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Fans Hammer Alleva After Trying Season

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

May 1, 2007

DURHAM – It's not unusual for a school's fans to campaign for the dismissal of a struggling coach. Sometimes even a fairly successful coach can feel the heat. There was a fireTOB.com website directed at Tom O'Brien at Boston College at a time when he was the most successful BC football coach since World War II!

If more than a handful of fans at Duke cared about football, you'd expect a groundswell of criticism for coach Ted Roof, who is a dismal 5-34 since succeeding Carl Franks midway through the 2003 season. Instead, most of the fan anger is directed at the man who hired Roof, athletic director Joe Alleva.

Many fans blame Alleva, not only for the collapse of the team's football program, but for a number of other failures and embarrassments, including the recent departure of successful women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors.

Whether Alleva deserves the criticism he's getting or not, it's clear that he's become the lightning rod for fan frustration in the wake of a disheartening year for Duke athletics. There's a firejoealleva.com website, and a recent fan poll on the Duke Basketball Report showed that 85.5 percent of the respondents would like to see Alleva replaced.

This spring's anti-Alleva movement comes almost exactly one year after the Duke Chronicle called on Alleva to resign in the wake of his lackluster performance during the height of the Duke lacrosse case.

According to the student newspaper: "When he appeared alongside President Brodhead at the first press conference regarding the rape allegations, Alleva couldn't do anything but bumble along in Brodhead's poetic wake. His every statement was both poorly conceived and very poorly delivered. Simply put, he does not have the presence or the polish to be the face of Duke athletics."

Alleva's critics blame him for canceling the 2006 lacrosse season – which only fed the public perception that the university was pre-judging the accused students – and for pressuring men's lacrosse coach Mike Pressler to resign.

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Pressler claimed that Alleva demanded his resignation and that when the embattled coach pleaded for time for the DNA evidence to come back, he was told, "It's not about the truth anymore. It's about the faculty, the NAACP, and the special interest groups."

Alleva's image wasn't helped when, later that summer, he was involved in a boating accident in which he was injured, and after which his son was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.


Alleva's defenders point out that he oversees an extremely successful athletic program across the board.

Two years ago, Duke finished fifth nationally and first in the ACC in the U.S. Sports Academy Director's Cup, which measures overall athletic excellence. That was an unusually good year, but the Blue Devils normally finish second to UNC in the Director's Cup standings among ACC schools and in the top 12 nationally, usually second or third among private universities.

Duke athletes graduate at a phenomenal rate, and the school has held its own financially under Alleva's watch. In addition, he has overseen an impressive expansion of the athletic department's facilities, including construction of the Yoh Center for football and the Butters-Schwartz extension for Cameron.

So what's the problem?

Well, his critics would argue that Duke's success on the field was largely because of coaches hired by and programs established under his predecessor, Tom Butters. It was Butters who hired Duke's most successful coaches – both men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Goestenkors; men's soccer coach John Rennie; and women's golf coach Dan Brooks.

Alleva's own hires have been less successful, especially in two high-profile sports:

Football: Alleva inherited a mediocre program from Butters, one that had won just 17 games in five years under coach Fred Goldsmith. Alleva, in one of his earliest acts as AD, fired Goldsmith – a two-time national coach of the year – and replaced him with Franks, a former Duke player who had never even been a coordinator.

The problem with the Franks hire – beyond his total lack of qualifications for the job – was that Alleva refused to look seriously at other options. It's not clear what candidates would have been available had Alleva bothered to search, but Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, then a coordinator at Georgia Tech (and already recognized as one of the great offensive minds in the college game), has said that he tired to get an interview but was rebuffed.

As bad as Duke football had been under Goldsmith, Franks made it worse. He won five games in his first four seasons and was fired midway through his fifth season when his team quit on him. Roof, promoted as an interim replacement, did an excellent job in the final five games that year, including Duke's only victory over North Carolina since 1989.

Alleva promised a nationwide search for a full-time replacement and told reporters that they'd be surprised by the quality of Duke's candidates. But in the end, the only choices for the full-time job were aging Bobby Ross, former Duke linebacker Dick Biddle, a successful small college coach at Colgate, and Roof.

