It was a definitely a shocker around here Thursday afternoon when USD athletic director David Sayler, suddenly, was announced as the new AD at Miami of Ohio. In hindsight, though, it probably shouldn’t have been.
In my opinion there was something near a 90 percent chance he was going to move on to another school in the next two years. Nothing in Sayler’s resume up to this point would ever lead one to believe anything other than that. An Ohio native who has worked at more than a half-dozen schools all over the country was going to call Vermillion his permanent home at age 43? No chance.
I’m guessing at least a few folks close to the athletic department feel as if they’ve been robbed of something here. I should preface that by saying that in many ways Sayler was more respected by coaches and fellow staffers than anyone who has held that position at USD during my time covering Coyote sports. He was a smart guy and a doer, not just a talker.
But if you ignore his personnel circumstances involving his family and the role that played in his departure — admittedly, this is pretty cynical — what you have is somebody with no prior connections to the university who stopped in for a short time, made some decisions that affected people’s lives, then left.
Any time a coach or prominent administrator leaves a school, you’re dealing with a situation where the loyalty that person pledged to an institution — and encouraged on the institution’s behalf — takes on a dubious tone. Really? Fans should bleed Coyote red because a guy who stayed here two-and-a-half years told them to? What color is he bleeding now?
That’s not my personal view, by the way. Sayler’s wife lost her mother recently and her father is now on his own. Honestly, if I was in a similar situation, it wouldn’t take a promotion for me to make a move. I’d make the move whether I had a better deal or not.
I have no reason to think his motives in leaving are anything other than what he stated on Thursday, and besides that, it’s none of my business.
Which leaves us with a hectic two-and-a-half years with Sayler calling the shots.
His work with the Missouri Valley Football Conference in earning USD a last-minute invitation — while posturing the Coyotes as headed for the Big Sky — was either dumb luck or the work of someone pretty sharp and tuned-in to how big-picture things fall together. I’m going with the latter on that.
And Sayler was the first AD who, with Jim Abbott’s blessing, came right out and said “Yes, we need a new arena and a big part of my job is going to be getting that done.”
He then made a lot of progress on that count in a short time. I don’t know, given that he left the job before the job was done, that he’ll ever get the credit due him for motivating donors or in working with architects to design an arena that would best fit the school. Those were huge parts of his job that he took on in addition to keeping the trains running on time within the department.
I wasn’t on board with the Meierkort firing and Sayler’s public insinuations that things had gotten out of control on the academic end were never substantiated to any great degree. Meierkort was tough to deal with at times and some of his kids had issues, but strictly in regard to academics, the athletes who came to school at USD were completing educations at the same rate — or an even better rate — than at comparable institutions.
His hiring of Joe Glenn, after the fact, was solid. Obviously Year 1 of that enterprise didn’t go so hot, but I still think the program will steadily improve during his tenure. Whether that improvement will be dramatic enough and fast enough to please everyone will continue to be an issue for the more demanding of the Coyote faithful.
When I talked with Abbott today, he cited Sayler’s familiarity in building a Division I staff as a lasting contribution to the program. As the athletic department expanded there needed to be someone who knew what type of positions needed to be filled. It was a process that could have been accomplished in piecemeal fashion over time — with holes plugged as they occur — but according to Abbott, Sayler, by virtue of an extensive and varied background in Division I, knew which kinds of jobs needed to be added to the payroll from the outset.
I believe interim AD David Herbster’s candidacy for the job this time around will be taken much more seriously, in part because he picked up a few things from Sayler and then proved himself very capable in carrying out those assignments. Whether you’re in support of Herbster being the new guy or not, you have to credit the way he thrived in what many people would consider a difficult situation. He didn’t get the job when Sayler got it and Sayler became his new boss. A lot of people would be leaving on the next bus on a deal like that, but Herbster hung in there.
I talked to someone today who summed up Sayler’s departure like this: “Some people work hard at their jobs because they like their jobs. Some people work hard at their jobs because they want another job.”
I’d say Sayler had one foot in each category. He seemed to enjoy his work at the school and enjoy the people around him. The problem was that he had exceedingly marketable skills and no real connection to USD or this part of the world. That was the trade-off. USD hoped for the best when it hired a well-respected and steadily promoted administrator with an impressive record of taking an intense interest in the challenges of his job. And the Coyotes got the best from Sayler, they just didn’t get it for very long.