A major college athletic director’s scoreboard begins with coaches hired and scandals avoided.
Everything else matters too, and many of those details can be found in Mike Alden’s 1,000-word biography on Missouri’s athletic website. But high-profile hires and avoiding hastily called news conferences to explain a disaster largely define the athletic boss.
By that standard, Alden’s tenure, which will end in August with his surprising announcement a few hours before the Tigers men’s basketball team played top-ranked Kentucky on Thursday, will be largely remembered favorably.
Alden’s word cloud runs the spectrum: Mizzou Arena, Cotton Bowl, Ricky Clemons, Board of Curators, wallflower and Big 12 would be in large text. Jumping from the page are Gary Pinkel and the SEC.
The university’s monumental change in athletic direction, resigning from the Big 12 and joining the Southeastern Conference, doesn’t happen without the football program’s strength and stability.
That’s the workmanship of Pinkel, hired by Alden in 2000.
MU football was broken. Larry Smith won in the late 1990s but couldn’t sustain it, and Alden made the move. No one was quite sure what to make of the little-known Pinkel. Alden had gone for splash the previous year when he grabbed Quin Snyder from Duke’s staff (over Tulsa’s Bill Self) to replace Norm Stewart as basketball coach.
Toledo’s Pinkel, was the choice over a group that included Mark Richt. Slowly, football was restored. It stabilized and became a consistent winner, claiming two Big 12 division titles and in 2007 coming within a half of playing for the national championship.
The winning continued and that gave Missouri and Alden strength when they would need it most. The Big 12 was on the verge of collapse in 2010 with Texas leading a wagon train to the then-Pacific-10. The Tigers were grouped in the Forgotten Five, the schools which for a long weekend, frantically considered alternatives for their athletic futures. Big East? Mountain West?
Nebraska and Colorado left, but the Big 12 was going to survive as a 10-team league. But uncertainty struck again in 2011. A day after Oklahoma president David Boren said his school wouldn’t be a “wallflower” in the continuing realignment, Alden and then-chancellor Brady Deaton met atop the Mizzou press box to discuss the school’s conference options, and the wheels were in motion to join the SEC.
Two months later, the confetti fell at the SEC welcoming ceremony on campus.
The move would have been impossible without a football program the SEC believed brought value to its current and future media deals. This doesn’t happen without Pinkel, and Pinkel doesn’t happen without Alden.
As Missouri continues to break in with its new conference home, Alden has been tireless in his efforts to maintain a link to Kansas City unavoidably broken with the SEC switch. No Mizzou in the Big 12 Tournament meant rolling up sleeves to bring events to one of its largest fan bases.
In a two-week span this November, Mizzou will play a football game at Arrowhead and a basketball game in the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.
Ironically, with football down early in Alden’s tenure, basketball was up. Stewart’s Tigers team made a run at the 1999 conference title, tying for second, and that would match the best finish in the team’s Big 12 history.
But although MU basketball has been to the NCAA Tournament more often than not in Alden’s tenure, most of his lowest moments involved hoops. The Clemons episode with the jailhouse tapes soundtrack was the most public stain.
Alden’s handling of Snyder’s firing, sending envoy Gary Link to deliver the news, was such a low point that on the day Mike Anderson’s contract was approved by the Board of Curators, Alden’s own job seemed in peril.
Anderson got Mizzou to an Elite Eight and himself to Arkansas, and his replacement, Frank Haith may have been the worst hire of the Alden tenure. It’s left the Tigers on a path to their worst season in decades.
The most troubling moments of Alden’s tenure have occurred in the past few years, allegations of sexual assault against star athletes Derrick Washington, who was later convicted and sent to prison, and Mike Dixon, who was never charged in two incidents. Plus there’s the disturbing inaction by Missouri, reported by ESPN, after an alleged rape of swimmer Sasha Menu Courey by one or more football players. Courey committed suicide in 2011, a year after the incident.
Earlier this year, soon after wide receiver and former No. 1 national recruit Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the program after another arrest, Alden called a news conference to address the run off off-field incidents.
Even Pinkel found trouble, arrested for driving intoxicated in 2011. He was suspended and fined by Alden.
“The logo never comes off,” Alden said. “It never, ever comes off.”
Perhaps at his news conference Friday morning, Alden will explain the timing of this transition into academia. This wasn’t a lightly speculated move. With a contract set to take him into 2019, this was non-speculated, even for an athletic director who had served in this role for 17 years — an eternity in athletic director years for one stop — taking over for Oklahoma-bound Joe Castiglione in 1998.
Does bow-tie-wearing chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, hired in 2013, want his own athletic boss? He said he was “saddened,” that Alden will no longer be the boss, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Chancellors like their athletic departments best when they’re holding trophies and not press conferences.
There have been plenty of both occasions in Alden’s Missouri career. Because enough of the trophies were raised after football games, Alden will be remembered as an effective leader who ensured a secure future for Missouri athletics.