Cal Poly

Cal Poly intensifies search for new athletic director

Phil Webb is filling Alison Cone’s figurative shoes but hasn’t bothered to move so much as a paperclip into the retired Cal Poly athletic director’s actual office.

Webb, a 15-year veteran of Mustangs athletics, frankly isn’t planning to spend much time in the interim spot anyway.

“It would be good to get some fresh ideas and some outside experience in the department,” Webb said, “bring some new ideas to the table.”

With new university president Jeffrey Armstrong taking office Feb. 1, the search is on to replace Cone, who retired in December after taking over as full-time athletic director in 2004, and the process could take less than two months.

Cal Poly began collecting national applicants in December, and the hiring committee — chaired by Vice President of Finance Larry Kelley — expects to meet Friday with the intention of narrowing down the list to those it wants to interview by phone or video.

Of that undetermined number, roughly three to five are expected to visit campus with a successor named sometime in March, and the exact start date determined by availability.

“We’ve got what appears to be a strong pool of candidates,” Kelley said. “I imagine that each of them would continue to be interested in us. We should remain pretty much on schedule for the process.”

As of yet, no internal candidate has emerged publicly, and Webb, the department’s senior associate athletic director and a member of the hiring committee, anticipates returning to his regular duties once the position is filled.

A specialist in business operations and finance who took his first athletic appointment at Cal Poly after leaving the Fresno State agricultural science department in 1995, Webb normally manages the athletics budget, oversees the scholarship program and the allocation of scholarships and supervises nine sports.

His biggest task in the interim will be fleshing out the athletic budget for the next fiscal year, something he would have been doing anyway. He’s also inherited 11 other sports and the day-to-day responsibilities of the athletic director.

Those include tasks such as scheduling. The football program is still working on two nonconference games for next season, Webb said, before its official transition into the Big Sky Conference in 2012.

What Webb won’t be doing is altering the strategic plan set forth under Cone or any long-term planning.

What he would like to see from a candidate “would be vision, planning, leadership and communication,” Webb said. “Then one of the qualities I think of the next athletic director is going to be the ability to generate external funds.

“I certainly don’t think the next athletic director needs to be a fundraiser per se, but I think it needs to be somebody that can really generate an excitement for the department and really get the external development up to the next level.”

Considering the state’s budget deficit and governor Jerry Brown’s plans of further cuts to higher education announced this week, fundraising could be a key element in the search.

Cal Poly has blueprints and estimates of what it would take to expand 11,075-seat Alex G. Spanos Stadium, where the Mustangs currently play all of their home football games and men’s and women’s soccer matches.

The expansion, which would range in cost depending on lavishness, would be a necessary step for moving the football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The university sidestepped speculation that it had eyes on moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision by joining the Big Sky, which boasts recent FCS national champion Eastern Washington.

Western Athletic Conference commissioner Karl Benson of the FBS recently mentioned Cal Poly as a potential candidate for WAC expansion roughly within the next five years.

Though there is no apparent timetable for any future moves for football, further facility upgrades — to locker rooms, weight rooms, the stadium and the basketball arena — are the next logical step for a department that completed construction on a new pool last year and finished renovation on one side of Spanos Stadium in 2006.

Getting such projects funded will be a challenge among many others for the next athletic director.

“We actually talked with the staff and the coaches and in athletics about what they think would be the right characteristics,” Kelley said, “some fundraising experience, a strong internal manager, a very strong external promoter, a leader, someone who’s familiar with all the sports, possibly who has coached, who would cultivate the alumni base and understand the fiscal responsibilities.”