Q&A with USD president Jim Abbott

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

University of South Dakota president Jim Abbott responded quickly to my interview request on Monday morning, and we had a 10-minute chat Monday afternoon about athletic director David Sayler leaving for Miami University (Ohio) and the empending search for a replacement.

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I will have a full story on the search later in the week, but here is a short version of my Q&A with Abbott.

Were you surprised by David Sayler’s departure?
I was aware that there were family considerations, but I did not anticipate the resignation at this time. I was surprised and disappointed, but i understand. There are family reasons that were important to him, and I understand that, family reasons ought to trump other things. It doesn’t make it any less disappointing to us here at USD, but the good thing is, we have in David Herbster a very capable individual. He’s been senior associate A.D. for several years, and so I have appointed him interim, and I am going to wait a maximum six months and reassess the situation. Then we’ll decide how to move forward from there.

Would you use a search firm to find a new A.D.?
I’m not going to think much beyond what I told David Herbster. He is interim for a max of six months. At some point he and I will sit down together and talk about how things are going and where we need to go.

On moving forward with athletic facility fundraising
The three people most responsible for raising funds for Coyote athletics were the president, A.D. and senior associate A.D. There were three, now there are two. We (he and Herbster) both stepped up to the plate in terms of fundraising, we’ll just have to work even harder to make the arena a reality. I have confidence that we’ll be able to do that. Steve Brown (president of the USD Foundation) is always heavily involved.

Sayler has recently said that there is still $10 million left to raise for the arena and track/soccer complex projects.
That’s pretty accurate. It’s a guess, really. We’ve had people who have committed but have not signed on the dotted line, and some people who have signed. It’s one of those things where some people are concerned about will happen with the fiscal cliff. Others are trying to do some current planning before the 31st of the year. In the end, we’ll have a new arena.

This is now the second athletic director search in the past 30 months. Are you concerned about that trend, and the turnover in that position?
Is this what anybody wanted to do? No. It’s just the breaks of the game. This is not atypical of the university all the way around, some people stay longer than others. It’s just that the interest in athletics is so heightened. I don’t remember the last time someone asked me how long a vice president or director of marketing served. It’s not the kind of question that gets asked. Whether fair or unfair, it doesn’t get asked. Athletics is of heightened interest, partly becasue of the events that are taking place in other conferences and new conferences. The Big Ten is the Big Twelve is the Big Fourteen for all I know. You see coaches leaving with million dollar salaries. Our coaches are paid modestly, I think, as is our athletic director. We’re just not talking about huge sums of money that people associate with larger schools.

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