Thursday, December 8, 2022

MSU Athletics turns to the future after Beekman steps down

August 11, 2021
<p>Bill Beekman speaks at a July 16, 2018, press conference announcing his appointment as MSU&#x27;s permanent athletic director.</p>

Bill Beekman speaks at a July 16, 2018, press conference announcing his appointment as MSU's permanent athletic director.

Photo by Katie O'Brien Kelley | The State News

The future of Michigan State athletics is at a crossroads entering the 2021-22 year following Athletic Director Bill Beekman’s announcement last week that he would be stepping down after a replacement is found. 

He will return to his roots in MSU’s central administration as the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the University. He previously worked for the University as the Vice President and Secretary for the Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2018 before being thrust into the Athletic Director position in February of 2018 following the retirement of former AD Mark Hollis.

"I have been honored to serve as athletic director at Michigan State, and I thank the Board of Trustees and our administration for this opportunity," Beekman said in the press release. "While we've experienced the most challenging 18 months in the history of college athletics, we've pushed forward on many fronts, laying the groundwork for the future. Great things are ahead for Michigan State athletics. I'm also excited for this new role in the administrative team as the vice president for strategic initiatives, working with President Stanley to drive our great university forward."

Beekman stepped into the role at a time when it seemed like the university was crumbling under the weight of the Larry Nassar scandal and was tasked with helping rebuild the public trust during the fallout.

He had no experience working in athletics at that point but gained the support of MSU coaches and took on the role when MSU had a void in leadership following Hollis’ retirement and President Lou Anna K. Simon’s resignation. 

Beekman was hired by former MSU interim president John Engler and tasked him with rebuilding the image of the Athletic department on an interim basis. The interim tag was quickly removed by Engler after Beekman received support from those within MSU athletics.

Beekman’s original contract in 2018 included a clause that if he left his role as Athletic Director by July 2023, he could return to a role in central administration. The contract was a 5-year $750,000 agreement that gave Beekman an out to return to his previous position. 

"As things unfolded this spring, you know, leadership was sort of thrust upon Bill Beekman in a rather probably unusual way," former head football coach Mark Dantonio said in 2018. "I really think and believe, though, that leadership really takes its place in many different forms. He's had a unifying force, really, for our entire athletic department since coming on."

Since then, the university and Athletic department have worked to distance themselves from the Nassar scandal and rebuild the image of the department. 

Michigan State secured its largest donation ever for athletics under Beekman to help MSU improve its athletic facilities. Also, Beekman had to oversee the department through the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic and made numerous key decisions that will help change the course of MSU Athletics.

Most notably, Beekman oversaw the decision to cut Michigan State’s Swimming and Diving team in October, citing that the Athletic department needed to cut spending during the pandemic. He now leaves office with the program gone and its future all but decided. Also, he was responsible for numerous coaching hires like Mel Tucker, Lisa Breznau, Jeff Hosler and Kim Chavers. 

Also, the university created mandatory workshops for athletes and staff for identifying sexual misconduct in the department through the Prevention, Outreach and Education, or POE, department to educate them on issues and help prevent them from happening in MSU athletics.

It is not a stretch at all to say the Athletic department is in a better place three years later versus when Beekman was hired in 2018. But, even still, the department remains at a crossroads with a massive decision looming. 

MSU is three years removed from the biggest scandal in modern college history and has steadily worked to move on and focus on the future. The Athletic Department will look for someone that can take on seismic tasks as MSU enters a new college landscape where players can be compensated for their efforts and looks to enter a new stratosphere of elite college athletics across the board. 

Michigan State has the capital to make a generous offer to almost any candidate, but there are a few that could help them immensely in the new era of college athletics. 

MSU hired a search firm, Collegiate Sport Associates (CSA), according to university spokesperson Dan Olsen, to assist in the national Athletic Director search. The search firm has helped in numerous athletic director hires at other universities and will help ensure MSU has an extensive list of candidates to choose from. 

MSU also has a history of hiring in-house when it comes to hires in athletics. The three former Athletic Directors, Ron Mason, Clarence Underwood and Hollis, had strong ties with the university prior to taking the position just like Beekman. It would not be a total shock if MSU followed the trend and hired someone in-house. 

The names to look for that already work for MSU are Alan Haller and Kevin Pauga. 

Alan Haller

Haller is a Deputy Athletic Director for MSU and has worked in MSU Athletics since 2010. The Lansing area native and former MSU football player has worked for the department for over a decade and hand-in-hand with the football team, making him a strong candidate if MSU chooses to stay in-house. 

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Haller played a prominent role in Mel Tucker’s coaching search in 2020 and leads a support staff for sport administrators that deals with issues in each department within MSU Athletics. He has also been tasked with working with campus leadership on numerous issues such as department equity and restarting sports during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Haller has had his foot in the door in almost every aspect of MSU athletics and has been a crucial part of the department’s changes over the past three years. He has inside knowledge and connections with the MSU community and administration, setting him up to be successful if hired. 

Kevin Pauga

Kevin Pauga is a household name for those obsessed with Michigan State men’s basketball. He started as a video assistant for the team from 2004-08 after working as a team manager as an undergraduate at MSU.

He rejoined MSU in 2010 as the director of Basketball Operations and was then promoted to Assistant Athletic Director for Administration in 2015. 

Pauga is responsible for scheduling and logistics for teams as well as serving as lead on special projects for the athletic department. He has connections with the individual teams as well as the university leadership, making him a strong candidate for the opening. Pauga would be another logical option if MSU does decide to hire from within. 

Heather Lyke

Michigan State will also take a look at a number of external candidates not associated with the university. The search firm was brought in to conduct a national search and President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. has filled other prominent positions at the university such as the Provost and Police Chief with outside hires. The Athletic Director could very well come from another school as well.

One name to look for is Heather Lyke, who is currently the athletic director at Pittsburgh University. Lyke has never been a Spartan, but has very strong connections to the area and is well-versed in collegiate athletics. She played softball at Eastern Michigan University and then worked at Ohio State for 15 years as a member of the athletic department’s executive team. She served as the Athletic Director for Eastern Michigan from 2013 to 2017 before moving to Pittsburgh. 

Lyke has the experience and connections to the community that MSU is looking for. She is also highly regarded within the athletic administration community as a representative for the Division I Council and was nominated as a 2021 finalist for Athletic Director of the year by the Sports Business Journal. 

Sean Frazier

The Northern Illinois Athletic Director is another name on MSU’s radar, according to Brett McMurphy of Stadium. 

Frazier has been the athletic director for the Huskies since 2013 and has experience working in the Big Ten too. He spent seven years working for the Wisconsin athletic department, including two years as deputy athletic director.

Frazier oversaw fundraising efforts at Wisconsin, giving him a keen understanding of the financial responsibilities of a Big Ten athletic department. Frazier also served on the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Committee and could help the program during its current rebuilding under Danton Cole. 

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