UNO athletic director David Miller's resignation yesterday certainly didn't come as a surprise to anybody associated with Maverick athletics. Miller had the unenviable task of cleaning up after the Belck/Buck fiasco, but the Miller record can best be summarized as "inertia". There were some initial plans to get the Maverick athletic programs back on track, but it seems that's all there were: plans that never went anywhere. At the end of 2007, Tom Shatel and I asked a simple question: What does UNO want for their athletic department?
We still don't have an answer. And UNO once again doesn't have an athletic director.
For whatever reason, it's obvious now that Miller wasn't the right fit for UNO. So he's off to Upper Iowa now, and back to the drawing board with yet another search for an athletic department.
Chancellor John Christensen wants to -- and needs to -- fast track this search; he told KOZN radio this afternoon that he'd like to have a successor named by the end of the semester. That's important.
But more important is to find the right person. Christensen needs to find someone to help lay out a long term vision for UNO athletics, not just manage through the current budget crisis. Is UNO happy with simply competing in the CCHA? How will UNO react to the continuing changes in division 2? Is the MIAA an interim step for UNO? How do UNO fans view their former conference rivals who've upgraded their programs to division 1?
After Danny Nee scuttled Nebraska basketball, UNO hockey was arguably the number 2 sport in this state. Since then, Creighton basketball, Nebraska baseball and volleyball have passed up the Mav hockey program. Doc Sadler has Husker hoops on the rebound as well. So how does UNO get back into the mix? Or do they even try?
It's an important decision that UNO needs to make. They can try to muddle through the current budget issues and the current economy, and hope that things get better. Better yet, they can try to find some sort of vision of the future of the program, something sorely lacking since the days of Del Weber and Don Leahy.
Because of the issues involved here, I think it's clear that the next athletic director needs to be someone already involved locally. Is that Mike Kemp? Is that Pat Behrns? They've got the local connections, and an established, long-term record with UNO. But they're coaches, not business people. Can they lead an entire department? How would they deal with the other sports on campus?
Or is it someone like Mike West, a marketing guy with a proven record of turning sports into must-be-seen-at events.
In the summer of 2006, the Karnes Commission tried to do "that vision thing" for UNO athletics...but other than joining the MIAA, those recommendations haven't gone anywhere. Frankly, it doesn't do any good to have any recommendations for long term vision if all you are focused on is muddling through day-to-day. In the meantime, UNO athletics is becoming an afterthought in the Omaha community in many respects.
When the Qwest Center was being planned, the arena was always thought of as a hockey arena first. UNO seemed to be a natural for the arena, with years of sellout crowds begging for a bigger facility. Creighton basketball seemed to be the reach, with their best crowds at the time resembling some of UNO's worst. Ten years later, it's Creighton that's packing the Qwest, and the Mavs are questioning their place in the Omaha market.
UNO needs someone to start answering that question.