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The two biggest surprises about the Texas A&M AD hire

Boy that's a lot of money for somebody who everybody thought was staying put, huh?

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Texas A&M shocked the college sports administrative world on Thursday, by announcing they were hiring Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts as their new athletic director. Ross Bjork, the previous Texas A&M AD, announced he was leaving for Ohio State back in January.

This is a particularly surprising hire for two reasons. For one, Alberts had just signed a contract extension last fall, one that paid him a base salary of 1.7 million dollars, near the top of the Big Ten. Because of that extension, Alberts will owe Nebraska a massive-for-an-athletic-director buyout of over 4 million dollars. Adding that sort of contract language didn’t seem dangerous for either party, since Alberts is a former All-American Nebraska football player and has spent his entire athletic administrative career in the state. He wasn’t considered an immediate threat to leave.

Now, clearly, Texas A&M has no qualms with paying a huge buyout. But it’s not like Texas A&M broke the bank to hire one of the most established and “sure thing” AD hires in the country. Alberts has only been a power conference AD since July 2021. While he’s responsible for some huge successes (like Nebraska’s massive new Playfly contract, or their record-breaking Volleyball Day event), he’s also the subject of a civil lawsuit involving Nebraska women’s basketball, and Cornhusker football is still just as punchless as it was before he got there.

Maybe Trev Alberts will be awesome at Texas A&M. But even given the increasingly ridiculous executive pay at the top of big-time college athletics, this feels like a lot of money for somebody who doesn’t have the longest or most accomplished resume in the industry.

This is also a surprising development because Alberts isn’t one of those guys who secretly interviews for every big-time AD job open. He’s a Nebraska Guy, and the school wanted to keep him. Nebraska is a Big Ten gig, pays very well, and carries a lot of weight and influence within the conference…why leave?

Nearly seven months have passed since the University of Nebraska Board of Regents launched the search for a permanent president. Frustration is mounting over the delay — and the possible reasons for it, including a divisive political landscape marked by breadcrumbs that lead to the doorstep of the governor’s mansion.

Ted Carter, the previous university system president, was heavily involved in college athletics but left to take The Ohio State University president job last August. Rodney Bennett is the current Chancellor of the Lincoln campus, replacing Ronnie Green, who retired last year. The current person actually overseeing Nebraska athletics above the department level is interim chancellor Chris Kabourek.

It isn’t completely uncommon for a presidential search to take several months (it took Ohio State about five to hire Ted Carter, after all) and longer searches are becoming more common as the job has become much, much harder.

A dirty little secret in higher education right now is that two kinds of presidential roles are increasingly difficult to fill. One is a university presidency of a smaller, tuition-dependent institution in the Midwest or Northeast. These are schools that are generally facing significant financial, or even existential, problems and in-demand university administrators generally don’t want to take jobs that will require laying lots of people off or managing into structural decline.

The other harder-to-fill gig? Taking over a deep Red State flagship research university. If administrators worry they’re going to be made into a political punching bag by state lawmakers, automatically have adversarial roles with their governor, or be at risk for constant meddling…then a lot of administrators are going to turn down the job.

It isn’t every day, that the governor of the state issues a challenge to the university regents after an AD takes another job, but that’s exactly what happened in Nebraska.

Political infighting at the regent, state lawmaker, or governor levels usually doesn’t directly impact the hiring of coaches or the recruitment of any particular athlete. But it can impact the hiring of athletic directors, academic faculty, and other senior administrators of a university…and those people can have more direct impacts on coaches or other athletic department staffers.

Maybe this all works out for everybody. Maybe Alberts is happier and more effective at Texas A&M (a school that’s uh, no stranger to political influence and controversy), and Nebraska hires an even better AD. Or maybe, and stay with me here, maybe Texas A&M overpays for a big name that doesn’t pan out. Predicting AD hires is almost impossible, in my humble opinion.

But if any school wants to build a strong athletic department, it starts with leadership…and not just from coaches and athletic directors, but at the very top of the university. There needs to be alignment from the presidential and executive leadership team down to the DOBOs and GAs.

If that isn’t there, don’t be surprised if people walk away, no matter how much money you pay them.

Here’s what else we wrote this week

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