John E. Hoover: With 'gold standard' Bob Bowlsby finally on board, Big 12 set to thrive
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, June 16, 2012
6/16/12 at 4:10 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Big 12 is set to thrive now with Bowlsby
BOB BOWLSBY got his first close-up look at the Big 12 Conference during the mad scramble of summer realignment in 2011.
A year after Oklahoma president David Boren and Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis met with Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, the Sooners and Cowboys were joining Texas, Texas Tech and others in what seemed a certain westward movement.
As athletic director at Stanford, Bowlsby was among those charged with vetting the Pac-12's potential new membership.
"I was pretty intimately involved in some of that from the Pac-12 end of it," Bowlsby said recently at the Big 12's annual spring meetings.
Now, a year later, the Pac-12 is set, the Big 12 is stronger than ever, and Bowlsby is commissioner of the league he and his former colleagues nearly raided.
Bowlsby, 60, officially took over as Big 12 commissioner on Friday, although he was announced on May 3 as the Big 12's new chief executive.
He said the start-to-finish process of his hiring took about two weeks, and that before he interviewed, he did have reservations. Events of the previous summer and fall gave him plenty of foresight and opinions about the league.
Foremost, he said, "that it was fractured and that some of it was self-inflicted. And I think probably people close to it would admit that some of it was self-inflicted. But I don't believe it's fractured at this point. I think it's quite the opposite."
Bowlsby got ringing endorsements across the board. Acting commissioner Chuck Neinas summed up Bowlsby with one word: "Intelligence," Neinas said. "And he knows how to use it." Hargis, chairman of the Big 12 board of directors, called Bowlsby "the gold standard." And Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who some say is actually in charge of the league, said Bowlsby is "the real deal.
"He's quality, he's strong, he's national," Dodds said. "He can walk in any room with any group and be a player, not intimidated."
Even NCAA president Mark Emmert was impressed with Bowlsby's hire.
"That says a lot about their commitment to the future," Emmert said. "He's a first-class guy. ... He's extremely well respected, and it sends another signal to the world, 'We're here to stay, we're doing it the right way, we've got a leader that's got great standards and values, and he's the guy for the future.' "
Bowlsby grew up in Waterloo, Iowa. He played four sports in high school and wrestled in college at Morehead (Minn.) State, where he got to wrestle four times at old Gallagher Hall in Stillwater at the college division national tournament.
Bowlsby got his master's degree from the University of Iowa. In the book "Hawkeyes For Life," Bowlsby describes himself as a dyed-in-the-wool Hawkeyes fan. He said his first job was selling soft drinks at Kinnick Stadium. He was manager of Iowa's Recreation Building when he got a job at Northern Iowa managing the UNI Dome, a role that evolved into athletic director in 1984. After overseeing UNI's move from Division II to Division I, Bowlsby was hired as AD at Iowa in 1991.
At the end of the 1998 season, Bowlsby needed a replacement for legendary football coach Hayden Fry. His first interview was former Hawkeye All-American Bob Stoops, who was then defensive coordinator at Florida.
It was an easy call for many Iowa fans and boosters. Stoops was the nation's hottest assistant after helping the Gators to the 1996 national championship and a No. 1 ranking early in the 1997 season.
But Bowlsby also wanted to interview Baltimore Ravens assistant Kirk Ferentz.
"I got in a situation where Bob had an offer from OU and had to have an answer," Bowlsby said. "I made a commitment to Kirk Ferentz that he could interview for the job. I asked (Stoops) to give me 48 hours, and he didn't feel like he could do it.
"We could have done a lot worse than hiring either one of them," Bowlsby said.
Bowlsby said at Iowa he had his dream job and he would never leave for another campus position. But in 2006, he got a call from Stanford.
"People thought I was nuts when I loaded up for the West Coast," Bowlsby said. "The friends, colleagues and family members, they get it now that they've come to visit. It's a special place with a special merger between world-class athletics and world-class academics. So I wouldn't have traded that experience for anything."
In Palo Alto, Bowlsby never thought he would lead the Big 12 into a prosperous future. Especially after last summer, when he met with Hargis, Texas president Bill Powers, Kansas State president Kirk Schulz and Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione about those schools and others joining the Pac-12.
"I asked a lot of questions around those kinds of things after the fact with the three CEOs I met with," Bowlsby said. "We had frank conversations."
Now, Bowlsby said, questions he had about the unity and strength of the Big 12 have been answered. His concerns have been quelled.
"I didn't have any reservations coming into these meetings," Bowlsby said on June 1. "I've been comfortable. I didn't have any buyer's remorse. But after seeing the chemistry in the room at the presidents level, athletic directors, every group that I encountered, this is a very unified and energetic, excited group."
New Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby (right) shakes hands with OSU president Burns Hargis at the news conference introducing Bowlsby to the media last month at Big 12 headquarters in Irving, Texas. LM OTERO/Associated Press