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Arizona State won big with the hire of Ray Anderson

I saw a tweet a year back that the Most Interesting Man in the World once hit a walk-off home run…in the first inning. After reading new Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson’s resume, attending the press conference Thursday and conversing with him Friday, I think Dr. Crow did the same. Admittedly, a Hail Mary would have seemed like a better analogy before deeper analysis.

My immediate response to the hiring of Anderson was, “What’s the catch?” How did ASU pull off this coup? He’s a two-sport athlete from within the conference, so Anderson knows the struggles of a west coast student athlete. He’s got a Harvard Law degree, so he knows how important the focus on undergraduate success must be to open opportunities in the future. Anderson was a one-time entrepreneur, running his own sports agency, so he knows how to run a company with millions of dollars changing hands that can help student-athletes make the right choices for the few that have an opportunity to play professional sports. A man who was on the short-list for future NFL GM hirings and someone in the top 5 in the NFL power structure, so he knows the art of putting on big events and dealing with the sometimes out-of-control egos involved in sports. Again, I ask, “How did ASU get this guy?”

There’s two huge takeaways everyone must have as they walk away from this week: ASU gets it and Ray Anderson got what he wants.

Former NFL executives don’t come cheap. Former NFL executives don’t walk away without some specific guarantees that they have power. I don’t mean power in an egotistical sense. Fans far too often think of some executives as puppets, which is rarely true. Anderson wouldn’t have accepted a job where he just comes to be told what to do. He had to believe Dr. Crow is giving him the reins.

Moves like this are heard loudly across the academic spectrum, even if we don’t hear it on the outside of academia. Arizona State has just declared to other schools, “We attract this level of talent at our institution.” It also screams loudly down the chain of Arizona State. In every university, there’s in-fighting about the importance of athletics on campus, with professors who intentionally drive wedges between their department and the athletic department due to jealousy of salaries and prestige that exist on campus. Hiring a Stanford grad with a Harvard Law degree signals to those on-campus haters that academics will be a focus. Plus, they can’t look at him as an athletic meathead.

From Anderson’s standpoint, this can only be a clear sign that he wants to be an athletic director and felt that this was the best job for what he wanted to achieve within the profession. All of us — me included — are worried about the “stepping stone” label. It shouldn’t apply here for one simple reason: RAY ANDERSON DOESN’T NEED IT. A man with that resume leaving an NFL front office job — and leaving potential NFL GM opportunities –doesn’t need a stepping stone. If he wants an A.D. job, he tells his agent to contact a search firm and see what’s out there. He doesn’t take the job unless it fulfills every requirement he set. If you are Ray Anderson, why settle when you could have almost any A.D. job that came available? He must have felt ASU was the perfect choice.

Winning the press conference is always a goal and means absolutely nothing. Ask any divorced couple that had a huge wedding how well that worked out for them. Arizona State won the press conference and that doesn’t matter. More importantly, Arizona State won with the hiring of Ray Anderson.