Missouri athletic director Mike Alden, who raised the profile of the department and spearheaded the Tigers’ transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference while navigating through a series of controversies, will step down Aug. 31.
Alden announced his decision Thursday afternoon in a letter to university staff. He also revealed that he will remain in Columbia with the MU College of Education, teaching courses in the Positive Coaching Program.
Alden told his staff that teaching had been in his plan for several years.
“After several months of contemplation, I have decided that it is time for a change …” Alden wrote in his letter. “We are proud of what we have accomplished over the past seventeen years, which is a lifetime for an athletics administrator. I am most proud of our tremendous coaches, staff and student-athletes and how they represent our University.”
MU deputy athletic director Doug Gillin said the staff was surprised by the timing of Alden’s announcement, but not stunned by its substance.
“When we came into the office today, we didn’t know today was the day, but we’re excited for Mike and excited for his family and glad that he was able to announce this when he wanted to announce this,” Gillin said.
When Alden took over in July 1998 from Southwest Texas State as a 40-year-old, Mizzou had an athletic budget of $13.7 million. Under Alden, that figure has now grown to more than $83 million in the latest financial year, according to figures obtained by The Star.
“He’s leaving the department in a lot better shape than he found it,” said Kansas City attorney and lifelong Tigers fan Paul Blackman, a past president of the Tiger Club of Kansas City.
To get to that point, Alden survived several waves of fan criticism for his decisions, starting with his orchestration of legendary basketball coach Norm Stewart’s retirement and hiring of Quin Snyder in 1999.
The Ricky Clemons fiasco — jailhouse tapes obtained by the media that included charged recordings between the former Missouri basketball player and the wife of the university president, who said her husband didn’t support Alden — was a colossal embarrassment. Alden also faced criticism for reinstating Clemons to competition one game after he was charged with felonious domestic assault. Alden eventually revoked Clemons’ scholarship after he violated terms of his work release.
The death of football player Aaron O’Neal during a voluntary workout in 2005 was one of the football program’s darkest hours. MU settled a wrongful death lawsuit.
But another low point was the school’s response to allegations of sexual assaults by football player Derrick Washington and basketball player Mike Dixon. Washington was dismissed from the football team in 2010 after he was charged with felony deviate sexual assault, which he was later convicted of. Dixon left the basketball team in 2012 after two sexual assault allegations against him were uncovered, though no charges were filed in either case.
Also troubling was Missouri’s inaction in the case of swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, who alleged she was raped by football players in 2010. She committed suicide a year later.
Basketball coaches came and went, the latest was Frank Haith, who sat out the first five games last season serving an suspension for NCAA rules violations that occurred when he was at the University of Miami.
“Clearly basketball is not going to be his legacy …” Blackman said. “That’s not what he’s going to hang his hat on, but football still drives the bus and there’s not much to complain about there.”
He will leave as the second-longest tenured MU athletic director, only trailing Don Faurot, the legendary football coach who led the department for 27 years from 1935-42 and 1946-66.
Alden was chosen the director of the year in 2008 by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. He served as that organization’s president during 2014, helping lead the push for autonomy among the NCAA’s “Power Five” conferences, which want to provide more scholarship money to athletes.
More than $265 million in private donations came into the MU athletic department under Alden, including a $30 million gift following the SEC move by the Kansas City Sports Trust, the second-largest single gift in MU history.
That gift started a $200 million facility improvement plan that resulted in the new east-side expansion at Memorial Stadium. A new south end-zone complex is in the planning stages along with a new softball stadium.
Another reason for the growth in football is the success of the program under coach Gary Pinkel, who Alden hired after the 2000 season. Pinkel has led the Tigers to consecutive SEC East titles in MU’s first three years in the conference.
MU chancellor Bowen Loftin has started a national search for Alden’s successor. In 2012, Alden received a contract extension through the 2019 school year that kept his base salary at $301,917.
“Mike has transformed our athletics program into one of the nation’s best …” Loftin said in a release. “He led our move to the Southeastern Conference and has been at the helm as our teams won multiple championships over the years.
“Though I am saddened that Mike will no longer be a member of our leadership team … I am truly happy for him and (his wife), Rockie, as he embarks on a new challenge here at Mizzou. Mike will always be a part of our family.”
SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who will leave his position July 31, also had praise for Alden.
“I will always remember his calm demeanor, his authoritative presence and his infectious enthusiasm as he introduced the Mizzou tradition to the SEC,” Slive said in a release.
Alden’s legacy will be a predominantly positive one.
“It was a really impressive tenure all things considered,” Blackman said. “But for his effort, I don’t think we’re in the SEC and that’s directly attributable to fostering the football program — hiring Gary Pinkel and sticking with him. Without that, you’re not in the SEC, so that alone makes it a very successful tenure.”
Within the department, Alden is well-liked and highly regarded.
“He’s invested all he has into this program …” former Missouri basketball standout Laurence Bowers said. “We’ll definitely miss him.”
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff contributed to this report