Sunday, February 23, 2003
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH associate AD Tom Sadler says he could see himself someday taking over for current AD Herman Frazier.
THE hint was there and Tom Sadler should have seen it coming. The way his basketball career went at St. Thomas Aquinas College was how his career path would go.
Hawaiis new associate
athletic director sees his
time here as an opportunity
By Cindy Luis
Sadler started out as a freshman power forward for the Saints in 1979 but finished as a senior off-guard for the small Michigan-based Catholic school. At 6-foot-4, he was the basketball equivalent of a utility infielder.
It's how he sees his current role as the new associate athletic director at the University of Hawaii. Three weeks into the job, Sadler is a cross between a sponge and an octopus in the sea of UH sports, trying to absorb as much as possible in a short time while reaching out to get a handle on as many tasks as possible.
"I think I've got an opportunity to assist in whatever (UH athletic director) Herman (Frazier) wants me to do," said Sadler. "I will be seen as the go-to person when he's out of town. I have to know a little bit about everything and a lot of some things.
"It's a little overwhelming. I'm trying to get up to speed while trying to prioritize those things I need to address first. It's not easy coming into a new place, but the people here have made the transition a wonderful experience so far. First and foremost is the process of learning who's who and what's what, and trying to get your arms around the challenges here. I have stopped saying, 'This might be a stupid question ... ' "
Sadler appeared to be the easy answer when the job first opened upon the resignation of longtime associate Jim Donovan last July. Sadler had worked with Frazier at Arizona State for 17 years before Frazier left to become athletic director at Alabama-Birmingham in 2000.
The pair had a close working relationship from the time Frazier hired Sadler as his administrative assistant in 1983. But Sadler knew that friendship would not get him a job at Hawaii, a position that would be Frazier's first official hire and one looked upon with much scrutiny.
Frazier did not ask Sadler to apply, but "I did become aware that the job had been posted," said Sadler, one of 18 applicants. "And I knew Jim had resigned. I didn't have to think about it. I had already made up my mind that if the job was offered to me, I was coming.
"But I had no idea if I was getting the job, right up to the time it was offered. I felt like I was the clubhouse leader and felt good, but you never know what's going to happen.
"People in Phoenix kept asking, 'How could Herman not tell you?' But the people who know Herman know he's very professional and that this is the way he operates."
Frazier looked hard at all the applicants, but "Tom was the one who rose to the top," said the athletic director. "I know his work ethic. He has integrity combined with experience."
Sadler said there were numerous reasons to accept the position. The first was to reunite with Frazier, "a guy whose reputation preceded him," said Sadler. "I wanted to stay in college athletics and jobs like this one don't come along often.
"After 20 years (at ASU), it was time for me to go. We had just finished the ($270 million) upgrade to the athletic facilities and that was the last thing I could do there. I wanted to further my career and I had started looking elsewhere. It is funny how things work out."
Serendipity and Sadler are old friends. After graduating from Aquinas with a degree in industrial/organizational psychology, he moved to Phoenix, where his brother lived, in hopes of becoming a high school basketball coach.
He didn't know about the athletic administration profession when he went over to ASU to see how to become certified as a teacher in Arizona. There was a posting in the Human Resource Department "for an administrative assistant for something," Sadler said. "It paralleled what I had been doing at Aquinas, helping out in the athletic department. I thought it was something I could network my way to a coaching job.
"And what's also funny ... I remember 20 years ago when Herman traveled to Hawaii. He would tell me how beautiful it was. It's just crazy that he ended up here as the AD in a place he loves so much."
And Sadler is with him for what he expects to be a long time.
"In five years? I'll be right here," he said. "We have a tremendous opportunity to take us to another level. I think the athletic department is in great shape right now and we have so much potential to do even more.
"Not all institutions have the kind of support from the upper administration that we have here. The chancellor and the president have the same goals as the athletic department. And that is very unique."
So, too, is the statewide support for UH athletics. Sadler worked with the NFL when ASU's Sun Devil Stadium was used for Super Bowl XXX. He agrees that the interest in UH athletics is closer to that of a pro team.
"And that's a double-edged sword," he said. "The scrutiny is obvious. You just need to know how to manage it.
"I think we can be in with the elite of college athletics. Herman and I want to provide the ultimate student-athlete experience whereby they can grow to their potential athletically, academically and socially."
That is going to take money. Sadler has been there and done it, helping to implement a $41 million capital campaign for ASU while also eliminating a $1 million budget shortfall.
"There's a direct correlation between the budget and the success in college athletics," Sadler said. "It's our job to find a spectrum of ways to raise money without going back to the same people, where we continue to tap into ticket holders and the community.
"The bottom line is we have a deficit (estimated at $1 million). We need to take care of that, move forward and get our budget up to $20 million. Student-athletes are very good comparison shoppers. They come in with their parents, look at the training room, academic and student services, weight room and facilities. If you can't compete in those areas, you're not going to get those top student-athletes."
Sadler has a lot on his plate, from adjusting to a new institution to looking for a house for himself, fiancé Shellie, her 8-year-old daughter and his 8-year-old golden Labrador. He's concentrating on two areas: facilities and ticket office.
"I want to get my arms around the facilities, learn how it works from stem to stern," he said. "We need to develop a plan that reacts to the facility needs we have. We need to be proactive and not just reactive, look for other ways to do things so that neglect isn't such an issue.
"And we need to get the ticket office squared away so we know what our format looks like. We need to make some improvements, make access to our tickets as easy as possible. I've talked to some other schools who are using a new software that allows 24-hour purchase."
Sadler said he has absolutely no regrets about taking the job. He admitted to having feelings of anxiety and panic when getting on a plane a few weeks ago with a one-way ticket.
"Part of it was the unknown," he said. "That was the longest ride ever on the tarmac as I looked out at Phoenix. But once I got off the plane, it was over.
"Where will I be in 10 years? Right here. And if Herman left, I absolutely would like to take over for him. I have that kind of respect for the job that he'll do that the job would be a gem to have. Still, it would be tough following Herman in anything. And you never know, he may never want to leave.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for me. I look back and every three or four years a new challenge came up for me, from a change in job responsibilities to getting a master's, the Super Bowl and the (BCS) national championship. It all pointed to a position like this. Maybe I'm just lucky."
Maybe he should have seen it coming all along.
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