Passing the torch
The contrast between the two men couldn’t be any greater.
Youthful energy and enthusiasm of one compared to the other’s grandfather-like wisdom. An ear-to-ear smile versus a subdued sense of humor. A man who has spent officially three days as an athletic director compared to a man who’s spent the past 26 years holding the position.
As Syracuse’s new athletic director Daryl Gross steps into the spotlight, its old one, Jake Crouthamel, recedes quietly and gracefully into the shadows.
It’s a change that began with Crouthamel’s retirement announcement on Nov. 17, and the hiring of Gross, formerly Southern California’s senior associate athletic director, on Dec. 17. It’s a change that’s been awkward at times, with Gross firing 14-year head football coach Paul Pasqualoni just 12 days after assuming the athletic director position, and then hiring new football coach Greg Robinson on Jan. 11. Meanwhile, much of the change occurred with Gross operating from his Los Angeles office.
But the transition from USC to Syracuse is nearly complete. Gross, 43, arrived in Syracuse for good late Friday, and assumed his full duties as athletic director on Monday. And Crouthamel, the man who’s led Syracuse through the formation of the Big East, and then during the summer of 2003, the near end of the Big East, locked the door and turned off the lights in his Manley Field House office for one last time.
A new era of Syracuse athletics has officially begun.
‘I’m not the athletic director anymore,’ Crouthamel said Wednesday afternoon, though his official retirement doesn’t take effect until June 30.
Well, what exactly is he then?
‘I’m in purgatory,’ he added with a smile.
Oddly, Crouthamel was all smiles Wednesday, apparently relieved of his official duties, which now belong to Gross.
Even before his official start, Gross attended SU’s 60-57 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night, the first Syracuse basketball game he’s seen live. Monday morning he met with Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s cabinet, as the athletic director must now report directly to the chancellor.
Monday night he addressed the Carrier Dome crowd at halftime of the Orange’s 74-66 loss to Connecticut. He still had enough remaining enthusiasm to meet the media.
‘It’s been going great,’ Gross said. ‘I feel like I’ve been doing it since Dec. (17). We’ve hit the ground running.’
Much of Gross’ first three days have been filled with more commotion than anything else. Several boxes of Gross’ belongings from Los Angeles arrived in Syracuse last week and remain unpacked in his new office in Manley Field House – the one Crouthamel inhabited until last Friday.
Gross said he’ll move into another office eventually, but he’s not sure where – or when. He’s met with several people within the athletic department, but he still hopes to continue interacting with staff.
Wednesday morning, the athletic department’s computing technicians helped Gross set up his Internet connection. All around, new-found excitement surrounded the office. Associate Director of Athletics Janet Kittell, in her 10th year at Syracuse, said major changes haven’t occurred in the office, but naturally, she expects some differences.
‘There’s been commotion and excitement and energy and confusion,’ said Kittell, whose office is located across the hall, about 15 feet from Gross’. ‘There’s a hundred things going on at once.’
Outside the office, Gross has settled in, too. He found a house he liked when he visited Syracuse to introduce Robinson as head coach. He visited a few others, but quickly called his real estate agent to purchase his first choice. He said he’s only gotten lost in Syracuse once, leaving the Carrier Dome following the Notre Dame game. Gross wound up in Baldwinsville.
Gross has already begun developing plans for the athletic department as well. He hopes to greatly expand the budget through fund raising and wants to add teams and scholarships. Kittell said she’d like to be used more in a fund-raising capacity.
‘We’re moving fast,’ Gross said. ‘The soccer team needs scholarships, the tennis team needs practice space. I’ve got to make sure everyone has everything they need. The staff has done a great job. We want to expand and build and do bigger things.’
While Gross can’t wait to impact the athletic department, Crouthamel has quietly faded. With Gross’ arrival, Crouthamel relocated to an office in the management building of Drumlins Country Club. Located on Nottingham Road, minutes from Syracuse’s South Campus, Drumlins is a subsidiary of Syracuse University.
