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Slack-ing Off: John & Sean Discuss New Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack

A Q&A between us about the surprising Orange hire.

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We haven't done one of these in a while, but figured the Syracuse Orange hiring a new athletic director could be the perfect moment to revisit "Slack-ing Off." Below, we toss around (at least some of) the burning questions you may have about SU's move to bring in ESPN's John Wildhack as the new AD. Join us!

Who were you expecting Syracuse to hire? Assuming not Wildhack.

Sean: Honestly I didn't have too much of an expectation as to the specific person. I think I was expecting someone who had some kind of Northeast ties as a way to break away from the bitter taste left behind by carpetbaggin' Mark Coyle. While I was never a "Next AD Has To Be A Syracuse Person" proponent, I did think it made sense to focus on someone who understood the challenges of being in this region.

John: This time around, was once again hoping for football prowess and maybe some basic understanding of the northeast's role in college football. That landed me on Northern Illnois's Sean Frazier, a Long Island guy who obviously has experience with a real football culture sort of being built from scratch. Other that him, I hadn't really latched onto any of the various names being tossed around out there.

What are you initial thoughts on him? Is "Syracuse guy" a draw at all?

Sean: Initial thoughts are very good. Look, there is a magical alternate universe where academics and amateurism are the cornerstones of college sports. But that's not this universe. This universe is about maximizing financial value and getting national exposure. This is a guy who not only comes from ESPN but literally helped create the game that we're all playing now. If this is a business, we just hired one of the business's key players. I do like that he's an SU guy so we don't have to do the whole "get to know everyone" routine like we did with Gross and Coyle. He knows where everything is. He can jump right in. He already knows Boeheim and all the heavy hitters here. That's a good thing.

John: Like Sean pointed out, the biggest plus is that he doesn't need to get acclimated to Syracuse's culture or campus. He understands that already, which certainly allows him to start doing the job quicker. He still has a lot to learn regarding athletic administration, however, which puts some more onus than normal on who he hires for his staff. I like the hire because it's outside the box and his experience brings Syracuse athletics exposure to the forefront from a content and programming perspective, rather than a marketing and PR one like we saw under Gross.

What role will his ESPN experience bring to the AD position that it lacked previously?

Sean: Good question. Well, coming from a corporate background is likely going to streamline some processes over at SU Athletics, which I've felt is something that needed to be done for a while now. Beyond that I don't know if I have a strong answer. The tough part for him will be balancing that longtime knowledge of making financially-sound decisions with ensuring that non-revenue sports maintain their high levels of success. You don't get to his level without surrounding yourself with smart people and knowing the value in them, so I figure he can work it out.

John: Started mentioning a bit on the previous question, but his focus on how to make Syracuse as appealing as possible will revolve around producing valuable content and programming (probably through ESPN), rather than through marketing campaigns. Since he's been at ESPN during some recent shake-ups and cost-cutting, that could continue Coyle and Kent Syverud's budget trimming at SU and help make this thing a whole lot more profitable long-term.

If you were Wildhack, would you have gone this route?

Sean: Well, in a vacuum it certainly seems like a step back career-wise. Obviously he'll be making less money and there's less power as a university AD than there is as an EVP at ESPN. But if he is not only looking for a change (what else can he accomplish at ESPN, other than run it?) but also wants to have a job with an entity he personally cares about (SU), and money is no object (guessing it's not), then I don't see why not. My question to him would be where do you see yourself in ten years? Are you still the AD at Syracuse or is this a stepping stone to something else?

John: This is meant without any disrespect, of course. But I'd probably have stuck around ESPN instead, especially considering how high up he was and how close he is to John Skipper over there. Still, as many of us know, it can be tough to say no to your alma mater. It's a job a lot of folks here would take in a heartbeat, even if it meant a pay cut. Being an AD (especially a young one) at your alma mater also offers more job security than most gigs out there, including ESPN.

What do you want from him in the first 100 days?

Sean: You know what I want to see? I want to see him interact with the coaches and the athletes. Plant his flag in the program. Show us that he truly is one of us and that he's here to really make an impact in the program. Maybe do his own barnstorming tour while he's at it.

John: Schedule some goddamn football opponents, please. Other than that, be present and start making an impact on the athletics program. Don't accept what we've always done, just because we've always done it that way. Don't need to do anything earth-shattering. Just show that he's going to be a departure from what we know, and outline some of the positive changes he'll look to institute with regard to football, basketball and the overall program.

How could this potentially impact football scheduling?

Sean: My fear, and this is based solely on the fact that he's an ESPN guy who has worked in broadcasting, is that we're looking at Gross 2.0 when it comes to scheduling. That it'll be all about scheduling games that move the meter against big-time opponents. I'd like to think he's seen where that's gotten us in the past two decades but I reserve judgment.

John: I mentioned this briefly on Twitter, and it falls directly in line with the benefits of his ESPN ties. He gets programming, and that usually means games you'd want to televise. The fact that he knows the program means he also knows these games haven't turned out well for us in the past. But it also doesn't stop him from pursuing a scheduling strategy similar to what we've come to know (and dread). Hopefully I'm proven wrong here.

Any ACC Network implications here?

Sean: Well, look, when you've got one of the few people who has John Skipper on speed dial in your conference, that changes things. Certainly it will help make the relationship between the two entities run smoother and it could very well grease the wheels. ESPN isn't going to do anything just because they know a guy, but if it makes sense financially, he could be the missing piece that gets it done.

John: I don't necessarily think it hastens the move, but it could be a signal that negotiations are already down a very positive path. It could also mean that Syracuse and (JUST ACCEPT IT) the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications play a larger role in an ACC Network than would've been the case otherwise. That won't mean more revenue, per se. But it's a potentially cool opportunity for students and alums to be part of a campus hub for the network, of sorts. The above is all speculation, by the way.

What will define his success at Syracuse, in your eyes?

Sean: Ultimately, how well the football program performs. We're still waiting for this great Syracuse Football Renaissance and it needs to happen sooner than later. While maintaining the success of Olympic sports is great, taking football to the next level could do worlds of wonder for the athletic department and the university. He'd be my hero, that's for sure.

John: The only answer's football at this point. Later on, we'll get to the way he handles the transition to the Mike Hopkins era of the men's basketball program. But in the immediate term, football showing signs of life, appealing to fans and becoming a respectable entity again are the bars to jump over. I'd like to think the school's highly successful Olympic sports are a priority as well, as they have been for about a decade now and it's obviously paid dividends.


How about you? Anything else you're wondering about Wildhack for the time being? Share your thoughts below.