clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ASU Athletics: Examining Ray Anderson's first year as athletic director

New, 1 comment

Today, Jan. 9, marks one year since Ray Anderson was hired as athletic director. We take a look back at his accomplishments in his first year.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Patterson spent roughly a year and a half as the ASU athletic director. He was promoted to that position by Michael Crow on March 28, 2012, three months after the hire of Todd Graham, although Patterson was rumored to have a large say in the decision. In his time in Tempe, Patterson unveiled new renovation plans for Sun Devil Stadium, hired two new assistant basketball coaches and a new softball coach, redesigned Sparky...twice, saved the Notre Dame game for ASU and finalized the deal to move ASU from Packard to Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

On Nov. 5, 2013, he signed a $1.4 million deal to become the next athletic director at the University of Texas, replacing DeLoss Dodds. While Patterson's time in Tempe wasn't marked by tangible action, he did change the culture and get the ball rolling on numerous projects. That change was in how the Sun Devils conducted business in the post Lisa Love era. No longer was the Sun Devil Athletics department to be treated like just another arm of the school. Patterson implanted the idea that the ASU athletics department was a money making business and should be treated as such.

It was Michael Crow's job to find another suitable replacement for Patterson, someone who could carry on that business-like culture. He found that man in the form of Ray Anderson, the manager of the NFL's football operations department since 2006 and former vice president of the Atlanta Falcons. Anderson fit the mold and shared the same innovative mindset of ASU. The Sun Devils were on an upward trajectory as an athletic department and it would be Anderson's job to keep it going.

Now that Anderson's first full year as ASU athletic director is complete, let's take a look back at some of his accomplishments.

1. Sun Devil Stadium redesign

Anderson's first year has shown a lot of progress. Just five days after his initial hiring, ASU unveiled its latest Sun Devil Stadium renovation plans which included a screen around the outside and a reduction to 60,000 seats to make it a more intimate atmosphere for fans. The controversial canopy idea was cut and the first phase of construction started in the spring of 2014 with the removal of seats from the north end zone. The project is now expected to cost $256 million after new buildings were added to the redesign in September. More importantly to many, the campaign would be funded through private donations and other kinds of revenue. The fundraising goal was set at $85 million.

"The momentum behind what our alumni and supporters are doing for Sun Devil Athletics is truly remarkable," Anderson said then in a statement. "It enables us to expand our vision and to deliver a higher level of quality for our student-athletes and our fans. With deep gratitude, we are taking their enthusiasm and using it to reinvest."

Anderson and head football coach Todd Graham did some investing of their own shortly before that, putting their money where their mouth was with donations of $500,000 a piece to total $1 million. Those north end zone seats were removed this past spring with the goal of having the project done by 2017. Perhaps the biggest news is that ASU will play in the stadium throughout the renovation.

2. New baseball coach and contract extensions for Graham and Sendek.

The heat of the Arizona summer got to be too much for Tim Esmay's seat as the head coach of the ASU baseball program. The Sun Devils had underachieved in 2013 and 2014, with a postseason ban in 2012 not helping matters either. The Sun Devils only made the NCAA regional round in 2013 and 2014 and Esmay resigned on June 9, 2014. Many saw the move coming after ASU fell to Sacramento State in the San Luis Obispo regional and Anderson told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM that, "We are evaluating the position and we should come to a determination in a few days."

Esmay left ASU with a 201-94-1 mark, great in some programs, but not at the historically elite one that resides in Tempe. Anderson said that he would begin the search immediately around the major and minor leagues for a new coach, calling ASU a "top 5" collegiate baseball destination.

"We want to be at a higher level, we expect to be at a higher level and we should be at a higher level," Anderson said. "The new head of our baseball program will be someone who is driven and dedicated to be elite in all facets their responsibilities here."

Roughly three weeks later, Anderson settled on Tracy Smith, who was the head coach at Indiana University. He led the Hoosiers to a 44-15 record in 2014, winning the Big Ten for a second consecutive season. He won the National Coach of the Year award in 2013 and became just the fifth coach in ASU baseball history after Bobby Winkles, Jim Brock, Pat Murphy and Tim Esmay.

"Fortunately we did have leverage because this is Arizona State University, one of the top programs in the country," Anderson said at the time. "There are high expectations but I think he also realizes the very high reward potential. He knows he can come here and compete consistently for national championships and he couldn't resist that."

Anderson certainly had pressure on him to make the correct hire. Names like Andy Stankiewicz from Grand Canyon University or John Savage, who led UCLA to the 2012 national title, swirled around in the air. A portion of the ASU fan base even called for the hire of former head coach Pat Murphy. Anderson, however, pulled a move somewhat out of left field. While the jury is still out with the baseball season looming ahead, it seems he made the right move given Smith's character and current accolades.

