Arrow-right Camera


Because Of Desertions, UI Caught In Situation Of Creative Boosterism

Sun., May 14, 1995

Want one of the toughest jobs in America right now? Try raising money for University of Idaho athletics.

Athletic director Pete Liske’s name seems to pop up for every vacant job in this hemisphere. In the past four months, the president, football coach and several key fund-raisers have or will soon depart.

All of this as UI is preparing for a huge shift when it leaves the Big Sky Conference for the Big West next year.

Imagine the conversation…

FUND-RAISER: “Hi, please give us some money.”

BOOSTER: (After laughing uncontrollably) “Sure, if you can tell me who the hell is running that place.”

These are confusing times at the Moscow university.

Gone - or soon to be gone - are former football coach John L. Smith and many of his assistant coaches; key fund-raiser Lance West; Tom Berman from promotions/marketing; and Rance Pugmire, in charge of generating bucks from wealthy Boisearea boosters. President Elisabeth Zinser accepted a job at Kentucky on Thursday. UI ironman and numbers cruncher Wayne Anderson departed after the 1994 football season.

You’ll recall it was Liske and Smith, who left for Utah State, who spearheaded UI’s move to the Big West, as much out of fear of a crumbling Big Sky as infatuation with the Big West.

Zinser, after producing more waffles than IHOP during Sunday brunch, finally bought into the Big West. But her caustic relationships with Smith and Liske are factors in why those two seek - sought in the case of Smith - other employment. It’s also believed that Smith’s departure was because of, in part, a decaying relationship with Liske.

Still, it’s more than just disconcerting that Smith (certainly), Zinser (certainly) and Liske (possibly), the three people who ultimately urged the change of conferences, won’t be around to orchestrate the move.

Where’s the loyalty now? Where’s the see-it-through mentality that this move will require?

When UI hires a new president, won’t he/she have to be in favor of the conference switch? Same goes for a new A.D. - doesn’t it? - provided Liske enlists U-Haul in the near future.

It’s true that many of UI’s departures were made by people leaving for better jobs. But an overlying message seems to be that it’s OK to decide to paint your house a different color, then beat feet with the house half-painted.

Much debate during the Big West decision centered on whether Idaho could keep coaches, pay them adequately and financially support their programs to compete with Big West schools.

It now appears that could be a problem. Consider basketball coach Joe Cravens’ plight. He’s about to go into the Big West, a solid conference whose schools thrive on JC transfers. He’ll likely be the league’s lowest-paid coach. His one-year contract impairs his recruiting ability, especially when compared to former Vandal Larry Eustachy’s seven-year deal at Utah State. You’d better believe enemy coaches are telling recruits that Cravens may be there when you sign, but not when you finish your career.

Cravens’ recruiting dollars - even if equal to those at Long Beach State - probably won’t carry the same value. It’ll cost Cravens roughly $350 to visit an L.A. kid or for the player to fly to Moscow. Long Beach’s coach can hop in a car and drive.

Most amazing about the entire mess at Idaho is that many positives remain. It’s incredible, but booster dollar intake is up. The main reason cited: excitement generated by the move to the Big West.

New football coach Chris Tormey has been a smash with UI followers. If he can win football games, they might want to shove him into Zinser’s old job.

After a good recruiting year, men’s basketball should put a contender on the floor next season in the Big Sky. Cravens seems to have earned some slack from the mandate upon his hiring of recruiting Northwest kids, concentrating on high schools.

Women’s basketball coach Julie Holt radiates energy and the hope that her team can climb out of the Big Sky’s bottom tier.

Tom Hilbert has taken the volleyball team to three consecutive NCAA tournaments. He is supported, though not particularly well-paid, and figures to continue producing a winner.

Liske has hired several young, energetic folks to replace West, Anderson, Pugmire, Berman, etc.

Nonetheless, it cannot be easy to pitch UI athletics these days to the average booster. We advise you to stay tuned for the next episode of, “As the Vandals Turn (Over).”

Click here to comment on this story »