Alleva was a star quarterback at Lehigh and is considered a football guy. Yet in less than a decade under his watch, Duke football has gone from being a mediocre program to being the worst BCS football school in the country.

Baseball: Alleva also played baseball in college. His two sons, J.D. and Jeff, were playing on the Duke baseball team when he was named the athletic director.

Duke baseball was in only slightly better shape than Duke football when Alleva inherited it. The Blue Devils were a consistent second-division ACC team, but they had won 30-plus games in seven of the eight previous seasons. Coach Steve Traylor had won 33.6 percent of his ACC games.

Once again, the problem was not so much the decision to fire the existing coach as Alleva's replacement. Bill Hillier was 97-171 at UNC Wilmington, including a 20-39 record in the season just before his departure. Like Franks in football, he took a mediocre program and made it worse, going 121-214 in his six seasons. Hillier's winning percentage in ACC games dropped 10 points to 23.0, and he never came close to a 30-win season. In addition, the Duke baseball program was the focus of steroid charges under Hillier's watch.

It's much too early to know whether second-year coach Sean McNally, a former Duke player, can get baseball out of the hole it's in, but he's got a long way to go to return the program to the level it was at before Alleva stepped in.


Another segment of the Duke community lined up against Alleva in the wake of Goestenkors' departure for Texas.

Understand, the just-departed Duke coach built a nationally prominent program out of nothing. At least when Krzyzewski built his juggernaut, he had the legacy of Dick Groat, Vic Bubas and Bill Foster as a foundation.

Duke had no legacy in women's basketball before Goestenkors arrived. In 16 years, she won five ACC titles and played in four Final Fours. She was voted the ACC coach of the year seven times and won major national coach of the year awards in six different seasons.

Yet, late this season, when rumors started to swirl that other programs might come after Duke's successful women's coach, Alleva sounded remarkably blasé about the whole thing. He compared Goestenkors unfavorably to rivals Gino Auriemma of Connecticut and Pat Summitt of Tennessee.

"They've both won a lot of national championships and are part of programs that make money for their institutions," Alleva said. "They bring in profit for their athletic departments, and that's not the case for our women's program."

He added that Goestenkors is "very well-compensated in the world of women's basketball."

ESPN's Michelle Voepel, a close friend of Goestenkors, referred to those comments when she wrote:

"Alleva had made some unfortunate comments early during the NCAA Tournament, statements he probably wishes now he could take back. Not because they pushed Goestenkors out the door, but because he created the impression that Duke wasn't going to try hard to keep her and didn't care as much as you would think any school would about someone who'd done nothing except bring success and positive publicity to the university. Those remarks did wound Goestenkors, but she was willing to look past them."

When Goestenkors returned to Duke after interviewing at Texas, supporters of his program sponsored a rally to encourage her to stay. Hundreds of students and fans gathered at the Butters-Schwartz Building to plead Duke's case, but Alleva was conspicuous in his absence.

Adding to the frustration of Duke's women's basketball fans, Alleva was unable to make what seemed to be a slam-dunk replacement hire. California coach Joanne Boyle, a former Duke player and a former Goestenkors assistant, passed up the chance to return to her alma mater and signed a new deal to stay with the Bears.

In the end, Alleva alienated many boosters – and reportedly several current team members, who were supporting Marquette coach Terri Mitchell – when he hired Joanne McCallie away from Michigan State.

In light of his terrible track record when it comes to making major coaching hires, many Duke fans fear the prospect of Alleva naming a replacement for Krzyzewski. There was a time when the two men were close. Krzyzewski reportedly played a large role in the 1998 decision to hire Alleva.

But sources suggest that their friendship has cooled, and that Krzyzewski – clearly the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to Duke athletics – no longer would veto an effort to oust Alleva.

Will the prospect of that ouster, supported by many ordinary fans, gain any traction with the administration or the big boosters? That's a question that can't be measured by an internet poll.