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R C Johnson on WMC with Dave Woloshin and Forrest Goodman

July 9, 2003

RCJ – You’re right, we’ve been having conference calls every week for about 3 weeks and the last time we were together I think I mentioned we are spending a lot of time trying to position ourselves, and nothing has changed were continuing to do that. We’re talking, getting things ready. My analogy probably has not changed from about 2 months ago, I think what we can do is have our best foot forward from a University standpoint, from a community leaders standpoint; a corporate standpoint and we’ve done that. So we’re there. I do think – and you gave me that release or said there was one, just as I walked in here that came out today from the Presidents, I have not seen that release, my president, Dr. Raines is out of town right now, I know she was on the call…

DW – the release, to be honest with you R.C., the release says nothing, nobodies moving until 2005-2006 and that Conference USA will be above board in their discussions. Now the New York Times was a little more explicit saying that they have talked about realignment. I assume that you guys talked a little about that too.

RCJ – They being?

DW – They being Conference USA members.

RCJ – Oh yeah, we talk about it every time we have our conference call. But to be honest with you right now, I’ve always taken the position we should be proactive, not reactive. But the truth of the matter is we are just kind of waiting around to see what the Big East is trying to do. I don’t think they know right now. I think there is a period of time where they are trying to calm things down, let the waters calm down from the ACC invasion as they call it, and go from there. But, what we’re doing internally and in the community is – the mayors have been involved, the governor has been involved as far as helping us with literature and if we need such and letters…

DW – I hear that business leaders have stepped up and said, “We will pay”

RCJ – Well, we haven’t got that specific Dave. We’ve had meetings with corporate leaders in the community – the best of the best. They have asked me, and I promised them I wouldn’t mention specifics names, but we all know who is around here and who we count on. And they’ve all said they’ll there for us, lets see what can we do to help and we’ve got an awful lot to sell if it gets to that point. You know you just don’t know for sure. I think part of it, quite honestly is, the Big East – and this is done at the presidential level, its not done at my level, this is done at much higher than where I am, I think there is a little bit of concern right now about they don’t want to be – “they” being the Big East presidents and chancellors, they don’t want to be perceived as “conference grabbers” as they have talked about the ACC presidents and chancellors. Because of that, I think everything is trying to get calmed down a little bit and I think they are trying to look at what they are going to do within the Big East. There’s all sorts of stories, I talked to several Big East athletic directors, you guys know I came here from Temple a hundred years ago, and many of those guys were there then, and they are still there now and they’re not sure exactly. You know, the last time we were together, none of us thought that Miami and Virginia Tech were going to go and that just, in fact, I’ve got a good friend who has been helping us and he called me that day and told me he was going to tell me exactly what was going to happen, the ACC is going to take Miami, and they’ve already added Roy Williams as head basketball coach at North Carolina so they feel they have improved the basketball in the league, and they would stop there because its not a public relations disaster and they will just let it go at that. And he said to not share that with anybody because they are going to vote on it tonight. And I got a call that night from an old buddy of mine…who asked me what I thought about Virginia Tech going and I was just stunned. So you don’t know what the presidents will do.

DW - Well you’re right, and the media and so-called experts have been way off on this story. Let me ask you about this possibility. This scenario is one that just makes so much sense, but you take the basketball schools from Conference USA and the Big East and you have a heck of a 9-school league. Big markets, money flows into those programs and you think ESPN would be very happy with a league like that. And then you take their 6 football programs and the 6 best from Conference USA, Army already wants out, the WAC is interested in Houston and Tulane already, the TCU program would be a perfect fit for the Mountain West. UAB, I know Gene Bartow has said they probably should go back to their origins, which is the Sun Belt. You move everybody around, they end up in a good place that’s right for them that they can make it financially and competitively and that’s a pretty good fit. Has that been discussed anywhere? A merger of that kind.

