BOULDER — Rumors that began simmering two weeks ago and which heated up over the weekend finally boiled over Monday when embattled University of Colorado athletics director Dick Tharp resigned, taking shots at the CU administration on his way out.
“In truth, I have found myself increasingly segregated, restricted in my ability to manage and silenced,” Tharp said in a letter offering to “resign and retire early,” effective Nov. 30.
“This has been the most frustrating experience of my life,” Tharp’s letter said.
CU officials, who chose press releases over a news conference to announce the resignation, responded tersely to Tharp’s departure.
“We accept Athletics Department Director Dick Tharp’s resignation,” a release from CU President Elizabeth Hoffman and Chancellor Richard Byyny said. “We would like to thank Dick for his many years of service to this university and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Provost Phil Distefano, in a press release, said CU will select “an interim athletics director who will lead the department as we conduct a national search for the permanent position.” He offered no timetable for that process.
Tharp had already left the Dal Ward Center when the press releases were issued at the beginning of football coach Gary Barnett’s regularly scheduled noon press conference. A CU official said Tharp “went to be with his wife” and added he didn’t know if Tharp would return Monday.
Tharp informed the football staff of his resignation at a mid-morning staff meeting before leaving the campus.
Tharp came under public scrutiny early this year with allegations that the CU football program used sex and alcohol to attract recruits. An independent investigating commission later criticized Tharp for what it called lax oversight of athletics, and athletic department liaison John DiBiaggio recommended Tharp’s firing last spring. As recently as two weeks ago, Tharp denied reports of his imminent departure.
CU decided to retain Tharp when it announced Barnett’s reinstatement in May. Barnett was suspended in February after making derogatory comments about the ability of former kicker Katie Hnida. However, Tharp’s Monday letter said he had been “informed that the leaders of this University have decided in favor of my departure.”
In the letter, Tharp said he resisted resigning until Monday because he believed that “a mere change in personnel rarely provides a remedy or solution for complex problems. This is especially true when change is conducted purely as an exercise in selecting one party to blame.”
Tharp’s letter said his resignation “should not in any way be construed as an admission to having engaged in any activity of wrongdoing.”
Only the fourth man to serve as athletic director at CU, the 56-year-old Tharp came under more scrutiny last week with news reports criticizing Barnett’s private football camp and reports revealing the existence of a booster group called the Good Ole CU Fund that operated outside the university but reportedly with Tharp’s knowledge.
Tharp, who has worked for CU in various capacities for much of the past 31 years, served for two years as assistant university counsel following his 1973 graduation from CU’s law school before leaving for private law practice in 1984. He returned to the school as a vice-president and assistant counsel in 1989 and left to re-enter private practice in 1996. He was named to replace Bill Marolt as athletic director in May 1997.
Tharp was one of the forces behind the recent $42 million expansion of Folsom Field, which included the addition of revenue-producing luxury suites and club seats. He was also at the center of fan criticism this fall when the athletic department announced that season-ticket holders will be required to donate between $50 and $200 to the CU scholarship fund as a condition of ticket renewal.
Tharp, who has real estate holdings in Boulder, also came under criticism during the spring investigations into recruiting when it became public knowledge that he was also a shareholder and board member in the company that owns the Boulder Liquor Mart. He resigned from the company’s board, but retains his interest in the liquor store.
During his press conference, Barnett said he only wanted to “address this once” and read from a short statement in which he praised Tharp for keeping CU’s teams competitive under what Barnett called “very difficult restrictions and limitations.” Barnett said he admired Tharp’s resilience during “adverse financial and political” situations.
In a year during which adversity and change have become part of their lives, the CU football players seemed to take the change in stride as they prepared for a Thanksgiving Day game at Nebraska.
“It’s been really weird,” senior defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub said. “I didn’t even hear about it until I was in the weight room and saw all the cameras around. It’s not going to be a big-time effect on us; we’re just focusing on beating Nebraska and that’s all we have to do.”
Dabdoub said Tharp’s resignation is “really not a big deal” to the players. “Good luck to Mr. Tharp in whatever he does, but we can’t let it focus on us,” he said. “Shoot, we’ve been through a whole six months of sex scandal for us, so it’s not going to be too big of a deal.”
Efforts to locate Tharp after the announcement were unsuccessful.
Bruce Plasket can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.