UNLV athletics:

Rebels reaching the final stages of search for next athletic director

UNLV knows its top 3 candidates: FSU’s Randy Spetman, Washington State’s John Johnson and Arkansas-Little Rock’s Chris Peterson

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV athletic director candidate John Johnson, currently the senior associate athletic director at Washington State, speaks to the media after a public forum.

UNLV has its finalists for the 12th full-time athletic director in program history, according to multiple sources, and the next step is getting to know them.

With help from a local search committee, but not an outside search firm, the Rebels narrowed their search down to three primary candidates: former Florida State AD Randy Spetman, Washington State senior associate AD John Jonson and Arkansas-Little Rock AD Chris Peterson.

Local candidates Don Logan and Steve Stallworth did not apply for the position. Interim athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy, who stepped in for Jim Livengood in July, has said several times that she wouldn’t take the full-time gig.

Spetman was in town last week for an interview with UNLV President Neal Smatresk and other leaders. The other two outside candidates are expected to have interviews in the near future.

One of these men is expected to be the next leader of an athletics program that needs to decide what to do with the football program and balance a budget often in the red, among many other things. While UNLV spends time getting to know each of them, you can do the same below:

    • Florida State director of athletics Randy Spetman (far left) and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher stand behind cheerleaders holding The Makala Trophy between the first and second quarters of their NCAA spring college football game Saturday, April 14, 2012, in Tallahassee, Fla. The traveling trophy goes to the winner of the annual football game between rivals Florida State and Florida.

      Randy Spetman

      Florida State athletics department

      Click to enlarge photo

      Randy Spetman smiles after being named athletic director at Florida State University, Monday, Feb. 4, 2008, in Tallahassee, Fla.

      A former Air Force pilot, Spetman has direct ties to two current Mountain West programs. Spetman led the Air Force athletics department for eight years before taking over at Utah State from 2003-08.

      That was when he jumped to Florida State, where in June he was demoted to a senior advisory role not all that dissimilar from the consulting deal currently in place for Livengood. Seminoles President Eric Barron was hired in 2010, after Spetman, and many suggested he was looking for an opportunity to bring in his own guy.

      “It just came to the point where we realized what we were going to do and not continue past February," Barron told the Orlando Sentinel in June. "He did a good job of developing a strategic plan, but there's ... the thought that we'd like to get a lot of community input and stakeholder input and ... just even the notion of presenting a strategic plan that you're not going to implement that doesn't make sense."

      Spetman was the athletic director during legendary football coach Bobby Bowden's ouster. After the announcement, according to reports and one person present that day, Spetman literally ran away from reporters. He also had to deal with constant rumors about the Seminoles’ future conference affiliation while battling the impression that he wasn't capable of working a room full of boosters.

      His base salary at FSU, a school with a much larger budget, was in the neighborhood of Livengood’s — $350,000 compared to $250,000 — so that shouldn’t be an issue from the Rebels’ perspective. And his successful tenures at both Air Force and Utah State inspire some confidence about his abilities at a Mountain West program.

    • John Johnson

      Washington State senior associate athletic director

      If his name is familiar, there’s good reason. Not only did Johnson come to Las Vegas for the public forum meetings as a finalist for the position in 2009 but he was one of the names tossed around this year for the open position at UNR.

      When he visited UNLV in 2009, Johnson’s main point of emphasis was the vacant football coaching position. At the time Johnson threw out Bobby Hauck’s name as a guy he would consider, so if Johnson were hired it’s possible that with a positive 2013 season Hauck wouldn’t be gone simply because the new AD wanted his guy.

      Speaking at a public forum on UNR’s campus in March, Johnson called the athletics department “the window to the university to help promote the institution.” UNLV’s Smatresk often uses the same metaphor, except his involves a front porch.

      Either way, it suggests their visions for the development and improvement of the athletics department are aligned. Johnson has been at Washington State since 2004 and oversees the fundraising and external affairs arm of the department.

      Prior to then-AD Jim Sterk’s departure to San Diego State, Johnson helped the university raise approximately $16 million in renovations that would help add luxury and club seating at the Cougars’ football stadium.

      Johnson seemed like a possibility to take over for Sterk but the job went to Bill Moos, another one of UNLV’s finalists in 2009. Johnson was also a finalist last year for the top job at Montana.

      Before going to Pullman, Wash., Johnson led the departments at Weber State and Eastern Washington.

    • University of Arkansas at Little Rock Athletic Director Chris Peterson, right, accepts a donation from former Trojans basketball player Derek Fisher in 2005. Peterson is one of three finalists for the AD position at UNLV.

      Chris Peterson

      Arkansas-Little Rock athletic director

      Peterson’s reputation at the school is similar to that of Livengood.

      “He’s a real good fundraiser,” said Wally Hall, a columnist at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

      In 2005, the Trojans opened the Jack Stephens Center, a new $25 million basketball facility. Hall said Peterson was able to help build that arena without the use of any tax money.

      Hall also spoke of Peterson changing UALR from a commuter school to a place where there are regular, well-attended campus events.

      “The fans love him,” Hall said. “He sits down at the scorer’s table during basketball games so people can come up and talk to him.”

      Hall guessed that Peterson has turned down up to four jobs in the past but there’s one thing that could get him to leave: football.

      Peterson played quarterback at Kansas State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee before coaching in the college ranks for several years. He went back to Kansas State as an assistant athletic director at the same time the Wildcats revitalized the football program by hiring Bill Snyder. Peterson also has connections to Nebraska legend Tom Osborne.

      UALR is the only member of the Sun Belt Conference without a football team.

      “He’d love that,” Hall said. “He likes a challenge.”

    Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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