TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Ray Anderson lives at the edge of Arizona State’s campus and walks to work every day, stopping along the way to chat with students, faculty, anyone he comes across.
He has been a regular at sporting events, showing up to not just the high-profile ones like men’s basketball, but softball, swimming, track and field as well.
He’s also been exceptionally accessible, taking phone calls, exchanging emails and occasionally meeting in person with students, fans or boosters who have concerns.
A longtime NFL executive, Anderson has been given an energy jolt since being hired in January and he’s reciprocated, providing the university’s athletic department with an infusion of vigor and a dash of business savvy during a critical juncture for its future.
“He’s one of those guys you can tell he’s completely all in,” university President Michael Crow said. “All of that has been very impressive, his wanting to get down to the task, going to all the events, go out and meet people, walk to work, that’s all been a part of his all-in character.”
Anderson’s task is a massive one unlike he’s ever dealt with before.
A football and baseball player at Stanford, he worked in labor law litigation after graduating from Harvard, later co-founded a sports law practice and started his own agency before selling it to Octagon in 2001.
Anderson then spent four years as an executive with the Atlanta Falcons and the past eight as the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.
His career switch comes at a complex and chaotic time in collegiate athletics.
Arizona State is currently building a 330-acre athletic facilities district and has started a $225 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. The baseball team will move from on-campus Packard Stadium to the larger Phoenix Municipal Stadium and the university has signed a 30-year agreement to manage Papago Golf Course starting in July.
On a broader scope, college athletics are in a state of upheaval, with a massive conference realignment already in the books, student-athletes tying to unionize, calls for stipends and full-cost scholarships, and potentially large-scale changes for the NCAA’s structure on the horizon.
When Steve Patterson left Tempe to become the athletic director at Texas last November, Arizona State sought out someone who could navigate this changing landscape.
Intelligent, adaptable and affable, Anderson appears to be the perfect fit.
“Right now, we’re in a transformational stage at Arizona State and we wanted someone who fits our team and I think Dr. Crow did a great job of finding someone who is an innovator, dynamic, unique in their approach,” Arizona State football coach Todd Graham said. “We’re not interested in what everyone else is doing, we want to do it the Arizona State way.”
Anderson is, but adding an infusion of immediacy to it.
Tradition tends to reign in college athletics, a sort of we’ve-always-done-it-this-way approach to getting things done.
Arizona State has shaken up the model a bit with its look-to-the-future developments and by hiring an athletic director who has a vastly different perspective.
Working on the professional side of sports, Anderson grew accustomed to the immediacy that comes from that results-driven world and has brought that with him to the Arizona State campus.
“One of the things that we’re doing is inserting the higher sense of urgency that you get at the pros because at the pros, you win or you get fired and go away,” Anderson said. “You don’t get eight or 10 years to prove your mettle; just being mediocre in this day and age isn’t OK. We’re bringing that same mentality here to mix it with real quality institutional knowledge from the people who are already here and have done a good job.”
It’s been an adjustment.
Anderson wanted to work at Arizona State because of the facilities and real estate plays that are in the works. But since arriving four months ago, it’s been a crash course on everything from a massive construction project and stadium renovation to scheduling games and overseeing smaller sports.
Unlike the NFL, where he had an eye-in-the-sky perspective, Anderson now has his hands deep in the mud — and loves every minute of it.
“It’s been a bit of careful what you ask for because, my goodness, all the things that go into it has just been incredibly interesting, challenging, engaging and very educational,” Anderson said. “I haven’t done this from the ground level before. I’ve sat at 35,000 feet with the senior NFL people and heard it from that level, but never in the captain seat with the ultimate responsibility, obviously with a lot of help, of making sure this thing goes right.”
He seems to be off to a good start.
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