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Outgoing PSU AD Joyner: 'Judge me on my record'
June 23, 2014 - Cory Giger
Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner has been heavily criticized during his tenure for a number of different things, most notably his role on the Board of Trustees that fired Joe Paterno in 2011.
Joyner is retiring Aug. 1, the university announced this past week, and Friday he spoke at length with the Mirror's Cory Giger about numerous topics concerning his controversial time as AD. The following Q&A is from Giger's radio show, "Sports Central," that airs on several local ESPN Radio affiliates.
Q: Why did you want the job of athletic director back when it became available under the most difficult circumstances in 2011?
A: I wanted the job because I was asked to take it and Penn State was in a crisis, and it was out of the sense of duty to my university.
Q: Did you have any conversations with new PSU President Eric Barron about remaining as athletic director?
A: No, we talked about what might be best for both myself and the school, and mutually we thought this was a good way to go. It was the right time for me, I think. I felt like my mission was to establish a beachhead, if you will, and we've got a foundation and I felt comfortable that I think Penn State's on solid footing, not just athletically. I think it's not a bad time at all to do this.
Q: How much impact did you personally have on the Bill O'Brien hire, and then on the James Franklin hire?
A: Both the same. (At) Penn State, I'm called the hiring executive. I was also the chairman of the search committees. Sometimes the chairman of the search committee is not necessarily the hiring executive. ... It's my job to make the recommendation and then to make the choice.
Now, whether that choice ends up falling over or that choice ends up being a home run, that's my responsibility to take that, and I take counsel. We had a great search committee in both cases. The searches were done, I thought, extremely well, and I had great input from our folks on the search committee. But ultimately, it's my decision to make in both instances.
Q: There have been indications that you and O'Brien had a strained relationship at the end of his tenure? Is that true, and can you discuss the working relationship you had with Bill?
A: In my end, I didn't feel that we had a strained relationship at all. I don't know what Bill feels, and on the surface in talking, things were very copacetic. I don't know if there was something else going on that I was not aware of, but I can tell you I think Bill is a tremendous person. … Bill and I were very cordial, and I've talked to him several times after he left.
Q: You were a member of the Board of Trustees when it decided to fire Joe Paterno, and many Penn State fans remain so angry about that decision that they refuse to give you much or any credit for your work as AD. What would you like to say to those fans?
A: They're certainly entitled to their opinion about what happened back in November of that year. Each and every human being has to do what they think is the correct thing. I admire Joe as a coach. I was in his first recruiting class. He taught me many great things. Great coach. And I've said it, I think probably the greatest football coach that's ever coached.
But having said that, it was a very, very hard decision. And people may not agree with it at all … but I felt at the time that I had an obligation to do what I thought was right. I lost friends over it. I lost very close friends. But having said that, that's what I felt I had to do.
Then moving forward, though … you can think what you want about that, but I would just say to people judge me on my record.
Q: Aside from the Paterno decision, some of your most vocal critics claim you should not have been made the AD since you were on the Board of Trustees and they say it was an inherent conflict of interest. How would address that criticism?
A: It was all done within university policy at the time. There was no violation of policy. I did not remain on the Board. I suspended my Board membership immediately. So however it's perceived, it was done in a time of crisis.
They've said, well, Dave's just trying to get a good job. That's complete hogwash. This was (a time when) the place was burning to the ground, athletics was in dire straits from a management and leadership standpoint, and Dr. (Rodney) Erickson asked me if I would do this.
People don't know my background, and nobody talks about it. … I don't think anybody ever reports of my 20-plus years' experience and administrative roles within the U.S. Olympic committee. … People don't realize that's part of my background. Maybe they don't want to talk about it because it's not convenient. But I've had a lot of administrative experience at very high level, Olympic-level sport.
That was part of the reason, I'm sure, Dr. Erickson was interested if I would do this. I did it because of a sense of obligation to the university. The whole Board was aware and was in support of it.
Q: In the book "Fourth and Long" by John Bacon, you're not painted in a favorable light. How do you feel about how the book characterized you in certain ways and situations?
A: That book's chock-full of untruths. I never talked to John Bacon. He never, to my knowledge, he says he attempted to call me, I don't have any record of that anywhere at the university or any of my personal contacts. There just isn't a record of that, number one. Number two, the characterizations, like I said, are untrue. And so it is what it is, and I'll leave it at that.
Q: Another major issue for some is that you reportedly had a failed business venture, and the critics claim that in part made you unqualified to run a multi-million athletic department. How do you respond to that issue?
A: Number one, I didn't have a failed business venture. I'll explain that in a second. First of all, they never talk about the tremendously successful business ventures I've had in orthopedic practices, which are highly multi-million dollar businesses. … They don't talk about Joyner Sports Medicine Institute, which was wildly successful and made a massive return for investors, which was sold to NovaCare in 1998.
I was a participant in several small start-up companies, one of which I departed in my role as chairman and CEO because I didn't agree with the management decisions that were going on at the time. And 21 months later that company went bankrupt. I was still a participant as an investor, but I had no management responsibility, no control over the corporation. And then it went bad. So you can take from that what you want.
