People Interview: Courting Success
Incoming UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero returns to his alma mater intent on maintaining its level of excellence while defending its graduation rate.
By DANNY KING
Dan Guerrero wished for something, and he finally got it. Last month, the 50-year old Guerrero was tapped to head one of the country's largest intercollegiate athletic departments, succeeding 19-year incumbent Peter Dalis, who is retiring as UCLA's athletic director. The appointment marks a return to Westwood for Guerrero, who was a four-year letterman as a UCLA baseball player between 1971 and 1974, and was elected to UCLA's Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
In beating out candidates like UCLA Associate Athletic Director Betsy Stephenson and Boise State Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier, Guerrero, who has headed UC Irvine's program since 1992, will be running a $30 million-plus program.
It's a position Guerrero has had his eye on for years. The South Bay-reared Guerrero has been involved in the administration of local intercollegiate athletics since taking an unpaid position as Cal State Dominguez Hills' associate athletic director in 1982. He takes over at UCLA July 1.
Question: You've been able to observe UCLA's athletic program from a close distance, what will your primary focus be when you take over in July?
Answer: The most obvious thing is to see where the program is from the standpoint of the organizational dynamic. What are the strengths, where are there areas that require improvement and is it necessary to make adjustments to the organization.
Q: You raised about $38 million for athletic facilities at UC Irvine over the past five years. How much of your job is going to be fundraising, and are you setting specific fundraising goals?
A: You really can't quantify the time. The responsibilities of an athletic director are extremely broad-based, especially when you have a program that sponsors 22 sports.
In establishing where the program is you assess everything the competitive environment, how the teams are doing on the playing field, what kind of student-athletes are being brought into the program and whether they're competing academically. The other thing will be to assess the physical plant. Once you determine those needs, you develop a plan for tackling them.
Q: Do athletic programs tend to support themselves?
A: It depends. Athletic programs at the elite level tend to be as self-sustaining through gate receipts, donations, sponsorships and NCAA revenue sharing. UCLA football and basketball are economic drivers for the athletic program. Division 1-AAA programs like UC Irvine's do not generate the same kinds of revenues that major universities do, so you find other ways to generate those dollars.
Q: So UCLA supports itself?
Q: Will any other college sports, outside of football and basketball, ever support themselves?
A: It's pretty safe to say that in the short term, those are the two sports that will continue to support the overall program. Women's basketball, volleyball, softball and men's baseball will continue to increase their fan base and help to support their programs at higher levels, but to the extent that they can drive enough resources to pay for themselves, some work still needs to be done.
Q: What's the future of the 36-year-old Pauley Pavilion?
A: Pauley Pavilion is one of the most historic venues in all of intercollegiate athletics, but it is an older facility. It is still in pristine condition, but the question would be how functional it is in terms of the amenities. That would probably be the initial focus as we look at any kind of upgrade.
Q: Would UCLA consider relocating its football team to a downtown stadium if one were built for an NFL team?
A: My understanding is that the relationship with the Rose Bowl has been extremely positive. It would be premature to talk about any place outside of the Rose Bowl. However, we certainly owe it to our constituents to look at what might exist at another venue, should it become available.
Q: How do you propose to deal with off-field events that can mar a university's athletic program?
A: I was a middle infielder when I played baseball, and the first thing you learn when you turn a double play is to always expect a bad throw, and I think its important that the department do everything it can on the front end to provide the kind of education to its coaches, athletes and "friends of the program" to make them aware of the pitfalls that can occur. That said, with 600 student athletes in a goldfish bowl, it's not inconceivable that there will be transgressions.
Q: UCLA's basketball has had a 36 percent graduation rate over the last four years. How do you propose to balance a top-notch program and graduation against the lure of the professional leagues?
A: That's a dynamic all universities at the elite level face. When you recruit athletes, you tell them they will perform at the highest level in the country and they will have the exposure allowing them to play at a level beyond intercollegiate athletics. On the other hand, we will provide them the support necessary to help them achieve their academic dreams.
Just because student athletes in good academic standing either transfer out or go to the NBA draft or baseball draft does not mean that your institution has not upheld its promise to provide a quality education.
Q: Some view athletic scholarships as a boon to student athletes, while others object to athletes bringing in huge revenues to the school and NCAA without being paid. Is there a happy medium?
A: There are many circumstances where student athletes have articulated the need for increasing catastrophic insurance, increasing insurance for off-season conditioning and training, possibly increasing scholarships. Student athletes who perform in intercollegiate athletics do sacrifice quite a bit to able to perform at that high a level. But as a student athlete, I always felt that it was a privilege to be able to represent UCLA in the playing arena and I was happily willing to sacrifice my time to elevate my level of play. So the discussions about the happy medium are very healthy.
Q: Is UCLA at a disadvantage in a market where there are so many alternatives for the entertainment dollar?
A: It's a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you have so many people here and this great media market. On the other hand, it isn't Happy Valley (Penn State's main campus), and if you were to compare UCLA to a university in a college town, it's much different. But UCLA is in a market that is extremely diverse. It's in a location that's second to none, and I don't look at the location as a disadvantage at all.
Q: Is attendance affected by the presence of professional teams, and will it be affected if an NFL team returns to Los Angeles?
A: UCLA has a core group of supporters that will back the university as long as it is putting a product on the field that plays hard and competes at a high level. Outside competition is going to exist no matter what everything in this area is competing for entertainment dollars. We have to do everything possible to convince the UCLA family and others who support college athletics that UCLA is the place to support. We can't be thinking about any of the other professional and college teams in the area.
Q: Are you ready for the criticism that comes with running this program?
A: I expect the best, and I understand all the elements of this position. More than anything else, I'm excited about the challenge.
INTERVIEW: Dan G. Guerrero
Title: Athletic Director
Organization: UC Irvine (current), UCLA (starting July 1)
Born: Tucson, Ariz., 1951
Education: Bachelors degree in history, UCLA, 1974; Masters in Public Administration, Cal State Dominguez Hills, 1983
Career Turning Point: Becoming associate athletic director and management school lecturer at Cal State Dominguez Hills in 1982
Most Admired Person: Father
Personal: Married with two daughters
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