One year in, Pernetti proves he is right choice for job
Ask the Rutgers women's soccer team if Tim Pernetti was the right choice.
One of the most successful Rutgers programs over the last few seasons invited the University's new athletic director down to South Carolina for the NCAA Tournament in November, but Pernetti could not make it because of prior commitments.
So he got in his car in the wee hours of the morning and drove to the airport.
"They had like a 5:30 a.m. flight out of Newark," Pernetti said during a half-hour private interview last week. "I got up at my house at 3:30 and I drove to Newark and greeted the team; they didn't know I was coming. I got very close with that team all year and I wanted them to know they had my support even though I couldn't go on the trip."
Better yet, ask students in Brower Dining Hall. They might have seen Pernetti eating lunch on a bench table in a suit, welcoming all those who wished to approach him with questions, comments or concerns.
He would love to hear from you.
"I've taken advantage of that and gone in and just sort of, like my old days as a student, plop my tray down," Pernetti said. "People will see me and come over and sit and talk and you hear everything, but that's not something you would hear if you didn't make forceful interaction with the students. I think that's important because you can understand what's going on at your level and what's going on on the ground, and only then can you do the job the right way."
It's been one year since University President Richard L. McCormick and the Board of Governors deemed it necessary to find a new athletic director to clean up Robert E. Mulcahy's mess, Pernetti has done everything he possibly could to instill change to a department that badly needed it and negate the doubters who called him a "Schiano crony."
"I never bought that," McCormick said. "It is true, Tim and Greg have had a great relationship for many years and Greg Schiano even coached Tim, way back when, but I always knew that he would be the leader of the whole department. I see his rapport with Greg as an asset."
Pernetti preached transparency and improved communication. He brought that.
Every challenge Pernetti faced along the way, he handled remarkably well — at least to what those on the outside can tell.
Rutgers required a swift decision on the future of the men's basketball program and embattled head coach Fred Hill Jr.
The payment plan for the football stadium needed to be ironed out.
Ahead of schedule.
Only six athletic programs across the department finished their previous seasons with winning records.
Well, a solution for that issue remains to be seen.
"When I started, we got to the end of that first year very quickly; we ended up with 24 programs and six winning teams," Pernetti said. "In my mind, that's not acceptable and I shared that with the coaches — as a group and individually. If we're going to invest and make a commitment to all of these things, then six out of 24 is not good enough. We constantly have to be doing whatever we can to make progress."
Bob Reasso met with Pernetti after the conclusion of his 29th season at the helm of the men's soccer team this fall and ended up giving his letter of resignation. Saint Louis coach Dan Donigan was swiftly ushered in, and just like that the first coaching change was completed.
Many thought Hill was next after compiling one of the worst four-year records the Big East had ever seen. The two met shortly after a five-conference-win campaign concluded and Pernetti — who said he went into the meeting without a verdict in mind — settled on ushering in round five of the Hill era.
Pernetti acknowledged how difficult the decision was and that the remainder of Hill's contract played a role, but there was not one overwhelming factor that keyed the decree.
"The hardest part for me was I need to be objective and the hard part is that people are in your ear, because that's never going to change," Pernetti said. "When I'm with an alum and they say to me, ‘I'm concerned about the men's basketball program,' my response is, ‘Well, so am I.' I'm an alum too, I want our men's basketball program to be successful, just like you do. Being unemotional is the difficult part, because you hear it from every angle, but that was probably the more difficult piece."
Harping on the men's basketball program is convenient because of its exposure and visibility, but it is also extremely important because of what drives the entire athletic department — money. Aside from football, men's basketball is the flagship program of the school, garnering the most national television publicity and also has the ability to drive home revenue from the in-house attendees.
The Hill situation had to be treated so carefully because of the potential ramifications on all ends of the issue. One glance at the coaching searches from St. John's and DePaul should say enough about public relations disasters.
Pernetti handled it in-house, smoothly and quietly, ultimately making the right decision. If there was no clear-cut better candidate ready and willing to take the job immediately, the conundrum becomes that much harder to relieve Hill of his duties. There was no need, especially at this important budget juncture coming from Trenton, for a coaching vacancy to become such a sideshow.
"I read a stat the other day that over 200 programs have been cut at various universities over the last three or four years," Pernetti said. "To me, it's sad because college sports are all about opportunity. You don't have 24 sports because 24 sports make money. There are some that drive revenue in to support everything else, but for most college student-athletes it's about an opportunity to compete, and that opportunity may never continue beyond that."
Pernetti said contraction is not an immediate concern, but that's one of the next steps. No one can predict how the impending budget cuts will affect the athletic department, but Pernetti finds himself in yet another unenviable position when the figures arrive.
If his first year on the job was any indication, he will handle it with flying colors.
He was always the right person for the job.
Matthew Stein accepts comments and criticisms at email@example.com.