Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone announced Tuesday that she will retire in December.
Cone, 57, came to Cal Poly in 1994 and has served in her current position since 2004.
The university, which is currently without a permanent president in place, will conduct a national search for Cone’s replacement, interim president Robert Glidden said in a news release.
The new president, who is anticipated to be chosen as early as December, will then be able to choose a successor to Cone.
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The previous time the job was open, there were more than 70 applicants. Cone said that as of Tuesday afternoon, no one in-house had directly expressed an interest in the job to her.
“I hope they end up hiring somebody who shares the Cal Poly philosophy of excellence in both academics and athletics,” Cone said, “and who cares deeply for student athletes, and will work 100 miles per hour, 24 hours a day. If you’ve got that kind of combination, you’ve got the right person.”
During Cone’s tenure, Cal Poly had 23 different teams achieve a top-25 national ranking, 13 teams (plus 87 individuals) advance to the postseason and 17 teams win conference championships.
Also on Cone’s watch, two significant upgrade projects were completed to Alex G. Spanos Stadium. In 2007, a $20 million renovation of its west side was finished, and two years later, a $1 million video scoreboard was installed.
“Everybody loved Alison,” said Al Moriarty, a Cal Poly Hall of Fame enshrinee and the inaugural president of the Mustang Athletic Fund. “She picked up the baton of what we were trying to achieve.
“We’re going to miss her,” he added. “I hate to see her go.”
When she was hired to take over for John McCutcheon — who left to become the athletic director at Massachusetts — Cone became one of just 19 female athletic directors at the Division I level, which encompasses more than 300 schools, and the first in Cal Poly history.
Cone, a native of Ellensburg, Wash., and a 1975 graduate of Washington State, is currently one of three female athletic directors in California.
Finding football conference seen as parting legacy
Two weeks ago, Cal Poly was accepted into the Big Sky Conference in football only, which will provide the school its first chance to compete for a guaranteed berth into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
In recent years, Cal Poly’s lack of such a league for football, coupled with a lack of FCS competitors in the western region (there are two other scholarship-offering peers in the state), forced the program to schedule numerous games against opponents from remote parts of the country, often seldom-heard of by Central Coast fans. The 11-team Big Sky, by comparison, includes opponents along the western seaboard such as Sacramento State, Portland State and Eastern Washington.
“For the 16 years that I’ve been here, for whoever was the athletic director, finding a conference for football was right at the top of the list,” Cone said. “It appears that as soon as that happened, I decided to retire. I wish it were that simple, but I’d really been thinking about (retiring) for a while.”
Cal Poly, in addition to fellow Big Sky entrant UC Davis, negotiated its way into becoming the league’s first football-only member, allowing the school’s other sports to stay in the cost-friendly, travel-efficient Big West Conference, which is entirely based in California.
“That decision was good for everybody,” Cal Poly football coach Tim Walsh said. “Alison helped orchestrate that great decision for our athletic department, and it was a great way for her to go out.”
Men’s basketball coach Joe Callero agreed.
“I think one of the major accomplishments was the work she engineered with the football team and the Big Sky,” Callero said. “That was really a key to the athletic security of the entire department, having a home for the football team (so other teams wouldn’t have to leave the Big West).”
Coaching hires took teams to new heights
Cone hired seven head coaches: Callero, Jenny Condon (softball), Mark Conover (track and field), Paul Holocher (men’s soccer), Justin McGrath (men’s tennis), Tom Milich (swimming and diving), Jon Stevenson (volleyball) and Walsh.
Condon led the softball program to its first-ever Division I playoff appearances in 2007 and 2009, and Stevenson led the volleyball team to the Sweet 16 in 2007, the furthest it had been in 22 years. Holocher’s program finished sixth in the nation in men’s soccer home attendance in 2009.
“She set the bar high,” Callero said of Cone’s other recent hires. “One of the reasons I was so interested in the Cal Poly position was the success other programs have had.”
Conversely, Cal Poly’s football program played San Diego State in 2006 (and 2008) for the first time in 39 years, played San Jose State in 2006 (and 2009) for the first time in 48 years, and will play Fresno State on Oct. 2 for the first time in 25 years.
Additionally, a 2015 game at Arizona State will be the football program’s first game against a Pac-10 foe.
“I really do believe the best is yet to come,” Walsh said. “Alison laid the groundwork and a foundation for the beginning of other things that hopefully can happen and will be great for the future of our department.”
Ability to operate in budget crunch will be requirement of next AD
Continuing to upgrade facilities will figure to be a primary goal of the next athletic director, Cone said.
Callero, for instance, hopes to gradually improve Mott Gym’s aesthetics, technology and locker rooms piece-by-piece with a consideration of the state’s ongoing budget woes.
Recently, Callero said, Cone’s personality alone has helped surrounding staff cope with various cutbacks and furloughs.
“She handled those issues with real integrity and sincerity,” he said. “Leadership does not show up during the good times.“Alison has a very positive, can-do attitude.”
Ideally, Callero said, the next athletic director should pursue creative funding sources, including community partnerships and private sponsorships to complement state money.
Moriarty, who donated $600,000 toward Spanos Stadium’s video scoreboard (which creates revenue opportunities through advertisement segments and panels), echoed Callero’s vision.
“You’ve got to be a marketer,” Moriarty said, advocating intertwining Cal Poly sports with the Central Coast’s profitable tourism pulls. “The big thing now is money. Who can raise the money to connect the dots so we can achieve our goals?”