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Klee: Here's the past; Now, Rick George is the answer for CU's future

By: Paul Klee
August 4, 2013 Updated: August 5, 2013 at 9:38 am
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DENVER - The year was 1985. A young man on a college football staff, under the title of recruiting coordinator, was hot on the trail of a blue-chip wide receiver from a high school in Oklahoma.

In a lapse of judgment, the recruiter gave the recruit $100 to pay for a hotel room. That's against NCAA rules, and the football program was placed on probation.

The recruiter's name? Rick George. He's the new athletic director at CU.

And my goodness, did CU ever nail this hire.

I want to get this back story out there. It needs to be out there before some precocious academic in Boulder decides George is too perfect, too powerful, too good at raising money for the CU athletic department that it's time to dig up some dirt.

There's the dirt. Almost three decades ago, George did what young men in their mid-20s do: He messed up. He had a lapse in judgment. He's sorry.

"You can't take shortcuts. It was a mistake I made. It was a dumb mistake. I've learned a lot from it," George told me in a phone conversation. "I think it's helped shape me into who I am. I don't take shortcuts. I work hard.

"Sometimes you slip up, and I did. I made a mistake and I moved on."

You know who didn't move on?

The shortsighted college administrations who didn't hire George before the Buffaloes got their claws on him. George has tried to get back in college athletics for some time.

"It's where my heart is, working with student-athletes," he said.

George was a finalist for the AD job at Ole Miss; he had preliminary phone conversations with Illinois.

"It wasn't the right time for them; it wasn't the right time for me," George said of his alma mater, Illinois.

There were others, too, none quite as attractive to George as CU, where he served as recruiting coordinator and football operations manager from 1987-91, a rare golden era for Buffs football.

"Coach (Bill) McCartney was a very strong mentor to me," George said.

Hiring George as AD is the best move CU's made since a female buffalo was chosen to play Ralphie.

George, the chief operating officer with Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, isn't a home-run hire. Hiring George is hitting for the cycle.

"I hope they don't take this the wrong way," Mike White told me over the phone. "But Colorado has no idea how good Rick George is. I'll tell you this: They're going to find out how good he is."

Who's Mike White? He was the dynamic football coach at Illinois who lost his job in part because George paid $100 for a hotel room for a recruit.

And you won't find a bigger fan of George than White.

The recruit was Hart Lee Dykes, a superstar wide-receiving prospect who not only devastated defenses. He devastated entire programs. His recruitment fired up a bidding war that eventually landed four college programs on NCAA probation.

"Forget Hart Lee Dykes. That's like talking (about) whether Rick missed a tackle in a game 30 years ago. Who gives a damn? Does that really matter if he can run an athletic department?" White said.

"The most important thing is you've got a businessman in there at Colorado who knows the financial side, who knows the role of football. If Colorado wants to compete (in the Pac-12) with Oregon, USC, UCLA, Cal, you need a businessman. It's big business. You know that."

I do.

At long last, the hiring of George, who officially begins as AD on Aug. 12, indicates CU does, too.

His is a unique background for a college AD. Given its difficulty in raising money through the years, CU athletics needed a unique AD.

Successful runs in nonprofit work (as CEO of the Fore!Kids Foundation), golf (as executive vice president of the PGA Tour and president of the Champions Tour) and MLB (with the Rangers), suggest George's business skills are transferrable.

This is like an elite athlete performing at the top of the game - no matter which game it is.

"From sport to sport, one thing that doesn't change is how you treat people and your business principles," George said.

I've found that college administrations often make one of two errors. They either mistake little things for big things, or the higher powers on the academic side get involved with stuff they don't know enough about.

Both have been evident at CU.

CU has been more concerned with having enough vans for the ski team, or players for the women's lacrosse team, than adequately funding a football program that pays for both.

To make the little things work, the big thing must work.

With five teams in the preseason USA Today/Coaches Top 25 poll, the Pac-12 is confirmed as a football behemoth.

CU football, the biggest thing, must start working.

"I think all of our sports can win a national championship," George said. "That's the mindset we have to embrace."

George said he doesn't believe his role in NCAA improprieties almost 30 years ago had a negative influence on his attempts to rejoin college athletics.

"No, I don't think it has impacted my career at all," George said.

I disagree. There were college administrators scared away by something that happened long ago, in the '80s, something that, if he were hired, would only be a one-day story.

This is that day.

And with George in charge, CU's day is coming.


Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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