RCJ – Oh, I’m sure it has somewhere. I’ve had in my conversations with different people, and I know this is probably hard for the listeners to believe, but we haven’t really – you were pretty specific on what you were talking about there. And we have not done that. We haven’t said what you said about these schools going to the WAC or this school going to the Mountain West or what Gene said to you guys about UAB. We haven’t had that type of conversation. But conceptually, I think what you are talking about makes the most sense. But from my standpoint, and I try to look at things from a broad spectrum and a broad base, I think that makes the most sense. There are probably those out there that don’t like it for whatever reason. I think the one thing that has to be determined, and I think the Big East people will probably, well I know they are working on this. If they do separate, how do they separate the equity shares from the NCAA tournament, how do they share the television money, how will they do all those things if they did separate. There’s a lot of legalities that get involved with it that would have to be discussed. I was in the Big East nine years ago, and I can tell you that we used to meet at Newport Beach every summer…. and even then we were talking about it. At that time Temple and Virginia Tech were in the league for football. Georgetown and Seton Hall were in the league for basketball and one group would come into the meeting and the other group would leave and there was even some conversation then, and it just kind of died, because it was thought to be way too complicated to try to do that, and that was nine years ago. So I don’t know, I think that’s on their radar screen, to try to get that issue resolved and until that’s resolved Dave, I don’t think that what you are talking about is out of the realm of possibility at all. But I think it is going to have to be decided internally from perhaps others more than us. I think we’ve had plenty of dialog going on, I don’t know what all was said in the – and you mentioned off air that you had our commissioner on, and I did not hear that, I know that he and Mike visit on a regular basis, Mike Trangesse. You guys know we’ve hired Chuck Nienas. For the listeners that may not know, Chuck was heavily involved in the Collegiate Football Association and was involved with the Big 12 conference merger and he knows the players out there. I’ve talked to Gene Corrigan. He’s been on our campus. Gene was the former athletic director at Notre Dame and former ACC commissioner, and a good friend, and we asked him to come in and take a look at what we have here. I had him meet some of the corporate people and some of our coaches…

DW – He’s sort of a consultant now is he not?

RCJ – Yeah. You know things like that I think that we need to be doing to try to position ourselves and that’s what we are doing, so we are going to keep on keeping on.

DW – Let me ask you about Britton Banowski, and I think this is a fair question in light of the fact that a columnist in Louisville and a columnist here now, have questioned this guy’s effectiveness. Not moving to Chicago after 8 months on the job, you have said you think this league should be proactive and he has appeared to be, and we don’t know what’s going on totally behind the scenes, but he has appeared to be anything but proactive; he’s just sitting back and reacting to a certain extent. Are you pleased, is Dr. Raines pleased with this commissioner that you brought in eight months ago?

RCJ – The quick answer is yes. And you’re right Dave, and I don’t like to come on these shows and be coy with you guys, particularly Forrest because I like him a lot. with you Dave I don’t have a real problem with it, and I don’t want to be coy, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes and I think what’s happened is, in fact I know what’s happened. Ever since the lawsuit developed, out of Connecticut, everyone is walking on eggs about talking publicly. They are very concerned about somebody else filing a lawsuit against you or whatever. So I think because of that, there has been a lot less public discussion about what’s going on. There was quite a bit of discussion about Commissioner Trangesse’s comments that he made about Miami and then Miami made some comments, their president made some comments about the Big East commissioners office, and I think because of that everyone is very guarded. But, there are things going on, I can assure the Tiger fans. We’re doing, I told our own staff, every day, it’s like when I used to recruit, every day I wanted to do something with each recruit. Every day I do something that I think will make it better for the Tigers with the conference. And I think on the conference level, the same thing is happening, we are just not being as public with it because we are a little bit guarded.

FG – And I’m so glad you brought that up, because I’ve talked to a lot of people who fear “out of sight, out of mind”, and if they are not reading daily in the paper or hearing daily on the radio about every step the university is making, they are afraid that we are not doing enough. I take the mindset, and I know a lot of other folks do too, that look, the less I hear, the better I feel because that means your busy working and not having to field a hundred questions a day from fans and the media.

