Bowen: Cracking The U of M’s Combination

By Don Wade

If new University of Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen were a player, we would be debating his “upside.”

We would be asking how well his fundraising and other skills will translate from San Jose State and the west coast to the U of M and the Mid-South.

Which is to say, when required, will he cheerily roll up his sleeves to eat one more helping of barbecue and drink another glass of too-sweet tea? Will he learn to say he’s fixin’ to do something in a way that people know he means business?

I jest, but only a little. Bowen is an outsider. Ultimately, this might allow him to make bold moves. He is bringing fresh eyes to a whole set of long-festering challenges that begin with football and, from a revenue standpoint, end with football.

However, in the near term, he will have to crack the combination that is surface Southern Hospitality/insular Good Old Boys Network.

Can he do it?

The search committee, chaired by FedEx CFO Alan Graf, unanimously voted yes to that and, by implication, that Bowen will be able to make the tough calls on coaches: When does Josh Pastner have to win an NCAA Tournament game? How long does Justin Fuente get to show real progress in football?

Bowen used the words “gold opportunity” time and time again when interviewed by Graf and the committee. Bowen’s enthusiasm for the U of M and what he believes is possible here won him the job.

His record as athletic director at San Jose State (2004-present) was most notable for his fundraising and, for a time at least, rebuilding the school’s football program and increasing attendance.

Consider all of that the game tape on Bowen – good stuff, but perhaps achieved at a level that makes it difficult to gauge what he will or won’t be able to accomplish at Memphis. The Tigers are on their way to the Big East and always will sit in the heart of ultra-competitive SEC country.

Bowen, like all new hires, believes he knows what he has gotten himself into here. But it’s impossible to know all you need to know until the first real crisis comes. Then he’ll find out how big the challenge really is and we’ll find out if he’s truly up for it.

Everything else is just guesswork and speeches before the Rotary Club.

Don Wade is a native of Kansas City and a former feature writer for The Kansas City Star and sports reporter for The Commercial Appeal. His column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News.