Larry Lyons bleeds red, same as you and me. However, his is a specific shade, tinted by a quarter century-plus in Illinois State’s athletic department.
When you’re built that way, when you ooze Redbird red, it had to cut deep two years ago when Lyons — like everyone on campus — was quickly dismissed as a candidate to succeed Sheahon Zenger as athletic director.
Upon naming Lyons interim A.D. in January 2011, ISU president Al Bowman said, “What I made clear in the last search and this search is we plan to look outside the university. We’re looking for someone with experience, good communication skills and someone who really understands the student-athlete development.”
Already, Lyons had been at Illinois State for 24 years, an executive associate A.D. who had overseen the business operations and been involved in all aspects of the department. He had seen, heard and experienced more than anyone in the administrative chain.
Yet, he didn’t stand a chance. The message from above was in essence: “Keep the seat warm until we find a real A.D.”
It seemed wrong. On Monday, Bowman admitted it was, through action if not words.
Two days before the end of his wildly successful term as president, Bowman announced Gary Friedman had resigned as A.D. and Lyons was taking over on July 1. A three-year contract was in place.
It was a neatly wrapped package with a big Redbird red bow, which tells you the whole thing had been in the works for some time. Two years past due and with the clock winding down, Bowman swished the final shot of his tenure.
He handed the athletic reins to someone who has experience, good communication skills and who really understands the student-athlete development.
There is irony in that. A bit of justice too, though Lyons would never say it. He has too much class for that.
Similarly, Friedman has shown class in his exit, which could have been messy, contentious. He said it best in a statement that read, “It simply was not the right fit.”
Part of that falls on Friedman, but some of it was timing.
Zenger set the bar incredibly high in his six years before taking the A.D. job at Kansas. He was articulate and outgoing, able to connect and put first-time acquaintances at ease in 30 seconds.
He had a PhD and was the smartest guy in the room, especially a room of reporters. He was a former coach who knew how coaches think, what they need, what they have to overcome.
That’s a tough act to follow, and Friedman had the misfortune of having to try. The fact it didn’t work doesn’t make him a bad guy, just “not the right fit.”
He knows the landscape of ISU down to the blades of grass on the quad. He is in tune with its inner workings and the hoops one must jump through to get things done.
He already has relationships within the university and the community that Friedman had to work to forge. He has the respect of the Redbird coaches, who know him as a familiar face with a passion for ISU.
Will he accomplish great things? No way to know yet. The good news is he’s getting the chance.
Lyons said this week he learned a lot in his five months as interim A.D. That will serve him well in the full-time gig.
So will 26 years of Redbird red.
It’s in his veins.