NEW YORK (AP) Much of the space in Ray Anderson’s office overlooking Park Avenue is taken up by an industrial-sized plastic garbage bin, about a third-full with piles of paper. His desk and the shelves around it are pretty much empty.
After eight years working for the NFL, Anderson is packing up and clearing out. His last day as the league’s executive vice president of football operations is Super Bowl Sunday.
He leaves for Tempe, Ariz., on Tuesday and starts his new gig as athletic director of Arizona State University on Wednesday, national signing day for college football teams.
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”We want to be a top-five university,” Anderson said Thursday. ”We want to be elite, doing it with the ability to laud our academic performance. It’s got to be an elite program and academically elite as well.”
Anderson, 59, is a former Stanford football and baseball player who has a law degree from Harvard.
He never played professional ball, but is convinced being a college athlete prepared him to succeed in other fields.
”The opportunity to go back into that environment, to encourage and mentor young men and women, to say I’m an example of it, I know it works if you apply yourself and take advantage of that. What an awesome opportunity and responsibility that you don’t get at the professional (sports) level,” he said.
Last summer, Anderson decided this would be his last season with the NFL.
He was looking for a new challenge and was a candidate to become the CEO of the Miami Dolphins. He had worked as a sports agent for 14 years and was a member of the Atlanta Falcons’ front office before joining the league.
He never considered college sports until his friend, Jed Hughes of the executive search firm Korn Ferry, suggested it to him.
”He opened my mind to it,” Anderson said.
”`If you get the right athletic director’s job it could be much better for you and more in line with your skill set and your interests than a CEO or president job of an NFL club,” Anderson said Hughes told him. ”`You could touch a whole bunch of student-athletes, a whole bunch of sports, a whole bunch of coaches.’ It opened my eyes.”
When Steve Patterson left Arizona State to become AD at Texas last fall, Hughes told Anderson this was the job for him.
Anderson did his research on Arizona State and its president, Michael Crow, and liked what he found.
”I wanted to know what was the real commitment to athletics from the academic community, because in some situations it isn’t always so smooth,” he said.
Anderson had friends in academia in New York who endorsed Crow.
Anderson was sold.
”I’ve reached out to a lot of my athletic director friends and will be spending time with them to get to know some of their best practices,” he said.
He enters the business at a volatile time. The definition of student-athlete and intercollegiate athletics seems to be on the verge of changing. Earlier this week, football players at Northwestern announced they were attempting to unionize. The NCAA is in the process of trying to make major reforms to the way its member schools govern themselves, and it is in the midst of a long legal battle about using images and likenesses of athletes to make money.
”That’s one of the things that also intrigued me about the position because I’m aware that the landscape is changing,” Anderson aid.
During his time with the NFL, Anderson has worked on player discipline and safety issues, and played a key role during the lockout of league officials in 2012.
Anderson will be responsible for overseeing Arizona State’s 20 sports and $60 million budget. He comes onboard as the school is about to renovate Sun Devil Stadium and is developing the University Athletics Facilities District, a 330-acre, mixed-use area north of the Tempe campus that will raise funds for large projects at the university.
Anderson said he and his wife plan to live close to campus, so he can keep walking to work the way he has during his time with the NFL. Though he is looking forward to giving away some of his winter jackets.
”I won’t be needing that anymore,” he said.
AP Sports Writer John Marshall in Tempe, Ariz., contributed to this report.