In searching for a new athletic director, Villanova administrators said they were looking for someone with a "comprehensive" knowledge of the entire college sports landscape, and, almost as important, someone with "experience with a flagship program."
It didn't bother Villanova's honchos that the man they chose, Mark Jackson, was senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California, where the flagship is football.
The school announced Tuesday that it was hiring Jackson, 42, a former football coach who had been climbing the administrative ladder for some years.
Villanova president Peter Donohue talked about how Jackson had overseen $125 million in capital projects at USC, "including a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum." He noted Jackson had relationships with Nike and NCAA senior leadership. Donahue called him "one of the sharpest, brightest, and most innovative minds in college athletics."
Jackson was the "consensus" choice of the search committee to replace Vince Nicastro, one source said, noting that Jackson also seemed to understand the limitations of a program without big-time football paying the bills, that he might have to be creative in the future.
Jackson said he had talked to Big East commissioner Val Ackerman on Tuesday "and I think we're in a good, healthy situation. Hopefully, there isn't another major [conference] reshuffle, but if there is we need to be thinking about asking those questions, the what-ifs, because it's a fast-changing landscape, and as we know all it takes is a couple to fall and we're starting all over again."
Jackson has a football background that includes coaching the sport before turning to administration. He coached on Pete Carroll's New England Patriots staff before joining Carroll at USC as director of football administration. A Colby graduate with a master's from Trinity, Jackson also did a stint as a senior athletic administrator at Syracuse for just over a year and a half and later worked as director of football development with the Oakland Raiders before returning to USC.
"Mark Jackson, I think, is a superstar," USC athletic director Pat Haden said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I've been around successful people in business most of my life. He's an A-plus."
During the news conference, Jackson knew what room he was in, saying, "Fun is also beating Georgetown every chance we can get."
He said Haden "did a wonderful job of preparing me and allowing me access to every area of the athletic department."
As it happens, USC's athletic department is in the news this week after football coach Steve Sarkisian used profanity and slurred words while speaking at a USC event. Sarkisian said he had mixed alcohol and medicine and would seek treatment. Jackson noted that USC had addressed the situation quickly. "People are going to make mistakes," Jackson said.
"It really is part of the job," Haden said of dealing with problems that come up involving athletes and staff.
Asked why he had left Syracuse after just over 18 months to become a vice president of athlete development for a sports marketing venture in Los Angeles, Jackson said, "I don't think I had figured myself out there. If you look at my career from the Patriots to USC to Syracuse to a start-up, I wasn't sure where I wanted to go. I knew I was passionate about sports. I knew I didn't want to get out of the industry. A start-up company I was introduced to was an appealing situation. I thought it could satisfy an entrepreneurial spirit for me.
"I went back there and it just didn't work out. In hindsight, I wish I had stayed at Syracuse. It wasn't until after the start-up and after the Oakland Raiders experience that it became crystal clear who I was, and I wanted to be an athletic director.''