It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Dejan Kovacevic (or any other member of the Pittsburgh media) ushered former Duquesne University athletic director, Greg Amodio, to his flight to Hartford International with a smear-job hot take on his misguiding of the department to college sports hell. In fact, you almost had to expect it considering his greatest failing on the job was his inability to control the school’s perception which haunts him on his way out the door.
Despite the slam job, it’s difficult for me to reconcile a couple of facts that mark Amodio’s tenure for those watching closely with broader perception. While Duquesne men’s basketball never got over the hump under Ron Everhart and hasn’t gotten off the mat under Jim Ferry, the rest of the Dukes’ offerings are more competitive than they’ve ever been. They’re routinely competing for and winning championships in the cross country, lacrosse, and volleyball seasons. If men’s hoops is the flagship, women’s basketball is the second and it has developed into a top 60 program and one of the most consistently solid in the nation. Meanwhile, football has moved up in the world and in just a handful of years of awarding scholarships began sharing Northeast Conference titles and nearly stealing a road game against Buffalo.
That said, he was running his course at Duquesne and the logic used to dismiss Everhart could have easily been turned around on him. The athletic department plateaued to where teams were good but not getting over the hump often enough. That includes women’s basketball and football. While Amodio cultivated relationships with a number of new large donors, his customer service record feel short of the expectations of many fans. A deep rift divided Duquesne’s base into two factions, those who supported Amodio and those who danced in the street Tuesday night when the news of his pending departure broke. This isn’t healthy for a school with the limited support of Duquesne.
When I first heard that Amodio had moved to Quinnipiac University to fill the same position, I initially thought he took a lateral move to avoid being side stepped in the coming years. While he conceivably would have had his job for another year or two, it’s hard to envision him escaping the chopping block when the replacement for the man who hired him, President Charles Dougherty, had the reigns. It seemed like a move to salvage his career, but though the Connecticut school plays in the much lower MAAC conference compared to Duquesne’s Atlantic 10, the Wildcats own a considerably larger athletic department. Where Duquesne spends $17 million a year, Quinnipiac spends just under $24 million. He may have even gotten a promotion.
So how does a supposed incompetent boob achieve some success in almost every sport, including for a time in men’s basketball, and earn a promotion to an aggressive, rising athletic department?
Simple — he hasn’t controlled the story and he hasn’t grown the brand to match the proportional gains of the department. The problem is that the entire brand was tied to men’s basketball. He could have done a better job spreading the burden around by showcasing the successes in other sports and trying to more aggressively grow their standing. Duquesne was the best performing program in Pittsburgh for women’s basketball until Pitt hired former Dukes coach Suzie McConnell-Serio away heading into the 2013-14 season. An opportunity was missed to enhance the school’s brand through a secondary sport and take pressure off men’s basketball. He could have showcased success even if it wasn’t the way success was initially drawn up.
So that takes us to the present where a lame duck president is deciding who to hire as athletic director for the final year of his tenure and into the next era of Duquesne University. It almost feels like the next person to take the job is set up for failure or at the very least a tougher evaluation for their second annual review.
Contrary to popular belief, the Duquesne administration has stepped up some modest support for sports to where the department has nearly doubled over the last decade. With limited return on their investment, it remains to be seen how much longer they will maintain even that level. We’ve already seen slight year over year reductions in spending on men’s basketball and while it’s not an unmanageable drop, they have failed to keep pace with the rest of the league dropping from 4th in the conference in men’s basketball spending the year they transitioned from Everhart to Ferry to 9th this past year.
The market for athletic directors is a cloudy one because, generally speaking, they lead from the conference table not the sidelines. It’s hard to identify them, because they’re not the names you immediately associate with a school. There are a few names that Duquesne could consider.
The former Stony Brook AD lost his job at the Long Island public school amidst a flurry of misogynistic complaints including inappropriate texting and sexual harassment. Personal transgressions aside, he was one of the hottest commodities in college athletics prior to his dismissal with almost every Stony Brook program reaching unprecedented heights for the school including their storied run to Omaha for men’s baseball in 2012. He built facilities, and relationships and the development dollars rolled in. While the guy is clearly a scumbag, I’m sure many Duquesne fans would love it if he were their scumbag.
While he’s techncally retired, it would be interesting to see if the prospect of leading a Division I school for a few seasons and a pick up truck full of money could lure Dr. Frank Condino back. His record at IUP speaks for itself. He built Northeast Conference caliber facilities on a Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference budget. Not only does IUP regularly win conference titles, they compete at the national level in Division II with regular top 25 finishes for their men’s basketball program and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Condino could serve in a transitional role where he would work for three more years and step aside once the new president has established themselves at Old Main.
Though she had an up and down career at the University of Pittsbugh as their women’s basketball coach, Agnus Berenato has the experience in athletics and the competitive energy to be a success in administration. Known as a stalwart recruiter, Berenato got off the ground running before ultimately getting outmatched late in her career. But the skills that it takes to convince young women to buy into your program might be just what Duquesne needs to convince the city of Pittsburgh, and its own alums, to buy in. She also knows Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade fairly well as they are sisters.
Finding a candidate to match the tastes of the current search team and a theoretical future university president will be a challenge. The ultimate solution is to simply find the best person for the job. Normally, the rest would take care of itself. Problem is, the future of athletics will be impacted as much by the attitudes from Old Main and the board of directors as it will by whoever puts pictures of their families and vacations in Greg Amodio’s old office. If the administration does not continue at least the modest rate of support and the scaling back of resources has already begun as I believe it may have, the next person to take the job may have their hands tied from day one.