BILL MOOS: Ol' No. 61
BILL MOOS' recent hiring of Mike Marlow as a senior associate athletic director at Washington State garnered little more than a footnote in the daily newspapers. But it’s a hire that could, if all the pieces fall into place, set up WSU for an uninterrupted run of 20-plus years of top-flight leadership out of the Bohler Complex.
Yes, sports management careers tend to be transient. And yes, promoting from within seems more the exception than the rule – even though empirical data suggests it has significant benefits if done properly.
Nonetheless, I think Washington State’s athletic department could be lined up for unprecedented continuity that could effectively extend the Moos Era until long, long after he retires.
Moos will hang it up when his seven-year contract is up in 2017. By then, his vision of consistent excellence will be in place, or nearly so, and he will hand the mantle of power to Marlow, who was one of Moos’ go-to-guys at Oregon. Marlow will be 50 in 2017. He’ll command the ship for another 8 or 9 years and then pass the baton to Justin Felker, WSU’s 32-year-old director of major gifts for athletics and, by all accounts inside and outside the department, a guy with immense potential.
Yes, I'm stealing a page right out of “Built to Last,” the best seller by James Collins about successful habits of visionary companies. One of those habits is succession planning and nurturing the rising stars within. It’s one reason why Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, Proctor & Gamble and other prominent names you know prevailed over the long run against competitors with huge head starts on them.
Am I getting the cart in front of the horse with all this long-term forecasting?
Maybe. After all, we’re talking a period of many years in an arena where circumstances and political winds can seemingly change overnight. But here’s why this makes sense.
Moos is a master builder, literally and figuratively. He is setting a course and tone for sustained success at WSU. He knows the formula and has the skill, smarts and personality to make it happen. Marlow helped Moos do it at Oregon and now gets the chance to come "home" -- yes, he;s a WSU grad -- and work the magic again. And then there’s Felker, who has been at WSU for a number of years already and fits nicely into the Moos and Marlow mold.
And what, exactly, is that mold? I’ll call it the four cornerstones. It starts with passion. All three of these people have a passion for their profession and for people generally. They also have a passion for WSU because all three are graduates of the place. They have an undying loyalty and love for the place. To be clear, being a loyal Coug doesn’t automatically qualify anyone for leading the sports programs of a major university. But it’s a nice building block if the other cornerstones are in place.
Another cornerstone is the understanding of and connection to the Cougar Nation. That’s critical, because money is the name of the game in college sports and WSU needs more of it. That makes fundraising acumen a requisite, and the key to great fundraising is fostering long-term relationships with donors and/or potential donors. If all three of these guys stay at WSU, I envision the depth, breadth and effectiveness of WSU’s money-raising efforts hitting towering new heights. They know the culture -- both good and bad -- and they know their history. That’s huge.
The third cornerstone is openness to ideas. From what I have gleaned, Marlow and Felker are like Moos -- they think out-of-the-box. They’re critical thinkers with an innovator’s eye. These are not status-quo types of individuals. Moos’ work at Oregon and so far at WSU tells you that. Marlow’s track record, in a wide variety of roles at Oregon, tells you that. And Felker’s work in baseball alone, where he has reconnected Ron Cey and other luminaries to the program, falls right in line with the “How do you know unless you try?” mentality.
The fourth and final cornerstone is stature within the Pac-10/12. Consistency of leadership – dynamic leadership – in an arena where turnover is high gives you a voice of wisdom and authority within the conference. A steady flow of home-grown leadership would be a significant advantage to WSU because it would bring a strong voice, backed up by history, to every league meeting and debate. For WSU, being in the smallest market in the conference, that’s a very big deal.
That’s the big picture. Wringing hands over losses to SMU and nailbiters with MSU is fine and well. But the long-term view of the department has me smiling because there’s a real chance the Moos Era could carry WSU an entire generation or more.