James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Accountability in a Government Agency

What sets state universty athletics apart from other governmental institutions is you get to see public employees - administrators and coaches - held to a standard of performance. You get to see public pressure forcing change. You get to see the decisions made in response to market forces.

Of course, you don't see all of these things all the time, but more so than in other government agencies.

The example I'm thinking of - and one close to my heart - is University of Nebraska-Lincoln chancellor Harvey Perlman firing Athletic Director Steve Pederson because of the state and direction of the football program.

Although Bill Callahan is coach and hasn't yet been fired, the program is Pederson's "baby" as he
a)fired previous coach Frank Solich after a 9-3 season, an improvement over the previous year's 7-7 campaign and with a greatly improved defense under young, new coordinator Bo Pellini;
b)Said "I refuse to let this program gravitate to mediocrity" but didn't give Solich, who had a 58-19 record and an improving team, another year or two to prove this wasn't the case;
c)Took forty days to find a replacement, being publicly turned down by at least three candidates.
d)Turned to Bill Callahan, who was damaged goods after being fired as Oakland Raiders coach for his inability to connect with players or squash a player mutiny.
e)Presided over Nebraska's first losing season since 1961.
f)Canceled a contract to play mediocre Houston on national television in favor of playing a lower-division opponent in Maine in 2005.
g)Saw 15 losses in Callahan's first three seasons, indicating the very slide into mediocrity he wanted to avoid.
h)Signed Callahan to a five-year extension this year anyway, only to see a 4-3 record while allowing 40 points four times - including to Ball State. It is hard to imagine the team winning another game.
i)Saw resignations from his top assistants in the Athletic Department.
j)Saw Nebraska fans who preached patience and faith in the new regime finally turn against Callahan and Pederson, spelling trouble.

Callahan should be fired at the end of the season (unless he can suddenly inspire his team and run the table), but this fiasco isn't his fault - it was Pederson who hired him. While some other sports at Nebraska are strong, such as volleyball, a bad Nebraska football team tears the heart out of the state.

Pederson does get a golden parachute, as his academically-oriented boss gave him a contract extension over the summer. That's how the market works. But at least he was fired. It's too bad government officials aren't held to the same level of accountability for their incompetence and blunders.

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