RCJ – Well, one of the best things about this job at the University of Memphis is that it is a very visible job and we have a ton of fans. And a lot of our fans listen to you guys, we are on the internet, they listen to other talk shows, they listen to all sorts of things, they pick up clips from all around, and if we are not mentioned, or if something is out there, I get calls all the time or I get emails all the time and they are saying “well if you’re not mentioned…”. You mentioned earlier today Dave about Andy (Katz) has not been scoring very well with his stuff.

DW – And he mentioned again today that we could be the school that’s left out if Cincinnati and Louisville go there and I want to ask you this because you made the statement a few weeks ago on my old mentors airwaves that if both of those left, we would be in a heap of trouble. Do you feel a little bit better about our scenario now?

RCJ – If they both left I wouldn’t feel very good; I wouldn’t want that to happen. I think the bell cows and cornerstones of this conference are made up of Louisville, Cincinnati, and Memphis and if you lose 2/3’s of the legs of that stool, that’s not very good. We’ve got so much to offer here. Again, I was out of town this weekend, but Gary Robinson wrote a terrific editorial…

DW - that’s the sports editor who wrote the terrific story about what Memphis has to offer and I think that would have opened eyes of even some of our own fans.

RCJ – Well, it did because I’ve gotten some of that reaction. I got back Monday…I made sure the right people saw that

FG – That’s a great thing. I look at it this way too, someone brought this to my attention the other day, lets look right now, because I think in the end this all comes down to money. Lets face it, that’s what college athletics is today. I look at the value of a Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati conference home and home, the TV contract value of that just being phenomenal, because of the dislike and tradition and the history between these three schools. You have it with Cincinnati and Louisville, but with Memphis, that just brings more money into the pot for the schools and for the conference.

RCJ – Well, that’s certainly a selling point, and I assure you that people are aware of that. We have nationally ranked programs and nationally visible coaches and nice arenas and you know, my peers around the country, they understand that, they know that. We’ll just have to see how we position ourselves. I don’t know of any negative we have other than one we can’t control. If we were located in Providence, Rhode Island, we would be in great shape. But we are not. We are where we are. But in this day and age, with the airport we have, I don’t see that as a negative, and we will just have to wait and see. We are going to do everything that we can to be as strong as we can be and maintain and if something happens out there, I assure all our listeners that we are positioned to do something. We really are.

DW – Along the lines of your peers, are those gentlemen at Louisville and Cincinnati saying “look, we would like this partner that we have rivalries and history with to be a part of this”? Is there any bonding between the three of you?

RCJ – We really haven’t talked in those terms Dave, we really haven’t. I think right now everyone is looking more inward than outward, and we just haven’t gotten into that. Conceptually, we would like to stay as we are, and there is a move by Tulane’ president to try to re-look at the BCS operation that is scheduled for sometime at the end of this month. So I think we are trying to see if we can’t solidify what we currently have, and maybe what you alluded to early on would be the way to do that. That would make a lot of sense and be a real plus.


DW – I should ask you…about the dilemma that John Calapari, your basketball coach now has with Sean Banks, arrested for a second time, again the charges revolving around gang activity. We know he’s a terrific basketball player, but we don’t really know what he is like as a human being. We’ve seen John turn guys around. What’s your take?

RCJ – Well, that’s right. Well as we would do with any young man or woman we recruit, we will need to get all the information from everyone involved before we make any sort of judgment and that’s what we will do in this situation. I know about as much, well you guys probably know more than me actually. When we have this happen, our standard policy is pretty much the same, to fully investigate, get the full response from everybody and take action from there. All I have really heard so far is what I have picked up from media sources and I haven’t talked to anybody at that end and we’ll go from there and see what happens.

FG – Any new news regarding your talks, your hopes for the university to lease the Liberty Bowl from the city of Memphis?

RCJ – Well, since we were last together, we have had an opportunity to meet with…Mayor Herenton had agreed to bring in a firm. He has, an architectural design firm, we have met with them as well as city officials. We talked to them about things we would like to see at the stadium. And I think this is going to be a process, it’s not something we are going to see before our Tennessee Tech game, it will be a process. But I’m pleased. I talked to Mayor Herenton today and I’m pleased that they are doing that. I think they have talked to Steve Erheart and Fred Jones as well and we’ve sent in our priority list and asked them to look at some things, the obvious ones, chair back seating. I’d really like to move the visitors to the other end and make a new locker room for us at the south end and things like that. And they are looking at it for us

DW – The chair backs, how many seats are you talking about?

