Athletic Dept's frontman gives 'Wildcat' the skinny

By ThÇoden K. Janes

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Jim Livengood woke up one morning and decided he was not very excited about going to work. One morning, maybe two, over the course of more than 25 years.

Through it all Ÿ his work at and with Washington high schools, his years as athletic director at Washington State and Southern Illinois universities, and now going on two years in the same role at the University of Arizona Ÿ Livengood has maintained a strong dedication to and appreciation for his work. Rarely does he dread coming to the office.

He usually arrives at McKale Center shortly after 6 each morning and, once here, he almost never rests. In fact, U-Haul doesn't move as much as Jim Livengood.

He goes from meeting to meeting and appointment to appointment. One minute he's talking with a student athlete, the next he's on an airplane heading out of town on a business trip.

On top of everything, he is confronted constantly by problems, be it local authorities investigating members of the football team or trying to breathe life back into a struggling baseball program.

Despite it all, he handles himself in an amicable yet authoritative manner while refusing to buckle under pressure from the media or anyone else.

Yesterday, the Wildcat sat down for a one-on-one chat with Livengood in an effort to get the straight scoop on some topical issues involving the UA's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Wildcat: What do you think is the hardest part of your job, and what is the most enjoyable part?

Jim Livengood: The hardest part of my job is trying to ensure that student-athletes leave here with a very good experience having been a Wildcat. That's interesting, because that's also the most enjoyable part. I ask student-athletes who are on their way out, "If you had to do it again would you still choose the U of A?" When the answer is an enthusiastic, "Yes," than I know we've done a good job. When it isn't, I know we've got work to do.

WC: What do you go through in a typical day?

JL: My day changes every single day. There's nothing similar about any two days. But when something happens that makes one of our student-athletes smile, that's the thing that makes me feel the best.

WC: In a matter of weeks, the basketball team goes from an unranked team to fourth in the country. One minute you're gunning for everyone, the next, everyone's gunning for you. What kind of pressure does that put on the team?

JL: I think it puts a lot of pressure on our kids, but the good news is (Coach) Lute (Olson) has done such a good job that pressure would be there anyway. Whether we're ranked or not, we're still the team to beat, we're a big name on anybody's schedule. And Lute does an exceptional job of preparing kids for that kind of environment. I mean, one of the hard things right now, is that in a 10-day, 12-day period we've, quote, "burst on the scene" as this basketball team that goes unranked to No. 4. But this does not surprise me a whole lot, and I think we'll continue to play pretty well.

WC: On the other side of the coin, the baseball team, which I think put the UA on the map during the 1980s, has sort of fallen from grace in recent years. What do you think has caused this trail-off and what are you planning to do to try and resurrect the program?

JL: Our baseball program is in the position it's in the last few years because of the spring of 1993 when we lost all of our starters to the Major League Baseball draft. We've not really recovered from that. But (Coach) Jerry Kindall has recruited well and we have good, young players in our program. They were young in 1994, they were a little more experienced in 1995, in '96 we're going to be very good. I have no concerns about whether our baseball team will be successful.

WC: How about the football team? What are the chances that the Wildcats will be back in the bowl picture next year, and how would you respond to critics who say it's time to get rid of head coach Dick Tomey?

JL: I think we'll be back immediately. I think we'll be in a bowl in 1996. The only reason we wouldn't be in a bowl in '96 is because we would play in an early bowl in '97. We played very well, we won some games we probably shouldn't have this year. We certainly lost some games we maybe could have won, but Tomey is as good a college football coach as there is in the country. He's great with players. People may be frustrated with various things, and Dick is the first to tell you we're always going to experiment, we're always going to tinker with things because there's a whole lot of areas we can get better in, and that's exactly how we've approached football, we're working to get better. We're working to give our players a better chance to be successful next fall.

WC: Speaking of the football team, what are the chances that you're going to have to start looking for a new offensive coordinator, now that Duane Akina is rumored to be a top candidate for the head position at Hawaii?

