Mark Hollis, Mark Dantonio

MSU’s Hollis named SBJ’s Athletic Director of the Year


Mark Hollis may be just No. 58 on the list of highest-paid athletic directors in the country, but he’s No. 1 in the hearts of at least one influential media entity.

In a press release, Michigan State announced that its athletic director, Mark Hollis (pictured, left, with Mark Dantonio), has been selected as the 2012 Athletic Director of the Year by the SportsBusiness Journal.  Hollis, coming to the end of his fifth year on the job, was one of five finalists for the honor, with the others being Temple’s Bill Bradshaw, Michigan’s Dave Brandon, Arkansas’ Jeff Long and Baylor’s Ian McCaw.

“It’s very humbling to receive an honor like this,” Hollis said in a portion of his statement. “Individual awards are difficult to accept in higher education and athletics; however, they do recognize the innovation and teamwork necessary to achieve success. I value working with people at Michigan State University, the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA in providing educational opportunities for our student-athletes and engagement through sports for our alumni and supporters.”

The release detailed the myriad athletic achievements during the 2011-12 academic year that helped land Hollis this year’s honor, including the Spartans football team claiming the first-ever Legends Division title and playing in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game:

…Michigan State became bowl eligible for a school-record fifth consecutive year and finished ranked No. 10 in the final USA TODAY Coaches Poll after tying the school single-season record with 11 wins, including a dramatic 33-30 triple-overtime victory over Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl.

Michigan State’s men’s basketball team captured a share of the conference regular-season championship and won the 2012 Big Ten Tournament title. The Spartans advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the 10th time in the last 15 seasons. During Hollis’ tenure, MSU has appeared in 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments – the longest current streak among Big Ten schools and the third longest in the nation.

Overall, eight sports participated in their respective team NCAA Championships, while individuals competed in five more NCAA Championships. The Spartan volleyball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, while the women’s basketball team earned its fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The women’s cross country team placed 16th in the NCAA Championships – its best finish since 2008. After two rounds of the NCAA Championships, the women’s golf team sits in tie for 21st place. Thirty-one members of the MSU track and field team have qualified for the upcoming NCAA Regionals, and this weekend, the women’s rowing program will make its 14th appearance in the 15-year history of the NCAA Championships in this sport.

Hollis becomes the fifth winner of the SBJ’s award, joining Texas’ DeLoss Dodds (2011), Ohio State’s Gene Smith (2010), Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione (2009) and Wake Forest’s Ron Wellman (2008).

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.