New Rutgers AD known for crisis management

111015_Patrick-Hobbs
Rutgers new athletic director Patrick Hobbs, Dean Emeritus of the Seton Hall University School of Law, greets a Rutgers fan before an NCAA college basketball game against Wake Forest, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Piscataway, N.J.

Seton Hall University law Dean Patrick E. Hobbs gave each 2015 graduate a quarter, painted red, in a plastic case.

"It's a symbol. Red means danger," Hobbs said at the graduation in May. "The quarter is to remind you that in times of trouble, or doubt, or jeopardy, I want you to call me. . . . I'll get you through that moment."

Hobbs has long been a go-to guy in a crisis.

Now, Rutgers University has tapped Hobbs to run its athletics department, marred by a string of scandals, including the firing of the basketball coach in 2013 and the arrests of seven football players on various charges this season. (Charges were later dropped against a cocaptain of the team.)

University president Robert L. Barchi announced Sunday that he had fired the football coach, Kyle Flood, and athletic director, Julie Hermann.

Flood had been suspended for three games this season for making inappropriate contact with a professor regarding a player's academics. The team finished 4-8. In four years at Rutgers, Flood's record was 27-24.

"Our continued struggles on the field combined with several off-the-field issues have convinced me that we need new leadership of our football program," Barchi wrote Sunday in an open letter to the university.

Barchi offered Hobbs the athletic director job on Friday. Hobbs will be paid a base salary of $560,000; Hermann got $450,000.

A lawyer who spent 25 years at Seton Hall, 16 of them as law school dean, Hobbs, 55, of Basking Ridge, Somerset County, is passionate about sports but has limited experience leading a program.

From 2009 to 2011, Hobbs was tapped with cleaning house at Seton Hall's troubled Division I athletics department, where he fired the head basketball coaches, cut sports to balance the budget, and forced out the athletic director.

Observers lauded his work, and Seton Hall colleagues described him as a natural fit for the Rutgers job, given his love of sports and management skill.

At Rutgers, Hobbs said Monday, "it's a new day."

"I don't have to come in and fire anybody. This is one very, very big difference, right? I'm coming into a situation where there's already an opening - it's a very big opening - in the football program."

Still, Hobbs said he recognized that Hermann had been heavily scrutinized, and that the department had often come under fire.

"I think the people here have felt the heat from the public, and any time folks are talking about your department in a way that's not supportive of your department, people feel besieged," he said.

Hobbs joins Rutgers after leaving his most recent troubleshooter job: ombudsman for the office of the governor.

Gov. Christie appointed Hobbs to that job in the aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal. After emails surfaced in January 2014 showing former top aides to Christie helped shut down lanes at the bridge, apparently to punish a local mayor for his refusal to endorse the governor's reelection, Christie hired a law firm to investigate.

In its March 2014 report, the firm, Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher L.L.P., advised Christie to hire an ombudsperson "to respond to, refer, and address serious allegations regarding the conduct of employees from within the governor's office."

That person would "issue public reports on his or her work," and have direct access to the governor.

Hobbs, picked by Christie in April that year for the job, said he saw his role differently.

"One of the things I felt would be very important to my success in the office was confidentiality," Hobbs said, adding he didn't "do a single [media] interview."

"I want people to feel, you know, 'I can pick up the phone at any time, I can walk over to Pat at any time,' and we kept it that way, and I think it worked to serve both the governor and the people really well," he said.

As the independent ombudsman, he was a "resource for anybody who had concerns about conduct, whether that was conduct was appropriate for the office of the governor," he said. He also hired a chief ethics officer.

Hobbs, who was paid $75,000 annually for the part-time job, did not issue any public reports or change the governor's office's official email policy.

Gibson Dunn had recommended changing policy to restrict the use of personal email for state business, a practice which presented a "host of legal and practical challenges."

Asked about the email policy on Monday, the governor's office pointed to a statement Hobbs issued in March. At the time, Hobbs said, a guidance on use of private email "provides a thorough and clear standard for employees to know that it is their responsibility to conduct state business on state email, with few exceptions, and what state retention policies are."

In a statement Sunday, Christie said he could "think of few people better suited to step into the role of athletic director."

The governor has not named a replacement ombudsman.

Previously, Hobbs served on the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation for a decade, and as chair from 2010 to 2014. He helped oversee such investigations as New Jersey's pill and heroin epidemic, waste and abuse in local government compensation and benefits, and criminal abuse of the solid waste industry.

Among recent scandals at Rutgers is the firing of head men's basketball coach Mike Rice in April 2013, when videos were made public showing the coach hurling basketballs and antigay slurs at players. Tim Pernetti, the university's athletics director, resigned two days after Rice was fired.

Hermann, then executive senior associate director of athletics for the University of Louisville, was named to the head athletics post the next month, lauded by Barchi as "one of the most respected athletics administrators in the country."

But Hermann quickly came under fire for her history as volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee. Players in 1996 wrote a letter to university administrators accusing Herman of inappropriate coaching behavior and emotional abuse. She called players "whores, alcoholics, and learning disabled," according to the letter, made public by the Newark Star-Ledger.

Hermann denied those accusations when they resurfaced in 2013, saying she was "not a name-caller."

She also said she disagreed with a jury verdict that awarded damages to a Tennessee assistant coach who had accused Hermann of firing her for becoming pregnant.

In the public eye, Hermann continued to struggle throughout her time at Rutgers, making a joke about the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal to her staff, and telling a journalism class that it "would be great" if the Star-Ledger went out of business.

Her successor is known for his deliberate style.

After joining the faculty of Seton Hall's law school in 1990, Hobbs became dean in 1999 until June of this year. He is credited with leading the school through a turbulent time as law schools across the country saw declines in enrollment and job placement, and colleagues in the faculty and administration praised his work in interviews Monday.

"He's a very skilled person and creative in crises," said Kathleen M. Boozang, who this year succeeded Hobbs as dean of the law school.

Paula A. Franzese, who has been at the law school since 1986, called Hobbs "a very high-minded person" who "cares deeply about ethics and values."

"He is a consensus-builder, he is very agile, and very able to accommodate often seemingly competing voices to achieve a middle ground," she said.

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