Athletic Director of the Year
Ray Anderson, Arizona State University
The Sun Devils hired Ray Anderson in 2014 to fully tap into the potential of the school’s athletics. Despite having one of the largest undergraduate enrollments in the country, Arizona State didn’t always act or compete like one of the big boys. ASU’s strides forward were never more evident than in the past year.
The most conspicuous example of Arizona State’s growth is the $307 million project to reinvent Sun Devil Stadium. The last of three phases was completed in August 2018. The new lower bowl, replete with new premium seating, and one of the largest video boards in the country will make the stadium a much more prolific revenue generator for athletics.
Anderson also has overseen all-sports growth in the department. He personally made a $1 million lead gift to help reinstate the men’s tennis program and oversaw the addition of men’s ice hockey three seasons ago. ASU became the fastest startup hockey club to make the NCAAs this past season, part of a historic 21-win campaign.
In the two primary revenue sports, the Sun Devils made the postseason in football under first-year coach Herm Edwards last year and won a game in this year’s men’s NCAA Tournament under basketball coach Bobby Hurley, another Anderson hire.
Mitch Barnhart, University of Kentucky
When football coach Mark Stoops went 2-10 in his first season at Kentucky in 2013, AD Mitch Barnhart had what seemed like a curious response — he gave Stoops a contract extension. Turns out that Barnhart knew what he was doing.
The school known for its men’s basketball tradition has found its footing in football. The Wildcats went 10-3 last season and Stoops recorded one of the signature victories in his six seasons by beating Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
That only begins to tell the 2018-19 story for Barnhart, who is the second-longest tenured AD in the power five, having started at UK in 2002. Only Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione has been at the same school longer.
Barnhart took another giant stride toward transforming UK’s athletic campus around the football stadium by opening Kentucky Proud Park, the school’s new $49 million baseball stadium, in February. The Wildcats have been succeeding in the Olympic sports as well, evidenced by a 17th-place showing in the 2018 Learfield Directors’ Cup, their seventh straight top-30 finish.
Under the radar, Barnhart has led UK athletics to a balanced budget without any state funding. He also initiated an arrangement with student government to end student athletic fees as part of a new ticketing plan.
Jennifer Cohen, University of Washington
Washington has emerged as the class of the Pac-12 in recent years, by almost any measure, in the top two revenue sports. The Huskies have won the league’s football championship two of the last three years, advancing to the College Football Playoff in 2016. They also dominated men’s basketball this past season with a 15-3 conference mark, further validating coach Mike Hopkins’ hire two years ago.
Behind the scenes for many of these developments is Jennifer Cohen, a 20-year veteran administrator at Washington who was elevated into the AD’s chair in 2016. In April 2018, Cohen capitalized on the Huskies’ competitive success by signing a 10-year, $120 million deal with Adidas to be their shoe and apparel partner.
With the new shoe deal and other revenue enhancements from the renovated football stadium, Cohen is projecting a budget surplus of $5.65 million by 2020, including $140 million in revenue.
Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone wrote, “The Huskies program right now isn’t just humming, it has been Pavarotti singing arias. And the latest masterwork, soaring to the top of Cohen’s greatest hits,” is the new Adidas deal.
Blake James, University of Miami
Blake James has guided Miami athletics into a new era of achievement with a focus on fundraising, facility upgrades and academic achievement.
The athletic director has overseen a period of unparalleled growth in six years at the U, including the largest athletics gift in school history, $14 million, which has contributed to a facility facelift in Coral Gables. Miami used that donation to kick off fundraising for the $34 million indoor football practice facility.A new Adidas deal, a broadcast center, nutrition and refueling stations, a center-hung scoreboard in the Watsco Center and the opening of the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence have been hallmarks of James’ administration.
The Hurricanes’ AD deftly navigated a potentially volatile situation after last football season when coach Mark Richt, a Miami alum, resigned after just two seasons. But James quickly regrouped to hire Manny Diaz, the U’s defensive coordinator who just a few weeks before had left for Temple. James got him back.
James has chaired the NCAA’s Division I Council since 2017, which has put him in one of the most influential roles an AD can have. The DI Council makes decisions on the day-to-day business and rules of college athletics.
Jamie Pollard, Iowa State University
In a few months, Iowa State will break ground on a new $90 million sports performance center, a building that’s been in the works for two years and will serve all 450 of the Cyclones’ athletes as a nutrition and academic center. The 110,000-square-foot building will be just one more way AD Jamie Pollard’s fingerprints are all over Iowa State athletics.
Pollard has been the school’s AD since 2005, and during that time he has given the Cyclones a makeover on and off the field. Until recently, Iowa State was an easy target, especially in football.
Pollard hired Matt Campbell as the Cyclones’ football coach three seasons ago and back-to-back eight-win seasons have the fan base enthused. ISU fans bought all 14,000 tickets in the school’s allotment for last season’s Alamo Bowl. The year before, the Cyclones sold out of their 15,000 tickets for the Liberty Bowl. In men’s basketball, his hiring of Steve Prohm in 2015 has resulted in two Big 12 tournament titles in the past three years, a smooth continuation of the success under predecessor Fred Hoiberg.
In the past year, Pollard has worked to sign Campbell and Prohm to six-year contracts, hoping to keep both in Ames.
Pollard also has gained a level of influence nationally. He was named to the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee recently and will serve a five-year term.