Friday, January 13, 2006

'Down-To-Earth' Jean Berger, Who Has Been As Outstanding Administrator At Drake, Is My Choice To Be the University's Next Athletic Director

If you ask me, Drake University could do no better in the search to find a new athletic director than to hire a woman.

And that woman should be Jean Berger, who has been a member of Drake's athletic administration since 1991.

Berger has been an associate director of athletics at the university since February, 2005, and is the senior women's administrator. She had been an assistant athletic director there since 1994.

She's certainly no stranger to workings in the NCAA. Berger [pictured on the right above] has completed a five-year term on the prestigious NCAA's Women's Basketball Committee.

At Drake, Berger supervises academic seervices and is the NCAA compliance officer. She was named Drake's "mentor of the year" last spring.

Dave Blank [left above] is leaving as Drake's athletic director in the spring. He's been in the job for six years and will stay through the Drake Relays April 27-29. Blank is becoming the athletic director at Elon University in North Carolina.

Although it would be a ground-breaking move by Drake to choose a woman for the athletic director job, it wouldn't be a first nationally. There already are athletic directors who are women, there are university and college presidents who are women, and there have been conference commissioners who have been women.

I hear nothing but good things about Berger from those who work at the university.

Paul Morrison, the 88-year-old volunteer athletic department historian at the school -- and a man who has worked with "eight or 10" athletic directors there, going back to J. Russell Cook in the 1940s -- is a big fan of Berger.

When I asked Morrison who he thought should be his next boss, he said, "Oh, I have no idea."

Then I said, "What if I brought up Jean Berger's name?"

"She'd do a good job," Morrison quickly said. "I've often said some medium-sized school would be very wise to pick her up because she's a very talented and very dedicated person who gets along with everybody. She'd be a great choice for somebody."

I was also told that Berger is a "very down-to-earth woman. Drake could do a lot worse than hire Jean Berger for that job."

There will be plenty of interest in the Drake job among young athletic administrators around the nation. There are always a bunch of aggressive candidates who think they have all the answers at the collegiate level.

The trouble with those people is that few of them want to make Drake their last stop. They're always looking for greener pastures -- especially when they find out that Drake ranks behind Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa on the major-college sports totem pole in this state.

The "I'll-stay-at-Drake-for-five-years-then-head for the ACC" kind of thinking hopefully wouldn't be the case with Berger, an Iowa native. She grew up in nearby Winterset and has done a solid job in Drake's women's athletic department.

She is well aware of the strengths and the weaknesses at Drake. She knows that the Drake Relays and men's and women's basketball should be, and are, the strong points of the program.

She knows Drake Stadium -- home of the Relays and coach Rob Ash's Bulldog football program -- is undergoing a massive renovation under Blank.

She is well aware of the academic restrictions Drake's coaches must work under. She knows Blank was smart in hiring Tom Davis -- the winningest basketball coach in history at the University of Iowa -- as Drake's men's coach.

Drake hasn't had a winning record in men's basketball for 18 seasons, but that could change this year. Davis' Bulldogs have a 10-7 record now. But it's never going to be an easy job.

And attendance will always be a problem at Drake, whether you're talking about men's basketball, women's basketball or football.

Berger certainly had a big role in the hiring of Drake's last two women's basketball coaches -- Lisa Stone and Amy Stephens.

Mark Kostek [upper left], who came to Drake as director of the Relays and now is an associate athletic director at the school, may get a look as the new director. He's certainly someone to keep an eye on, but whether he's had enough experience to be the director is something only David Maxwell -- Drake's president and the man who will make the decision on Blank's successor -- can answer.

Right now, Jean Berger is my choice for the job.