this year.
But Capel's recruiting "prowess" led to some more problems. TMZ reported that one of those All-Americans, Tiny Gallon, received a $3,000 wire payment from Merill Lynch from a booster in Florida. Then it was discovered that Oronde Taliaferro made several calls to the guy in Florida, and Oklahoma was forced to hand over his cell phone records. Now Oklahoma is under another major investigation by the NCAA. Oh, and did we mention that they just got off probation from the past two major rules violations?
It's worth mentioning that the phrase "death penalty" has been floated, even if it was by Gregg Doyle - who, we learned, relies more upon shtick than actual thought. But in light of the Southern Cal penalties, it seems plenty possible that Oklahoma will get hit hard. Even if they don't, the program has all but imploded over the past year.
Like I did with Hathaway, I'm really questioning how much exactly the compliance department did to stop this stuff. If the investigation turns out poorly for Oklahoma, this will be their third major infraction in 5 years, and they very well may get hit hard.
It's worth noting that Castiglione, like every other AD, isn't involved in the day-to-day operations of the program, and unlike Hathaway his coaches didn't have an ultra-sleezy reputation. That said, when you're under probation, it's a good idea to make sure the compliance office is on the coaches like white on rice. That they weren't - again - doesn't bode well.
In terms of straight basketball, OU did about as well as could be expected in Castiglione's tenure. Sampson had some awesome years, and Capel did well for two years, though he's struggling now. He's supported them financially, and spent more than Maryland even though they brought in less revenue (then again, they have the Oklahoma football mammoth, so they can do that). One has to question, though, the compliance office's issues with keeping the coaching staffs in check.
Non-Revenue Sports: I've always liked the revenue sports the most, but after writing a few paragraphs about massive scandal, my head hurts and I'm pining for the simplicity of men's gymnastics. Oh, wait, Oklahoma got busted there, too? Crud.
Just kidding, though they did get busted there, and softball as well. That's it, though. I promise.
No, Oklahoma is actually one of the best departments in the NCAA when it comes to non-revenue sports. They're pretty good at cross-country, track & field (which Maryland really needs to get on, come on guys) and volleyball, and they're among the elite at women's basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, and gymnastics.
Maryland is improving in T&F, baseball, and softball, and is already elite in women's basketball and very probably wrestling. The success that Castiglione and Oklahoma have enjoyed in those sports can only help him help build and sustain those programs if he were to come to College Park, although he's only made hires in a few of them.
It's worth noting that Oklahoma only has 17 varsity sports, which is average for most schools but well below-average at Maryland, which funds 27. (Oklahoma, for what it's worth, lacks golf, lacrosse, men's soccer, swimming and diving, competitive cheer, field hockey, and water polo, several of which are considered Maryland staples). Castiglione, however, has shown himself active and progressive in adding sports, most recently women's rowing.
All in all, Castiglione and Oklahoma at-large seem mostly responsible about their non-rev policies, so I have no qualms. They've seen far more success than Maryland at the Director's Cup, and don't have a ridiculous amount of sports. I'm not in favor of cutting anything, so I'm a little concerned about Castiglione's ability to adapt himself to 27 sports instead of 17, but their success is impossible to ignore.
I also found it funny that, speaking both relatively and in reality, Oklahoma spent a larger share of their revenue on non-revenue sports - namely women's basketball (Oklahoma spends the same on women's basketball as Maryland spends on men's basketball) - than Maryland does. Obviously they can do that thanks to the fact that they bring in a ton of money, but I just found it interesting. For instance, women's basketball receives almost the same as men's at Oklahoma; at Maryland, they get half of what men's basketball gets. Again, it's all meta-relative when we're talking about finances and Oklahoma, but just a tidbit.
- Highly respected. You want to bring credibility to an athletic department and get respect, you hire a guy like Castiglione. He's won multiple awards and has a reputation of being a great administrator. No doubt that he'll be the guy you want to make your program look good.
- Experienced. He has more time as an AD than Hathaway, and probably almost anyone else in the business. He's been the AD at Oklahoma for over a decade, and was an AD for five years before that at Missouri. Nothing is new to him.
- Proven. Seriously, good luck finding a guy with a better resume than this: "AD for 15 years at one of the most successful programs in the NCAA. Hired Bob Stoops. Finished 12th in Director's Cup last year. Has seen 4 BCS bowls, one national championship, and one Elite 8, as well as countless non-revenue national championships. Took program from debt and made them massively lucrative." Speaks for itself.
- Connections to the program. Went to Maryland, played football for a season (defensive back), and his cousin would probably work under him as CFO. Adorable, but also means he has an extra emotional vestment in his success.
- Has conducted and succeeded at national coaching searches. Bob Stoops was a resounding success, Jeff Capel would've been fine without that whole scandal thing, and Sunny Golloway just lead Oklahoma to a 5th place finish in the baseball NCAA tournament. All three were Castiglione hires.
- Helped rebuild a football program. A few losing seasons to Oklahoma is 2-10 to Maryland. Maryland needs some serious help rebuilding their program, and Castiglione has succeeded doing just that, and before that massively bloated budget, too.
- Attainability and price. Good luck getting a guy with a massive contract buy-out, a huge budget, and in a relatively small media market out to Maryland, a school with a much smaller budget and a ton of media scrutiny. Oh, and can Maryland's broken budget pay for his massive buy-out? Doubtful.
- Scandalous. Maybe moreso than Hathaway. Really, what has gone down at OU the past five years is downright scary. Not enough to make me dislike Castiglione, but I'm certainly not nearly as in love with him as I was before doing this.
- How will he fair under intense media pressure? Oklahoma might have a huge fanbase, but they're a small media market in terms of investigative reporters, and I'm not sure there's a more sensationalistic, determined reporter in the nation than Eric Prisbell. Castiglione is adored in Norman; there should be some minor yet rightful concerns over his ability to adjust to a large media market, where he's never worked before. Perhaps the reason he's more highly regarded by sportswriters than Hathaway is because he doesn't have the New York media breathing down his neck.
- Are Maryland and Oklahoma really that comparable? This is just a personal doubt, maybe unfounded: does his success at Oklahoma, particularly recently, really apply to a job search like Maryland? These are two departments that are about as different as they can be. He definitely helped rebuild OU, but he won't have the same amount of money to spend and fanbase for support. Oh, and he has to support 10 more sports instantly. This is a big change, bigger than Hathaway would have to make at UConn.