Anderson says he’s in for long haul as ASU athletics boss
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After being officially introduced as Arizona State’s new vice president for university athletics Thursday, Ray Anderson said and did all the right things.
He charmed the room with wit and a little self-deprecating humor. He impressed with a dynamic resume that includes stints as a lawyer, a sports agent and an NFL executive. Perhaps most importantly, he suggested he’s in it for the long haul.
"This for me is a dream destination," Anderson said. "This is not a stepping stone for me to somewhere else. This is my destination."
Considering ASU has lost three of its past four athletic directors to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas, respectively, that had to be music to the ears of Sun Devil fans everywhere.
While it appears ASU has made an inspired choice, there are still many questions Anderson must answer and many challenges he must overcome as he takes over the athletic leadership of America’s largest public university.
Consider this the signing of a big-name free agent. On paper and in the press conferences, it looks like a sure success, but big-name free agents must back up their signings with performance.
Anderson, 59, will finish out the NFL season in his role as the league’s executive vice president of football operations and start in Tempe on Feb. 5, following the Super Bowl. He doesn’t anticipate much of a transition period.
"’I’m going to hit the ground running, and I can’t wait," Anderson said.
The terms of his contract are expected to be forwarded to the Arizona Board of Regents in the coming weeks. Steve Patterson, his predecessor, was earning $450,000 a year before leaving for Texas.
First up for Anderson: Settling in to a new athletic landscape. Anderson has experience as a sports agent, having opened his own agency in 1987 and run it until 2001. He has experience leading a team, having worked as an executive vice president for the Atlanta Falcons. Finally, he has experience helping administer a league, having spent eight seasons in his NFL role.
Like Patterson before him, Anderson doesn’t have first-hand experience as a leader at the collegiate level, where the intricacies of the NCAA and its regulations create an experience very different from any other level.
Anderson has worked extensively with the NCAA, as his NFL duties included college relations. He has also served as a board member for the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as well as the American Football Coaches Association. Still, Anderson admits he must continue to learn the ins and outs of the NCAA.
"You will get deep into the weeds and learn those things," Anderson said. "I’ve been really involved with the NCAA for a number of years with regard to agent regulations, some governance."
While that adjustment process will be ongoing, Anderson also will be faced immediately with a major capital project: The renovation of Sun Devil Stadium. Plans to upgrade the aging venue have been in the works for a few years, but a financing plan has yet to be finalized.
The university is expected to make an announcement early this year regarding fundraising efforts to update the stadium, and Anderson will undoubtedly have a role in that and future fundraising efforts at ASU. Despite no experience in collegiate fundraising, Anderson is undaunted.
"In my old business as an agent and running my own firm, one of the things I most enjoyed, very frankly, was recruiting and marketing and fundraising and getting out there with folks," Anderson said. "I like recruiting, I like selling. I was a salesman."
ASU president Michael Crow, who worked with an executive search firm to select Anderson, gave a strong vote of confidence for Anderson’s ability to handle the fundraising side of his new role.
"I have no doubt Ray can be a significant contributor to whatever we need to do to advance whatever resources we need to move Sun Devil athletics forward," Crow said. "Here we have a person that has demonstrated that he can learn, adapt, solve problems and move forward in any circumstances he encounters."
Among those circumstances is the continued improvement of the academic performance of ASU’s student-athletes. Anderson said he was drawn to the opportunity in large part because of the student-athlete driven vision. ASU currently has an 82 percent graduation rate among student-athletes.
In his role as an NFL vice president, Anderson largely operated behind the scenes, handling officiating, on-field player discipline, game operations, rules compliance and more. At ASU, Anderson will be expected to operate front and center as the face of the athletic department.
Whether it’s shaking hands at sporting events, answering fans’ questions, mingling with alumni and boosters or interacting with student-athletes, Anderson will be expected to integrate into the community. It’s a responsibility he looks forward to.
"I enjoy being around and interacting and engaging with people," Anderson said. "I’m an operations guy, I’m a people guy. I like getting out there. So I will be out there in full force.
"You’re going to see me, and you’ll see my wife (Buffie) a bunch because she’s a little nuts about this athletics stuff, at a whole bunch of events and games and practices and study halls. I’ll be out there."
The only slight hiccup in his introduction Thursday came when Anderson was asked what about the ASU job makes up for the lower salary he’ll make compared to the NFL. A brief pause led Crow to joke "Let’s hear it!" before Anderson offered a clear answer.
"I don’t need NFL money," Anderson said. "I need gratification and I need the chance to be part of something really special and really dynamic and really life-changing in some instances.
"I’m not a corny type of guy, but I can’t be more tingled than I am to be here."
AT A GLANCE: Ray Anderson
Born: Los Angeles, Calif.
Family: Anderson and his wife of nearly 30 years have one son, Bryant, and one daughter, Kimberly.
Alma mater: Stanford (political science), Harvard (law)
Athletic history: Played baseball and football at Stanford
Job history: Executive vice president of football operations, NFL, 2006-2013; Executive vice president and chief administrative officer, Atlanta Falcons, 2003-2006; Sports agent, AR Sports, 1987-2001; Sports agent, Sports Advisors Group, 1984-1987; Attorney (sports law), Heller, Ehrman, 1980-1984; Attorney (labor law), Kilpatrick and Cody, 1979-1980