What bothers me most about the hiring of Robert Burke was not the fact that he was hired – it is the manner in which it was done.
To be clear, Brion Dunlap is my guy; I was rooting for him to be head coach and I was disappointed that he didn’t get it.
And as long as Dunlap couldn’t get the job I’m sincerely pleased with the choice President Thomas H. Powell made in hiring Burke.
But I am taking this time to address the issues of inequality at Mount St. Mary’s and the lack of reverence for its history, namely in the basketball program.
Notice I did not say that it was a choice the school, the athletic department, or even athletic director Lynne Robinson made – it was Powell. He told us this himself at Burke’s introductory press conference.
“Little did I think when I was one* that I would get to select the next basketball coach. But I did. And thanks to the group of advisers,” Powell said.
*Powell’s reference to when he was one year old indicates his age the last time the Mount had to do an extensive search for a men’s basketball coach. Milan Brown was brought in as a “coach-in-waiting” under previous president, the late George Houston.
Notice how he said “I did” and refers to the rest of the search committee as “advisers”.
And I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with his self-righteous selection process if any one of the following things were true:
-Powell was the athletic director
-Powell had been around Mount St. Mary’s for most of his life such as athletic director Lynne Robinson
-Powell didn’t have a history of making ego-influenced decisions (just listen to the press conference)
-Powell knew anything about high-level basketball, other than how to keep score
Unfortunately, none of these things are true.
Therein lies the root of the problem that is Powell’s ego.
Except for rare, particular circumstances (none of which exist at the Mount) the president of a university should not be the one who actually chooses the coach. Should he oversee the process? Approve the committee’s selection? Even have the ability to veto its choice with good cause? Yes, yes and yes.
But what about the athletic director? What about Robinson?
Maybe you’ve heard of her. She went to the Mount and her last name used to be Phelan. She knows a few things about Emmitsburg. In fact she actually played basketball at the Mount.
So what would your reaction be if I told you that she didn’t even have a say in the process? Well she didn’t; ask anyone in the athletic department who was around for the search.
That metaphorical bone Powell threw her in the press conference was nothing but a smokescreen:
“We have a superb director of intercollegiate athletics,” said Powell, who postured for her supposed role in the process throughout the entire press conference.
She should be commended for the manner in which she bit her tongue and raised the corners of her lips to produce a believable smile that day. After all, this was supposed to be her big moment. Her legacy could have been linked to the new coach at the Mount – and it still will be – but unfortunately for her she had little to do with it.
Maybe she would have still chosen Burke, who as I said many times, looks to be a great choice on all accounts. (Again, the selection itself of Burke troubles me none.)
I can only imagine what it must have been like for her to sit through the interviews and other components of the selection process dictated by her boss – an outsider who has spent a fraction of the time at the Mount that Robinson has.
Surely that was a disappointing experience for the woman who may not have another chance to choose the head coach of the school’s staple athletic program, but it could not have equaled the sting she must have felt when Powell used the interviews with candidates to insult her father, Jim.
Jim Phelan, of course, has 830 career wins and holds NCAA records for the most games and seasons coached at one school. His retired “jersey” – the first of its kind in Knott Arena, now joined by those of two of his former players – overlooks the court that bears his name and the trademark bowtie that he always donned on the sidelines.
How difficult it must have been for her to inconspicuously pick her pride – let alone her jaw – off the floor of the room in which candidates were interviewed when Powell had this to say:
“I want to distance the men’s basketball program from Jim Phelan.”
That’s paraphrasing of course – not an exact quotation. But according to multiple candidates who interviewed for the job (none of which was Dunlap, who I did not speak to for this piece), Powell expressed to them that he was looking for someone who could take the program away from the legendary coach’s aura.
To suggest to even one (or in this case more) of the six interviewees that you were no longer interested in having the program associated with the man who put it on the map – Phelan – is embarrassing. In fact if Powell resigned this summer, you would hear little in the way of objections for a myriad of reasons.
The school would not even be an NCAA Division I institution if it were not for Phelan. So how ironic was this statement from Powell in the press conference?
“One of the nation’s smallest Division I programs, it’s Division I in every sense of the word. It’s Division I because we have great student-athletes, it’s Division I because we have a superb director of intercollegiate athletics and it’s certainly Division I when you look at the caliber of our coaches,” Powell said.
And how brazen was it for his wife to be seated next to Phelan? Mr. and Mrs. Powell surely do not communicate well as she did not get the memo about distancing herself from Phelan. And Powell must’ve forgotten his own motives when he said this to announce Phelan to everyone in the room:
“Of course we have the coach of coaches inducted into the basketball hall of fame with us right here, coach Phelan. Coach Phelan stand up.”
Someone get this man an academy award. Or a polygraph.
Part II (the better half) of Tom Thumbs Down to be posted tomorrow
Multiple attempts were made to contact Powell via telephone (where he was not reached as I later learned he was in New York for business) and via e-mail. He accepted an e-mail request one week ago, May 26, for an interview regarding the contents of this piece but did not subsequently make himself available.