BOULDER — On a warm and cloudless spring morning Wednesday on the University of Colorado’s South Lawn, Mike Bohn made his first public appearance as athletic director.
If he implements what he advertised in his introductory news conference Wednesday, his tenure will continue how it began — in the open.
In front of students, coaches and boosters, Bohn vowed to make the CU athletic department transparent and accessible as he attempts to rescue it from a fog of controversy and financial difficulty.
“I’m not sure I would agree with the word ‘fix,’” Bohn said. “But we’ve got to be user-friendly to the media, to the student-athletes, to the staff, because all those folks are going to make our program successful.”
According to interim chancellor Phil DiStefano, Bohn’s contract, pending approval from the CU Board of Regents, covers five years and includes an annual base salary of $250,000 with incentives that could make it worth as much as $350,000. The base salary is $75,000 more than that earned by former Athletic Director Dick Tharp, who resigned under pressure in November.
The university is banking on Bohn’s ability to bring the department back from a long sex and recruiting scandal that resulted in the resignation of three CU officials.
Also on Bohn’s list of immediate challenges is a $3.2 million budget deficit and sparse attendance in revenue-producing sports.
To him, the first step toward solving these problems is ditching CU’s exclusive image.
“I think it can be turned around quickly if we’re effective in uniting our fans and our donors,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge for us is to get people to invest in us.
“We want to inspire people to be a part of this program.”
Also in front of Bohn is the long-term status of football coach Gary Barnett, whose summer football camp is the target of audits triggered by an internal investigation by the regents.
DiStefano had no information about Barnett’s status or the progress of the audits.
Barnett supporters feel a contract extension is necessary to stabilize the program for recruiting, while his critics say his departure is necessary for the school to move forward in the wake of the scandal.
Bohn, who has full authority to hire and fire coaches, didn’t say whether Barnett’s status depended on the results of the audits and said he has no intentions of dismissing the coach.
“I’m not sure that there’s any need for a strong statement. Gary is our coach, and I’m looking forward to working with him and all our coaches,” he said. “This is a very comfortable situation. People understand the issues in place and people recognize we want to build a program the right way.
“I expect him to be the great leader that football coaches at this level are.”
Barnett attended Wednesday’s news conference and had dinner with the new athletic director Tuesday night. However, Barnett said their conversation remained on a personal level and the two did not talk much business.
Men’s basketball coach Ricardo Patton, also on hand for Bohn’s introduction, said he was happy to have a new athletic director on board.
“It’s exciting not only for the department but for the entire university and the community,” Patton said. “It brings some closure to the uncertainty of who is going to lead this department.”
Patton is linked to what will likely become Bohn’s most challenging early task. The Buffs were ranked 11th in home attendance in the Big 12, topping only Baylor. Building the basketball program into a genuine moneymaker is a goal the department has been hoping to achieve for years.
While Bohn served as San Diego State’s athletic director, the Aztecs increased attendance of home football games by 14,369 per game, the third largest increase in the country.
Also under Bohn, the Aztecs set school attendance records in baseball and basketball.
“First of all, we have to put a product on the floor that people want to come to see, and that’s my responsibility,” Patton said. “But he is a guy who has done different things to create interest.
“I think he will think out of the box and he won’t be locked into doing anything the way we’ve always done it, which I think is good.”
If his contract is approved by the regents, Bohn will officially begin his duties April 29, taking over for interim athletic director Jack Lengyel, whom the school hired in December.
Although he served mainly to help CU through a transitional period, Lengyel took ownership of the position, laying the groundwork for Bohn’s ultimate goal of bringing the department out of its country club mentality.
“I feel like I’ve been given the keys to the car and we’re ready to put the pedal to the metal,” Bohn said.
DiStefano said Lengyel will stay on until Bohn takes over, and will likely be the one to announce Kevin Borseth as the school’s new women’s basketball coach today.
Lengyel said he is willing to stick around even after Bohn takes over to ease the transition, but whether that happens is up to Bohn.
Once Lengyel is finished at CU, he plans to go back into retirement in Arizona.
Bill Wilson can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 313 or by e-mail at