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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Perkins era ends harshly


After Saturday's performance, there are probably thousands of Kansas football season-ticket holders who wish they could go away, too.

But Lew Perkins beat them to the punch, announcing a year early he was retiring as Kansas' athletic director and leaving behind a legacy that had its good moments — and its bad.

It's the bad, of course, that are freshest in our memories. And while it might be unfair to associate Perkins with KU's embarrassing 6-3 loss to North Dakota State on Saturday night, it is another sign that KU athletics, under Perkins' leadership, is leaking oil.

Let's just look at the past year: There was the ugly way in which Perkins handled the Mark Mangino "resignation;" the ticket scandal run by people who worked for Perkins that cost the university, according to an outside investigation, at least $3 million; and a Kansas City Star story detailing Perkins' extensive, and expensive, use of charter airplanes.

He went from an athletic director who capitalized on the opportunities created by an Orange Bowl victory and a basketball national championship to one who lost his mojo almost overnight.

Perkins sat on top of a kingdom for a while at KU, but as king he became sloppy and arrogant.

Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, he made the best decision he's made in a year. He decided the laboring just wasn't worth it.

KU will still pay him the $2 million severance package he would have gotten had he stayed on until next September, which was his original retirement date.

So while I'm surprised the proud and defiant Perkins threw down his weapon, I can understand how doing so is made easier by another huge sum of money that will be dropped into his bank account.

Perkins was well compensated at Kansas, but some of the things he accomplished warranted such a salary.

Facilities are profoundly better at KU than when he arrived. Perkins convinced basketball coach Bill Self to stay on after Self's alma mater, Oklahoma State, made serious overtures following the Jayhawks' national championship in 2008.

Without Perkins, the nation's unemployment rate would be up a percentage point or two. He hired and hired and hired at KU and leaves behind a staff so large that it will attend his going-away party in shifts.

This is the second time Perkins has left a Kansas university on questionable terms with fans. He was the athletic director at Wichita State when the school dropped its football program in 1986, citing apathy and a revenue drain.

Perkins eventually left Wichita and kept getting great jobs, first at Maryland and then at Connecticut. His bigger-than-life persona served him well.

After pulling the plug WSU's football program, he gave life to one at Connecticut, where he had his most success.

His most significant decision at KU fostered Mangino's "resignation," and culminated with the hiring of Gill, who had one good season at Buffalo.

As soon as Kansas lost to North Dakota State, fingers began to point — half at Gill, half at Perkins.

The loss opened up old wounds of those who perceived that Mangino was railroaded, ostensibly because he was too rough on some players. A seven-game losing streak to finish the 2009 season didn't help Mangino's case to stay.

I feel badly for Gill, who got dumped into an ocean Saturday without a life raft and then watched the captain of the ship take off.

He's hardly an experienced coach and his greenness was on display during a Tuesday news conference when he opened by talking about what went right during the North Dakota State game.

What went right?

Um, Turner, nothing went right. NOTHING!

Gill, by all accounts, is a nice guy. Some say he's the antithesis of Mangino. But nice can be overrated when it comes to football coaches and Army generals.

Anyway, Gill is not Perkins' issue. Perkins has left the building, leaving behind a cracked legacy of good, bad and indifferent.

The good was really good. The bad was really bad.

Reach Eagle sports columnist Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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