RCJ – I would like to have 50,000, that’s what I would like to do. I want to be bigger than Papa John’s Stadium. 50,000 would develop a little more sense of urgency for us rather than have 62.000.

DW – How much would that cost though?

RCJ – Well, that’s what they are looking at, but that was our charge, to come up with things to elevate our program to get it where we want it to be.

DW – What about the story that you guys would become the entity that ran that stadium?

RCJ – We’re checking into that. If we can get some of these things done, that’s good news – bad news deal. The people who say on game day its great to be in charge and have your own stadium, on Sunday, it’s a real pain because you’ve got to do all the follow up stuff from clean up to what have you. I would still be interested in doing that and we are pursuing that. But that’s been reversed on the order for us now, because if we can get some of these things done, that would be absolutely huge for us. It would be paramount for us and we would really like to get some improvements done at the stadium and we’ve made a fairly exhaustive list. We’ve talked to the football staff, Bob Winn and his staff, Kevin Grothe and his staff, Bill Lofton and his staff, and really dressed it up. People talk to me about building a stadium on campus and first of all, I just don’t see that as something that fiscally is going to happen. I don’t think we need that. Our students don’t live on campus. We are not in the type setting where you would have that. I think the Liberty Bowl is fine I think it is a nice stadium, we would just like to fix it up a little and tweak it a bit and that’s the direction we are taking.

DW – Do you foresee a day where you can make it as plush as Papa Johns, because lets face it, that’s where your judged

RCJ – Yeah, I really do. I really think we have the potential to do some things and I’m excited about the possibility of doing it. I wasn’t here, but I’m sure when they built the Pyramid, they said it wasn’t going to happen, you guys know there was never going to be a FedEx Forum built…we are going to make the Liberty Bowl as nice as we can. There are things going on in this community that people said would never happen, all the way from AutoZone Park to the FedEx Forum.

FG – And see, that’s why I stay very optimistic, because it’s our turn. Memphis is on a roll. They said the Grizzlies would never come here. They said Tyson/Lewis would never come here

DW – Two quick things, two quick answers. One, FedEx Forum, what are you going to do?

RCJ – We are still talking.

DW – How close are you to some decision?

RCJ – I don’t have an answer for you on that one.

DW – So this could go into the next basketball season?

RCJ – You said a quick answer. I try to be accommodating

DW – Are you trying to be Britton Banowski now?

RCJ – Laughs.

DW – When do you think, in your gut, we know there will be now physical changes till 2005-2006, but when do you think some sort of decision will be made about realignment and where people will end up?

RCJ – Had you asked me that a month ago, I would have said immediately. And I probably would have said before our next radio show. But now I don’t think so. Now I think things are calming down, everyone is backing off, I think everyone is taking a long hard look at things and I would be surprised if there is something this summer.

DW – Hopefully your FedEx Forum decision happens before then

RCJ – I agree

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If Doug Woolard would be half as forhcoming when he chats with Ron Jacober Sunday Morning, I think we would have a better idea where SLU stands and what Fr. Biondi is striving for, and we might breathe a little easier.

I like this quote from the Memphis athletic director:

>>I think part of it, quite honestly is, the Big East – and this is done at the presidential level, its not done at my level, this is done at much higher than where I am, I think there is a little bit of concern right now about they don’t want to be – “they” being the Big East presidents and chancellors, they don’t want to be perceived as “conference grabbers” as they have talked about the ACC presidents and chancellors. Because of that, I think everything is trying to get calmed down a little bit and I think they are trying to look at what they are going to do within the Big East.

I also appreciate the fact that he believes the merger would be a good thing.

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I am also glad he thinks the merger would be good but after all, he is from CUSA not the BE so I am not sure how much wait that carries. The problem with the KMOX thing is that Ron J is not a good interviewer, he does not do his homework, and Woolard will be easily able to side step any close questions. I will be out of town so I will wait for others to post their take on the interview.

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