Un-Connon Opinions: The safest and most surprising candidates with a shot to replace Dan Guerrero
Athletics director Dan Guerrero announced Sept. 17 that he would retire June 30. UCLA will conduct a nationwide search for his replacement. (Photo Illustration by Aubrey Yeo, Tanmay Shankar, Ellie Tsai/Daily Bruin staff)
By Sam Connon
Sept. 27, 2019 12:53 a.m.
Dan Guerrero – for better or worse – is gone.
Or at least he will be, when he officially retires June 30.
During the UCLA Athletics director’s 17-year tenure, the Bruins have won 32 NCAA championships, built state-of-the-art football and men’s basketball facilities, and won the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.
The jury is still out on Kelly, but getting the cream of the crop to pick UCLA over blue bloods like Florida is no small feat.
Guerrero may be slightly better known for the mishaps that went down while he was in power, such as the Varsity Blues scandal, pending lawsuits against former football coach Jim Mora and a headache of a men’s basketball coaching search.
But instead of summarizing Guerrero’s entire time in Westwood, it’s time to look forward.
UCLA Athletics and chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that the university would be conducting a nationwide search, opening the door for an outsider to get a shot at the gig.
So, without further ado, here are some of the prime candidates to become UCLA’s next athletic director.
The easiest way to fill Guerrero’s shoes is from within.
Not the best way or the right way, but if all else fails, Josh Rebholz – a current senior associate athletic director – will likely be UCLA’s rebound guy.
Rebholz joined the staff in 2011 and has assisted Guerrero with day-to-day operations since. He is the primary liaison between the athletic department and its corporate and media sponsors, helping lead the charge on the Under Armour deal in 2014.
But despite his stacked track record in finance and marketing, his connection to the Varsity Blues academic admissions scandal should be a major red flag for the search team. Outside of simply co-leading the department during the scandal, Rebholz reportedly was implicated in additional shady business surrounding UCLA track and field.
But if familiarity is what the Bruins are going for, Rebholz may be the best bet. Former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen tweeted in support of Rebholz on Tuesday, saying the senior associate athletic director was a great mentor to him during his time in Westwood.
The goal with the new Athletics director hire should be to start fresh, and promoting Rebholz would be the opposite of that. He is an option – but definitely a backup.
Ann Meyers Drysdale
Bringing in one of the most decorated women in UCLA history to head the department would be both a groundbreaking and intriguing choice.
Ann Meyers Drysdale’s track record on the court is unparalleled, but her experience behind the seasons warrants praise as well.
Meyers Drysdale became the first woman in the country to be given a four-year athletic scholarship, starting in 1974, still holds the UCLA women’s basketball record for career steals, and was the first player in NCAA DI history to record a quadruple-double.
Two years after being the first pick in the inaugural Women’s Professional Basketball League draft, she signed a $50,000 contract with the Indiana Pacers, becoming the first woman to try out for an NBA team.
Off the court, however, is where Meyers Drysdale’s resume becomes more relevant to the athletic director position.
She was one of the early female pioneers in sports media in the early 1980s and has covered the NBA, WNBA and Olympic basketball on-and-off ever since. The UCLA Athletics Hall of Famer was the president and general manager of the Phoenix Mercury from 2006 to 2011, and currently serves as the vice president of both the Mercury and the Phoenix Suns.
Meyers Drysdale’s blend of management experience, tangible connection to UCLA and trailblazing past make her a prime candidate to replace Guerrero, albeit an unlikely one.
If UCLA wants to keep Kelly and rebuild the athletics department with him in mind, Rob Mullens could be a good fit.
The Oregon Athletics director joined Kelly in Eugene in 2010 and helped lead Oregon to the “Decade of the Duck,” winning two Rose Bowls, making two NCAA football championship games and reaching the Final Four in men’s basketball in 2017. Prior to his stint up north, he was the deputy athletics director at Kentucky, where he helped hire Hall of Fame coach and national champion John Calipari.
In working with Kelly, Calipari and Ducks men’s basketball coach Dana Altman, it’s clear that Mullens aligns himself with some of the most talented coaches on the planet. He also helped turn the Oregon-Nike partnership into an iconic brand with the help of Nike founder Phil Knight.
UCLA has just as big a financial connection to Under Armour, so if anyone can make the most of that partnership, it’s Mullens.
Texas A&M reportedly pursued Mullens for its athletics director vacancy in May, but he withdrew his name one week later. The brand power in Westwood may be more alluring than the one in College Station, Texas, so pulling him out of Eugene is still possible.
Between his history with top-level coaches, building brands from the ground up and winning on the field, Mullens would be a great addition for UCLA.
It would be tough to steal Troy Aikman away from FOX Sports, but the Hall of Fame quarterback would be quite the face to represent UCLA moving forward.
Aikman’s administrative history is restricted to co-owning the San Diego Padres and a NASCAR racing team, so he hasn’t been too involved in collegiate athletics since leaving UCLA in 1989. But his name recognition is priceless and his familiarity with Westwood would be comforting.
Aikman was one of the leaders of the search team that brought Kelly to UCLA, and his influence helped build the Wasserman Football Center. His lack of hands-on management experience is probably enough to justify passing on him entirely, but Aikman leading the Bruins for the next decade-plus would be a headline-generating move.
OK, hear me out.
Condoleezza Rice is most well-known for being secretary of state under President George W. Bush, but she is no stranger to collegiate athletics. She was part of the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee from 2014 to 2016 and her ties to West Coast college sports run even deeper.
The then-Pac-10 reportedly offered Rice a job as the conference’s commissioner when her term as secretary of state was over in 2009. She ultimately passed in favor of becoming a professor at Stanford, but she remained enough in touch with sports to join the CFP committee five years later.
Rice earned graduate degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Denver, and started a fellowship at Stanford in 1980. She had the chance to conduct her fellowship at UCLA, but she passed it up, making this a great chance for Rice to finally come to Westwood 40 years after the fact.
Her lack of connection to UCLA and its traditions are a setback, but her experience in academia and college football make her a dark horse in the race for Guerrero’s seat.
Boise State hired Curt Apsey as its senior associate athletic director in 1998.
The Broncos have missed the postseason just once in the 20 years since.
After serving a short stint as interim athletic director in 2011, Apsey finally left Boise, Idaho, for Carroll College. He made his return in 2015, finally earning the athletic director role – and he hasn’t disappointed.
Boise State men’s basketball is 76-53 since Apsey’s return and participated in the NIT in each of the last two years. A track record like that obviously wouldn’t fly in Westwood, but it isn’t bad considering the expectations and resources.
Apsey had to make a tough decision recently, as well, choosing to discontinue the men’s wrestling team and revive Boise State’s baseball program that had been dormant since 1980. Considering he does not have Power Five experience, his exposure to high-pressure situations is a great skill for an athletic director to have.
If UCLA is trying to take a small-school guy and give him the keys to the castle, Apsey is a good fit.
After seeing how Lynn Swann did at USC, it would be a pretty risky choice to give Kenny Easley the same chance in Westwood.
I don’t think the Pro Football Hall of Famer will be in the running for the job – since his greatest achievements since leaving UCLA and the NFL are starting a semipro arena football league team that lasted four years and running a car dealership – but this is a fun name to toss around.
Wouldn’t it be great if the Bruins hired their own 1970s star safety and made it work after seeing the Swann experiment blow up in South Central?