by | Feb 8, 2000 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

IT’S FUNNY how many people already have decided Tom Goss should lose his job, when most of them don’t know what his job is.

They look at the mess on the Michigan basketball team, and somehow decide,
“It’s Goss’ fault.” They point at budgets they don’t understand and somehow decide, “It’s Goss’ fault.” They look at the “halo” that loops Michigan Stadium and somehow decide, “That’s Goss’ fault, too.”

Bo Schembechler is one of the few people who actually know what Goss’ job is
— because he had the same job, athletic director at Michigan, in 1988-90 — and he says this is a really big mistake.

“It’s absolutely wrong to fire Tom Goss,” Schembechler said Monday night. “I have a lot of respect for the people in the administration, but based on what I’ve seen, they have no cause to fire him.

“This will not solve a problem. It will create a new one. It’ll create a mess.”

Now, you’ll notice Bo used the word “fire.” That’s because he knows something most of the so-called experts do not. The next time someone says, “Goss must go,” ask him to name the one thing upon which an athletic director’s job rests.

His ability to hire coaches? Wrong.

His ability to oversee money? Wrong.

His ability to make sure the school isn’t breaking any NCAA rules? Wrong.

Here is the simple truth — and the reason that Goss likely will be fired today, under the softer label of a “resignation”:

The athletic director’s job depends on pleasing the university president.

And Michigan’s president, Lee Bollinger, is no longer pleased.

Go ask the president

Now, the obvious next question is, what has Goss done to lose the confidence of the man who hired him less than 2 1/2 years ago?

Let’s start with the Jamal Crawford situation. Here is a freshman basketball player who may have received favors from a man he may have lived with in high school. The NCAA ruled. Crawford is sitting.

He began sitting a half-hour before the Michigan-Michigan State showdown, an eventual romp for the Spartans that no doubt left the maize-and-blue rather red.

Embarrassing? Sure. A fireable offense?


“The athletic director is not responsible for the discipline of athletes,” Schembechler said. “That’s the coach’s responsibility. An AD can’t be in on every recruit, for goodness’ sake.

“If I were athletic director, I would not expect to be responsible for this
(Crawford) situation.”

So why should Goss?

“You have to ask (the president),” Bo said.

Second complaint on Goss. He’s bad with money. Critics point to a deficit of
$2 million to $4 million despite record revenues. But how many of those people know the costs of running U-M’s athletic department, or the fact that when Goss came in, U-M was directed to increase scholarships to non-revenue sports, which means instant red ink?

“The truth is,” Schembechler said, “for an athletic department’s budget like Michigan’s, a shortfall like this is nothing.”

So why would Goss be fired over it?

“You’d have to ask (the president).”

Third complaint on Goss. He put that dumb halo around Michigan Stadium. It cost money, no one liked it, and now it’s coming down.

“That thing,” Schembechler said, “was not Tom Goss’ doing. He’s taking all the bullets on it, but it was the president’s idea.”

Fourth complaint on Goss. The “shadow” of Ed Martin, the U-M booster who may have had improper financial relationships with Wolverines basketball players.

“They’re gonna blame Goss for that?” Schembechler said. “That all went on before he got here. There isn’t a single person in this athletic department who would recognize Ed Martin if he walked into this building.”

So why fire Goss over this?

“You’d have to ask–“

OK. We get it.

Of dignity and discipline

Why is Bollinger ready to give Goss the ax? Probably because running a university is about perception as it is about reality. Bollinger may think the school’s athletic department suggests a corral that can’t control its horses.

“All you do is send a letter to the administration,” Schembechler lamented,
“and they get scared. Some of these people are very bright but know very little about collegiate athletics.”

Perhaps Bollinger wants someone who will renew a sense of dignity and discipline. Funny. Wasn’t that why he hired Goss in the first place?

I cannot say what goes on inside Lee Bollinger’s head. I can say if Goss is a goner at U-M, that makes four athletic directors in the last 10 years. That’s not what we call “stability.”

But then, once upon a time, being athletic director meant setting the schedules, going to games — above all else, running a department with autonomy. That’s why Fritz Crisler held the job for 27 years and Don Canham held it for 20.

Now, you’re lucky to hang on for three. You look outside your office, you see recruiting scandals that they’ll blame on you. You look down at your desk, you see budget problems that they’ll blame on you. You look up, you see the boot of the university president, ready to come down on you.

With all that, the question in Ann Arbor may not be “Why is Tom Goss gone?”

It may be, “Why would anyone want to take his place?”

MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or Catch
“Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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