JL: He has a real chance, and if something like that should happen then we're obviously going to look at some other coaches who could come in and do the job for us.

WC: Staying with the football team, many people have seen, from the outside, the noticeable effects Damon Terrell's death had on the team. Internally, though, how has the healing process gone?

JL: That's such a hard kind of question, because no one has an answer. That whole situation took a lot out of our football team. I would never use that as a reason why we didn't do this or didn't do that, but I think it certainly was a factor, particularly when it happens right at the start of the season, to such an integral part. He was so popular with his teammates, and he worked so hard and had so many kinds of tragedies go on in his own life, that he kind of fell in that category of "If anyone deserves it, he deserves to have a great year," and boom, poof, it was gone.

WC: In the aftermath, what do you make of the several run-ins with the law athletes have had this fall, particularly the investigation of two players involving a shooting incident a couple of weeks ago?

JL: There have been no arrests and no charges filed. That has an effect because when those kinds of things are reported what happens is there's no process this has gone through. To a lot of people in the public right now, there's no question those guys are guilty. They did it and we're not doing anything about it. That's not true. I believe that they didn't do it, because if I did believe they did it, they would not have played the Arizona State game. That's what is even more miraculous about the win over ASU, because most all of last week with the coaches was spent working on this, and trying to find one thing, and that is the truth or facts.

WC: Another disruption this season has been agents, particularly Robert Caron. Can you comment on that?

JL: I think the agent issue is the toughest issue we have right now in college athletics, and unless we're able to do that, we're going to look back someday and say, "Remember what college athletics used to be? What happened to it?" The answer to what happened to it will be, quote, "The agent issue." It's very disruptive because it can happen to anyone. A real misnomer by a lot of people that don't deal with it all the time is that agents have "agent" stamped across their forehead. But they're people just like you and I. Most are very friendly, have great personalities, are great salespeople, so that makes them very, very dangerous. For the most part, they prey on kids who need money, or need something else. So there's a want and a need. You put those together and you've got a problem.

WC: Do you think there's too much focus on disciplining the players and not enough on trying to attack it from the other angle?

JL: I don't know if I could say that. I think one of the key things right now is we're working on getting the NCAA more involved, we're working on trying to make sure there's no question every player we have knows that if they make an error in judgment, it's going to be extremely costly.

WC: I also wanted to ask about the department's relationship with local auto dealer Jim Click, who I've heard is a substantial contributor to the program.

JL: Our relationship with Jim is great. Not only is he a booster, he's a dear friend of mine. He's one of the most giving, caring people I've ever been around. After our student-athletes graduate, we don't tell them to go see Jim Click, or go do this or do that. They're out on their own. They can go see Jim Click, and if he'll co-sign on a car, that's great. Of course, he can't do any of that while they still have eligibility or are still with our program. But I think the greatest thing about having a Jim Click in our community is that he cares about the University of Arizona. He just wants to help. He doesn't want to dictate what you're going to do, and he doesn't want to do anything illegal. He just wants to help and have our athletic program be successful.

WC: What comes to mind immediately when I say the name Nick Faldo?

JL: I probably know more about it than I should. That's his personal life, and (UA golfer) Brenna Cepelak's personal life, and those are decisions that people are allowed to make. I know she's a good person, I think an awful lot of her. If that turns into be something, I hope it works out, but I probably wouldn't get into a whole lot of other comments. She dropped her classes for the semester, but I hope she comes back to school here because she has a great future, she's a neat young lady.

WC: What strides have you made during your short tenure to comply with Title IX and to address other gender equity issues?

JL: We've added women's soccer and made a very sincere effort to doing some other things like making sure we're checking in every area, from what our facilities are like to practice areas, coaching opportunities, so that any student-athlete that comes into our program, there is absolutely no difference.

WC: Can you outline some of the short-term goals for the Athletic Department?

WC: We've set out six areas of focus. Academics, competition, financial, compliance, capital projects and gender equity. At the end of the year, we want to be able to evaluate how much better we are than we were in the beginning in those six areas, and what kinds of things can we do to say we are measurably better.

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