These days, if you really want to know something about somebody, check out their Twitter feed.
On Tuesday, Kevin Blue was introduced as the new athletic director at UC Davis, and the first order of business was to find out whom he follows. The list included New York Times columnist David Brooks, President Obama, failed gubernatorial candidate and current Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, and Malcolm Gladwell, the terrific writer whose story on Vivek Ranadive reinforced the Kings owner’s belief that his success as a youth basketball coach translates into knowing how to run an NBA club. It doesn’t, Coach.
His Twitter record shows that Blue receives much of his information about the world from the Wall Street Journal. He analyzes data through Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight. In case you wondered, Blue is a Jungle guy – he subscribes to the tweeted remarks of Jim Rome. A Stanford man, Blue keeps tabs on David Shaw, Mark Madsen and Tiger Woods. More recently, he signed on to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and to 22 accounts in the names of UC Davis sports.
“I’m an intellectually curious person,” Blue said in a cellphone interview the other day while stepping off the Caltrain in downtown San Francisco.
He was on his way to a meeting with Pacific-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott and other conference chieftains, but please don’t jump to any conclusions. Blue doesn’t go on the clock at Davis until next month. He was just wrapping up old business as senior associate athletic director for external relations at Stanford. He was not trying to get the Aggies into the Pac-12, even though it’s something that smart people might want to consider when the conference expands into the Pac-16.
As for his Twitter feed, “I enjoy the opportunity to learn from people who are experts in a variety of fields,” Blue continued. “I think who I follow on Twitter is emblematic of that. The opportunity to learn new things and progressive and innovative ways of thinking is important to me, as a core value of mine.”
Blue grew up in Toronto and played hockey and swung another set of sticks well enough to earn a golf scholarship to Stanford. He majored in psychology and got a Ph.D. in sports psychology at Michigan State.
At UC Davis, Dr. Blue takes the athletic director job at a time of campus uncertainty. The chancellor is confined to the penalty box and facing a game misconduct. While a team of special prosecutors investigates Linda Katehi’s alleged transgressions, Blue must tread carefully on a campus where they’ll high-stick you in some corners of the ivory tower if you talk too loudly about winning.
You’d think they would have laid this thought process to rest when the Aggies decided several years ago to go Division I. Yet it’s right there, in the sixth of the so-called Eight Principles on the Davis Way, which states: “The athletics program cannot depend for its financial survival on its record of wins and losses.”
Maybe that is true for women’s golf, but it can’t be the case for football and men’s basketball. You’ve got to win to bring in big crowds and get on TV. Money, unhappily, is the mother’s milk of a whole lot more than politics.
Blue, at his introductory news conference, made it pretty clear where he stands on the issue: “As we go forward,” he said, “it is our aspiration to compete, not just to play.” Translation: He wants to win.
Men’s basketball looks like it’s on the right track under coach Jim Les. The goal there should be to become the Gonzaga of the Central Valley.
Football, however, has become a problem in the intellectual capital of Yolo County. The Aggies, once princes of Division II, have stumbled in the D-I championship division. They haven’t had a winning record since the formation of the Tea Party. Crowds at 9-year-old Aggie Stadium are smaller than they were in lovely, little, old Toomey Field – where fall color bloomed over the visitors’ bleachers and it was an easy walk to the game after the party in Central Park.
The new AD isn’t ready to prescribe a football fix. All he knows is that football is “an extraordinarily important part of our athletic program and is a historically significant component to the DNA of the institution,” he said from the train station. “Having success in football is something that is very important for UC Davis athletics.”
Give Blue time to get football going.
Part of his job at Stanford was to oversee the business side of football, and he oversaw it pretty well, at a school that showed how nuts it is to think you can’t win and be a top student at the same time. Often fielding the smartest guys on the field, the Cardinal won 11 or more games in five of Blue’s seven seasons of oversight, including two Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl, while putting 30 players into the NFL.
Blue looks like the right fit for the Blue and Gold. For one thing, he rides a bike, in a town where it’s almost a crime not to. Wave hello to Blue when you see him speed by on his Cervelo. A competitive triathlete, he’s not out there for participation medals. If Davis is going to play in the big leagues, it can’t settle for them, either.