In late May, Anderson also extended the contract of current head football coach Todd Graham, raising his salary to $2.7 million per year though June of 2019. While this seems like a lot of money, its a pretty good bargain for a coach that has guided a power five conference program to back-to-back 10 win seasons including two bowl victories and an appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Men's basketball head coach Herb Sendek's contract was also extended in early September for another two years through the end of the 2018-19 season. The Arizona Board of Regents, which has final say, approved an amended version of the deal in December. Sendek will now only get one additional year on his current contract through 2017 with a $300,000 raise to $1.5 million per year. If ASU reaches the NCAA Tournament or wins 20 games in any remaining or extension year, only then will another year be added to Sendek's contract. Two years would be added if ASU wins 25 games or makes the NCAA Tournament three times in that same timeframe. While the move to extend Sendek came with more backlash, Anderson has made clear that he believes in his coaches moving forward.

3. 2017 Final Four to Phoenix

Anderson was on the committee along with many other prominent business men and women from the Valley to help bring the 2017 Final Four to metro Phoenix. The NCAA visited Phoenix on Sept. 23-24 and the host committee made presentations and visited different attractions in the city.

The Final Four will bring a large amount of money into the Valley economy. The most recent Final Four in Dallas, Texas made an estimated $276 million impact on that area. It will again help ASU to further promote itself with numerous events already slated to occur around the Downtown Phoenix campus. The College Football Playoff semifinal will also come to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale in 2017.

4. Moving ASU Hockey to the Division I level

The rumors of a possible move for the ASU hockey program to Division I began in July of 2014 with this article. After that, things took off. A donor read the story and contacted ASU about making the Division I move happen and in November, it did. ASU announced it would become the farthest South and farthest West Division I hockey school in the continental US.

At a time when many schools across the country are cutting sports, Anderson is overseeing the implementation of not just any sport, but a sport that actually produces revenue for the bigger hockey schools. It's not a move that comes without risks, but the benefit could be huge. Every Division I school (except for Alabama-Hunstville) is in a traditional hockey market, while the deserts of Arizona far from provide that. Clearly it hasn't hampered recruiting efforts, only helped; as of Friday, 11 different players have committed to the new team. Anderson referenced ASU's desire to be innovative and entrepreneurial, and adding hockey is just that.

5. ASU moves to adidas

Nike didn't match the offer adidas made to ASU and as a result, the Sun Devils made the switch to adidas on Dec. 16. The deal is worth an average of $4.225 million per year and is a $33.8 million deal over the next eight years. Nike was offering a little over $2.1 million so it made tremendous business sense to his staff. ASU became just the second Pac-12 school after UCLA to make the move.

"Adidas really accepted our vision at ASU and Sun Devil Athletics, who we were and more importantly where we wanted to go as an organization," Anderson said that day. "They graciously and creatively met our requests and so we are now dedicated true partners and together we have elevated ASU to truly elite status with these deals."

While it means a change in uniforms, Anderson promised the redesigns would be slight and only in the best interest of ASU. The deal also includes facilities improvements and internships for the Sun Devils.

The deal wouldn't have been possible without the help of numerous new hires in the ASU front office. The additions of Greg McElroy, David Cohen and Scottie Graham in Anderson's first year were all key parts of his success. He works with all three and each plays an integral role in the success of the athletics department as a whole. McElroy oversaw the Dallas Cowboys stadium naming rights deal with AT&T. He has and will have a large say in the Sun Devil Stadium renovations. Cohen was the former director of ticket sales for the Portland Trail Blazers and will help on the marketing side while Graham worked with the NFL Player's Association and can advise Anderson when it comes to working with student athletes.

"Some fans are apprehensive when you change," said Anderson on the adidas signing day. "Part of what we are trying to get fans to understand is that this is a business and it takes real, dedicated partners with financial wherewithal and the willingness to help you financially run that business and more importantly, advance that business."

Anderson has clearly surrounded himself with the types of people who will help him and the Sun Devils succeed going forward. As evidenced in his first year as athletic director, he sees a much larger picture than most and this has helped him. He put into action a lot of the plans that Patterson started, but didn't give himself the chance to execute. He has also added his own moves by shifting the hockey program to Division I, getting the Final Four to Phoenix and hiring a new baseball coach.

So the next logical question is, what's next? The next phase of the Sun Devil Stadium redesign will begin soon and the baseball team will move into its new home at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in just over a month. He is already cementing his legacy at ASU as one of the most visible athletic directors in recent memory. It's tough to attend numerous Sun Devil Athletics events throughout the year and not see Anderson at least once. But as with any year, it will surely be the unforeseen circumstances that Anderson will have to deal with that will continue to define his time at ASU. If his first year is any indication, however, the Sun Devil fan base should have confidence that Anderson will make the correct decisions.