I've never been personally bankrupt, I have a superb credit rating. You can't even be employed as an executive at Penn State until you go through a background check and a credit check. That's the truth, and I'll leave it at that.
Q: Some close to O'Brien have indicated he wasn't happy about having to do a lot of the PR damage control and felt that he didn't get a lot of help from other leaders at the university. How active were you behind the scenes doing things or talking to people that may not be public knowledge?
A: Tremendously active. That was our main focus. And what people don't understand is that Bill's base is football. I've said to people when you're in the cage with a bear, you don't poke the bear, all right. When you're standing outside the cage, you can poke the bear all you want. So we had an obligation to the NCAA based on what happened.
There was a tremendous effort that began immediately to comply with, whether people agree with the consent decree or whether they don't, that's not my choice. It's not my choice to question that. My choice as the leader of the athletic department and probably the most important thing we had to do over the last two years … was to comply with that consent decree. And it doesn't matter, like I said, if you agree with it or not. Because the surest way to sink the ship is to not pay attention to that. The best way we could help Penn State was by being superb at adhering to that consent decree, and that started immediately.
All the behind the scenes things are not apparent at all, nobody will ever know. … The effort that was going on underneath to comply, that's a very, very important piece of what's going on. Sen. (George) Mitchell said that because of the way we adhered to that consent decree and the athletics integrity agreement, he made that recommendation last year (to reduce sanctions). And he said that he could -- he didn't say he would -- he said publicly that if we continue to progress as we have that he could make similar recommendations this year. Maybe he won't, and that's the way it is. But it's our job to adhere to that, and that's a ton of work for us.
Q: What was your relationship like with the football players, in particular Michael Mauti and the 2012 team that had to deal first-hand with the scandal fallout?
A: I always thought my relationship with Michael Mauti and … everybody was very good. There was the thing that Bacon talks about in the book about the team meeting we had with the players who were very on edge because of all the stuff going on; I'm sure it was very scary. I won't go into detail about issues that went on in that meeting, but I can tell you the characterization wasn't accurate.
There was some player disrespect to me the athletic director sitting in the room. Mauti wasn't part of that, but he was sitting in the room. … After the meeting, I'll tell you this, this is the truth no matter what's said in the book, Michael Mauti walked up to me, looked me in the eye and shook my hand and said, 'I want to apologize for what just happened in there, and I'm very sorry.' … And ever since then, I've thought I always had a good relationship with Michael. … I'm very respectful of Michael Mauti and what he's done and what he meant to this university.
Q: One last vocal group of critics contend your management style can come across as condescending or arrogant. That can be tough for anyone to hear about themselves, so do you think there's validity to those complaints?
A: Nope. How's that? I don't know who they're talking to, but maybe they can talk to my staff and people I work with every single day. I'm not going to toot my horn one way or the other.
I'll tell you, you have to be a strong leader, but my leadership style is very collaborative. I'm not afraid to make decisions, but I want to hear what my folks have to say, what they think. I want to hear what my coaches say and what they think. ... I'm not afraid to listen to what anybody says, whether I agree with it or not. But then it's up to me to make tough decisions perhaps.
It's my job to treat people nicely. My background is a physician, and that's another strength for this job as I see it is dealing with people and your bedside manner, and I take great pride in that in the way I approach people.
Q: There is an ongoing legal issue, so what if anything can you speak to with regards to the situation regarding the removal of men's fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov?
A: That's a personnel matter and a legal matter, so I really can't talk about it.
Q: What are you most proud of during your tenure as AD?
A: I guess I'm most proud that, whatever small part I may or may not have had, I'm proud that I think Penn State is on a stable footing. … I think that whoever my successor is, I'm happy -- but I'm not taking credit for it; our coaches and our student-athletes primarily and then our staff and the university that's important to us -- I'm very proud of them that they're in a place where they are.
We had probably our best academic year ever. We've had 20 conference championships the last two years, most ever. I'm very, very proud of the people that caused this to happen. If I played a small part in helping to keep the structure there so that they could be successful, then that's great.
Q: What, if anything, do you wish you would have handled differently?
A: Everything. (Laughs.) I wake up every morning seeking perfection. I truly believe that the relentless pursuit of perfection, understanding you're never going to get there, is the true key to excellence. So I wish I would have done everything better -- I'll comment on a couple things -- but I wish I could have worked faster, I wish I could have worked longer, I wish I could have solved things quicker, I wish I could have made everybody happy. But you can't do that.
But I think two big things that might be of interest are I wish that I could have found a way to -- and maybe it was impossible -- but I wish I could have found a way to help heal some of the gap, the chasm that exists with people that are so very upset about what happened with Joe in other parts of the community. I think that may be very difficult. I don't know exactly how to get it done. But I wish I could have had more effect on that. Maybe that was impossible from where I had come into this role.
I think the other thing I hope for is that I tried to have a good relationship with the media, and I wish I could have done maybe a better job with you guys. Sometimes I couldn't do things because I couldn't talk about a lot of things and I had to be kind of reclusive off and on. I generally like talking to the media, but there's just no way to address certain things, so that may have prevented the ideal relationship coming out, particularly early on.