School president Dan Bernstine says he's commited to athletics
Perhaps it is overly dramatic to say Portland State athletics are at a crossroads, but those who have been close to the program are concerned about the future.
They needn't be, insists Dan Bernstine, the school's president since 1997.
'Athletics is an important co-curricular activity for students at Portland State, a great window to the outside world,' Bernstine says. 'It's very important. (Prospective students) hear about a school because of the sports.'
Over the next month, the Vikings will hire a new football coach and an athletic director. It's been a year since Teri Mariani took over the athletic department on an interim basis after Tom Burman resigned. PSU finally will interview candidates for the permanent job in the coming weeks.
Members of the PSU administration 'talk about how important athletics is to the university,' Mariani says, 'but (the delay in hiring an AD) gives the impression it's not that important.'
'It's just the opposite,' Bernstine says. 'The fact it's taking time means it is important. It hasn't taken that long. The process didn't start until September.
'(AD) is an important position. We haven't had a permanent director for a while, but we have to go through a regular search like for any other department head at the university. I thought it was important to have someone like Teri provide a transition period. It was an opportunity for her to provide some stability before the search began.'
Mariani appreciates the confidence the president shows in her but says 'the process to even form the (AD search) committee took too long. That's very much hurting not only the department, but when you try to seek donors, they don't know what they're giving for. It's been hard to raise money.'
'I don't know how to respond to that,' Bernstine says. 'Donors want to have an athletic director who is strong, to have the best personnel in place. Having the best personnel requires a search. The search hasn't been protracted unnecessarily.'
Interim AD's in a tough spot
Mariani is anything but an insubordinate. For 31 years she has served the department and the school she loves, and she only wants to leave both better off when she retires. She figures things will settle down once the new AD is hired, but she is concerned about the loss of several employees, including football coach Tim Walsh, who recently have left the department to go elsewhere.
Bernstine 'is a huge supporter and believes in athletics and what it adds to the institution,' she says. 'I don't question that. I know he has to answer to more than just the athletic people. But we're kind of floating on a little island, and we need somebody to wheel us back in the right direction.
'We're losing staff people and don't know what's going to happen. We'd all like (Bernstine) to be more vocal in his support, especially right now, when we're in such turmoil.'
'I'm not sure why there's turmoil,' Bernstine says. 'We're looking for a coach and an AD. We're moving through the process and will have people in place soon.'
Not everyone's on board
Walsh, who took the offensive coordinator job at Army, says there is plenty of anti-athletics sentiment in other departments at PSU, a factor in the determination of school funds that go into an annual football budget ($1.3 million for scholarships, $2.6 million overall) that he says makes it tough to excel in the Big Sky Conference.
'I had a great 14 years at Portland State,' Walsh says. 'I'd work for Dan again tomorrow. We had great support from a number of people at the school. But it takes commitment from everybody. I think Dan's on board. Dan loves athletics. But I wish Dan would tell everybody here, 'Hey, I love athletics; this is what we're doing at Portland State. Either jump on or jump out.'
'There are a lot of people on both sides, the 'yea'-ers and the 'nay'-ers. As long as you let them be like that, that's what you're going to have. You'll have adversity all the time. Every year the budget comes up, people are going to say, (Make cuts in) athletics. If the president would say, 'This is what we're doing, here's where we're going, athletics can help put this place on the map,' things could get better in a hurry.'
Says Bernstine: 'That's his perspective. I'm a strong supporter of athletics, but we're also a university that has other things in addition to athletics. That's part of the problem with the amount of resources we can devote to athletics. They can't be exempt (from cuts). But I don't think I've wavered in my commitment to having as strong an athletic program as possible.'
Bernstine says he is not unhappy with the direction of the football program.
'It's going well,' he says. 'We need to win. We need to continue to get support from our fans, and we need to identify new fans. We have to get greater exposure and do a better job with marketing our product.'
How to do that?
'Winning is important,' the president says. 'But win or lose, people need to come out and support PSU athletics.'