While Crouthamel knew he had to leave his old office, he didn’t know where he’d go. Director of Auxiliary Services Peter Webber offered him extra office space in Drumlins. Crouthamel gladly accepted. His new office is significantly more barren than his Manley pad. Crouthamel took many of his belongings, most notably his Syracuse memorabilia, directly home so he won’t have to move them again in June.
‘Just having this office is comforting,’ Crouthamel said. ‘When you’ve had an office and access to a secretary for 40 years, and all the sudden that’s gone – that would be earthshaking.’
Come spring, he may get an early start on his retirement with some golf. He’s not an avid golfer, but Webber offered Crouthamel the opportunity to play a few holes. A nice gesture, considering Crouthamel’s office overlooks the first hole.
‘It’s a better view than a parking lot,’ Crouthamel joked.
In front of Crouthamel’s new desk sits a round meeting table. He’s already on his second computer, after his first one experienced technical difficulties on Monday and Tuesday.
He’s yet to become fully comfortable with his new staff at Drumlins. He doesn’t even know all the people’s jobs, something he hopes to find out next week.
‘I don’t think it’s right to ask yet. I don’t want to ask yet,’ Crouthamel said.
For now, Crouthamel’s main responsibility is serving as tournament director for the NCAA men’s basketball regional, which Syracuse will host on March 25 and 27. He’s served in that capacity all nine times Syracuse has hosted the event. He’s still handling some paperwork, but quickly insists he’s no longer the athletic director.
Even his work week, which Kittell said used to approach 100 hours, has shortened. He no longer arrives at work early in the morning. He leaves each night by 5, mostly because he has to. That’s when the other Drumlins employees leave. Crouthamel has a key, but he’s not comfortable locking up, at least not yet.
He’s here for Gross, should the new athletic director have any questions. But Gross has yet to come forward. The two talked for about 15 minutes when Gross came to Syracuse to announce his hiring.
‘That guy is brilliant,’ Gross said of Crouthamel. ‘I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.’
Crouthamel prepared himself for his Manley exit. He doesn’t plan to go back anytime soon, maybe for one last goodbye in June, but not now.
‘I think I succeeded (in not thinking about it too much),’ Crouthamel said. ‘I took one last look around the office and locked it up. I miss the environment. I miss the people.
‘But the people here are wonderful are very cordial and helpful.’
For his staff, and especially his former secretary, Michele Pirro, the change hasn’t been all that easy. Pirro, who’s now Gross’ secretary after four years of working for Crouthamel, vowed she wouldn’t say goodbye Friday. She didn’t.
She misses Crouthamel’s subtle sense of humor, a side many never saw. But she’s equally excited about Gross’ enthusiasm for the job.
But Pirro and Kittell have still been in contact with their old boss. Pirro’s exchanged a few e-mails. Kittell visited Crouthamel for lunch on Tuesday and brought him a cup of Italian wedding soup from Johnny’s Pizza. The two sat and chatted, almost like nothing has changed.
But it has.
Crouthamel has stopped attending Syracuse athletic events, staying home for the Notre Dame and UConn basketball games. He may attend the Feb. 26 game versus Providence, Syracuse’s last home contest of the season.
If invited, he’s unsure if he’d attend the Syracuse basketball team’s NCAA Tournament games.
He wants no recognition. His press conference was enough. If the university attempts to honor him at halftime of the Providence game, he’ll leave. If a banquet’s planned in his honor, he won’t attend. His office staff knows his wishes.
His wishes are to simply retire with his wife in Cape Cod. He won’t have to think about missing the games as much if he’s six hours away from Syracuse. He hadn’t thought about getting a satellite dish to watch Syracuse, but said he’d consider it.
He respects Gross’ space. Crouthamel wants it known he’s no longer in charge.
‘Once people get through the first week (of changes), Jake is officially gone,’ Crouthamel said. ‘Unless Daryl wants me to do something, everything’s very clearly marked.’
In his 26 years as Syracuse’s athletic director, Crouthamel certainly has left his mark. Now it’s time for Gross to officially start doing the same.
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