Commentary: Craig Angelos out as FAU athletic director

Craig+Angelos%2C+University+Athletic+Director.

Craig Angelos, University Athletic Director.

Ryan Cortes

Craig Angelos. Photo by Abhi Saini

It was all going so well.

Going so well because Craig Angelos had the power he’d been waiting years for. Going so well because the only football coach FAU ever had was gone, Howard Schnellenberger leaving behind just memories and a bronze statue at the front of the new stadium. Going so well because even though that statue would serve as a permanent reminder to Angelos about who’d get credit for the stadium forever, it was his time.

Schnellenberger was gone, and so it was Angelos’ job to find a replacement. His choice, his interviews. He hired Carl Pelini, and the new stadium awaited a new era. Not to mention Angelos’ decision to play hardball with basketball coach Mike Jarvis.

Some background: After a 21-11 season in 2010-11, Jarvis had but a single year left on his contract and wanted the security and satisfaction of a new deal, more money.

“I guarantee you Duke spends more on food when they travel than we do for the recruiting budget for the whole year,” Jarvis told me last year. Still, Angelos didn’t budge. The season began with high hopes, Jarvis swaggering through The Burrow looking to prove his boss wrong.

Then the season ended. 11-19. A first round postseason exit. Again.

Sources say Angelos felt Jarvis had no more bargaining power. Why would he? In two weeks, Jarvis’s contract was set to expire, anyway. Something interesting happened along the way though. Lost amid the hoopla of a new stadium and a battle with Jarvis were a treasure chest full of problems.

And so, late last night, an email sent to BOT members — the thirteen-member committee that makes FAU’s biggest decisions and selects others — announced that Angelos, his contract up for renewal, wouldn’t be retained. Leverage and all, gone. Fired.

Why? Here are a few reasons I got from sources close to the situation. They’ve requested to stay anonymous:

After 29,103 fans showed up for the first game at FAU Stadium, attendance dropped to 12,044 by the end of November. Unlike FIU, USF, UCF, FSU and USF, there are no naming rights on the $70 million building. Photo by Char Pratt

1. No naming rights on the stadium

One source said: “This brand new, amazing stadium, doesn’t have a fucking name on it. It doesn’t have a logo on it. It’s the only billboard in Boca Raton. The only thing you see, the only thing you can possibly put a name on is FAU Stadium. How can you not sell that?”

To be clear, Angelos is ultimately in charge of selling the naming rights. Other schools — like FIU, USF, FSU, UF and UCF — all have naming rights on their respective stadiums, FAU  losing out on potential millions without one.

2. Lack of ticket sales in the football stadium

One source blamed the pricing: “His whole thing was–if we don’t sell them, we don’t make money. Why would we give them away if people don’t buy them? Well, shit, when a new product opens up, you see them giving out the product like gum.”

Another source blamed the marketing: “Just last week they made a poster for an FAU-UM game. With the wrong date and time.”

To be clear, FAU sold an average of 17,656/game last year, and had all the buzz of a new stadium behind it. Fifty-six miles south, FIU sold 18,407/game in the same year. Without a new stadium.

3. Poor relationship with coaches

One source said: “What coaches get along with Craig? None of them, really. I haven’t met a coach that has ever praised the things he’s done aside from the stadium, but when Schnellenberger speaks about it, he never mentions Craig, you notice that? It’s himself, Saunders, the students. I know for a fact Craig Angelos and Howard Schnellenberger didn’t get along.”

To be clear, Schnellenberger would often leave Angelos’ name out when talking about the stadium and its inception. Like he told the UP when the stadium opened, “I knew from the beginning if I could fundraise and get a stadium for the school, that this program could compete with the elite.”

The question needs to be asked then: What took so damn long? Why now?

This wasn’t the first time Angelos’ contract was up for renewal in his eight-year tenure as AD (it got approved once before, though the date is unclear), nor was it the first time these complaints have been heaved at him.

Part of the reason may have been a reluctance to begin big change, not with Angelos standing front and center, stadium negotiations ongoing.

Maybe the powers that be wanted to wait until the negotiations for the stadium, which Angelos led, were done. Dropping him while decisions were being made might have trampled the success of their $70 million investment.

So, it made sense to wait until the stadium became reality, not an idea. But to let him lead the charge in finding Schnellenberger’s replacement? Only to fire him three months later? Where’s the precedence for that?

From afar, it would appear year one in the new stadium was a success. Not really. If you listen to media relations, they’ll tell you the average attendance per game in the first year at FAU stadium was 17,565. This is true. It is also misleading.

The novelty of new, of fresh, always allures, especially in an event-town like South Florida. And so, nearly 30,000 people showed up for the first game. After a 20-0 loss and a realization that a new stadium meant, well, a new stadium and not a new team, attendance dropped to 12,044 by the end of November. That should alarm fans and players and supporters and administrators. And evidently it did.

There’s also problems with a great number of the coaches, alarming given that it was Angelos’ responsibility to hire and fire coaches since his hiring in 2003.

There’s speculation that women’s basketball coach Chancellor Dugan will be let go after her team lost by 56 in the last game of the season. Seriously. And although it’d appear Jarvis won his power struggle and should expect to see a new deal shortly, now that Angelos is gone, the baseball team still plays in a stadium with no bathrooms and almost as few fans. The women’s soccer team is tired of verbal abuse from its coach, and nearly half the starting roster on the basketball team has left. In the last week.

There’s never been more change and chaos at the top of FAU athletics. More than ever, they need someone in charge to mend not merely broken bridges, but a blown up city.

Someone. Anyone.