Induction Year: 2001
By Sheldon Mickles
Like many other aspects of sports, the job of athletic director at a major university like LSU evolved dramatically from the time Joe Dean graduated in 1952 to when he returned to his alma mater in 1987.
But as a former athlete who became a successful businessman and TV basketball broadcaster, Dean was well-qualified to take a position where the bottom line on the financial ledger had become as important as the bottom line on the playing field.
Dean, however, didn't know how deep a hole the LSU athletic department was in when he was talked into succeeding Bob Brodhead in the spring of 1987.
"Things were out of whack," Dean said. "People seemed to be doing whatever they wanted, there was no discipline, the budget structure wasn't adhered to."
So Dean rolled up his sleeves and went to work, trimming the fat wherever he could. At the same time, having been a star basketball player for the Tigers from 1948-52, he was mindful of the proud tradition of LSU sports.
In almost 14 years as the chief executive officer of the LSU athletic department, Dean had to try to keep his coaches happy while massaging the budget.
Not all of his decisions were popular with the coaches or fans, of course. But LSU athletics not only turned a profit while Dean oversaw expansion and the upgrading of the physical plant, they provided millions of dollars in donations to the university's academic side.
For his work as an administrator, Dean, who retired Dec. 31, will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 26.
Known around the country for his raspy voice and familiar call of "Str-i-i-i-ng Music" during college basketball telecasts in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Dean was a candidate for LSU athletic director when Paul Dietzel was chosen to fill the position in 1978.
"There was a time way back when LSU hired Paul Dietzel when I thought I'd be a good person for the job," Dean said. "But they hired Paul, and I thought it was a good hire."
When Dietzel was fired in 1982, Dean, who by then was a vice president at Converse, wasn't interested in the job that eventually was filled by Brodhead.
By 1987, when LSU was in the market for its third A.D. in 10 years, Converse had been sold and Dean retired as a millionaire. But he was already wondering what he was going to do with himself when LSU beckoned.
"I was sort of looking for a job, and the LSU thing came from out of the blue," Dean said. "The Board of Supervisors went to bat for me even though I didn't think I wanted to do it at first.
"One (board member) called me and then two called," Dean said. But a visit from Baton Rouge businessman Milton Womack, a friend and neighbor of Dean's, finally did the trick. Womack encouraged Dean to take LSU up on its offer, and he did.
Because of his athletic background, Dean enjoyed his work immensely. Thanks in part to the support of the school's administration, especially from then-Chancellor James Wharton, the athletic department was soon out of the red.
"No matter what school you're at, you cannot run a big-time athletic program without the help of the administration," Dean said. "You have to have a chancellor who really understands that there is another side to the institution. I've never been to an A.D.'s meeting where somebody hasn't asked me what kind of chancellor I had. ... It's the nature of the beast. "Academics is the most important thing, of course, but athletics are a part of the educational experience," he said. "I was part of that, and it's a wonderful thing."
Dean's the first to admit, however, that everything didn't go as smoothly as he would have hoped. He had to keep coaches happy when it came to making management decisions that affected the financial ledger, which was virtually impossible.
"I came out of the business world and it's common sense to try and show a profit," he said. "It's about winning, but it's also about finances. People don't understand that it takes about $1 million a year just to maintain the lawn mowers and computers and all the other things you use in your facilities."
Dean brought in up-and-coming young coaches like Pat Henry and John Brady, but conversely, was loudly criticized for hiring football coaches Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo.
"When I took over, we did some good things," Dean said, "and I enjoyed it. It's not always an easy job and I made some mistakes."
Most LSU fans look at Hallman and DiNardo, who combined for six losing seasons in nine years, as the biggest mistakes.
Dean still contends that Hallman, who was considered a hot coaching candidate at the time, was close to winning when he was fired. Furthermore, he pointed out that DiNardo won as many games (26) as Bill Arnsparger before two straight losing seasons doomed him.
"I learned that if the football team wins, the A.D. is pretty good," Dean said with a laugh. "If the football team loses, the A.D. is not very good.
"When Gerry had three good seasons after coming here, people literally wanted to hug me and touch me," he said. "But an A.D. is often at his best when you're losing in football because of the management skills he has to use to keep the ship afloat."
Part of Dean's plan to do that included the implementation of a marketing strategy that brings in $3 million each year through corporate sponsorships.
"It's an enormous piece of the department's income," Dean said, "and it's growing every year."
In addition to putting the athletic department back in the black, Dean said one thing means more to him than anything else: and that's watching former LSU athletes do well when they leave sports - like football player Jamie Bice.
"Jamie Bice was a wonderful young man from Lake Charles, he was a good student and he wanted to go to law school," said Dean. "But he didn't have the means, so he did a little work for us in the department to make some money and get through law school.
"He graduated and now he's a wonderful attorney. That's what athletics does," he said.
"There are 100 stories like that, but they make you feel warm and make you feel good about the business."
Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame | 500 Front Street | Natchitoches, LA 71497