UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank solicited feedback from a select number of voices on what qualities and characteristics in the next Badgers athletic director mattered to them.
School officials have declined to reveal who was invited to offer input, but it has emerged that Blank held listening sessions with Badgers coaches, some UW players and a group dedicated to equity and diversity in the athletic department.
The leader of the Urban League of Greater Madison said he thinks one voice was overamplified in the process. That’s why Ruben Anthony is calling for an independent review of the hiring of Chris McIntosh, arguing that the hiring process was tainted by outgoing athletic director Barry Alvarez's open support for McIntosh.
"This is a privilege move," Anthony said. "It's almost like crowning the next prince."
Anthony spoke on behalf of the Black Leadership Council of Dane County, a group he identified as including members of Black-led organizations that he declined to identify. The council issued a statement Thursday evening that accused UW of running a rigged search in hiring McIntosh.
The group in the statement accused the university of failing to recognize the protests of players and coaches of color and claimed the athletic department under Alvarez and McIntosh rewards loyalty and compliance while discouraging dissent.
McIntosh, who is white, was promoted from deputy athletic director by Blank on Wednesday.
Anthony, the Urban League of Greater Madison president, said he hopes an investigation can take an objective look into the athletic department's hiring processes and retention of employees of color. He suggested that a group like the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which has advocated for holding schools accountable for diversity and equity in hiring for leadership positions, could investigate why so many Black coaches and administrators have left UW after short tenures.
A UW spokesperson didn't respond to a question about whether the school would consider an outside review of the hiring process.
Anthony said he has spoken with Blank to express his disappointment with how racial equity concerns have been addressed and how the search to replace Alvarez transpired. His main frustration with the search was that Alvarez openly spoke out in favor of McIntosh.
"Barry's Goliath," Anthony said. "He's a powerful person. He is a living legacy as a coach and as an athletic director. Who's going to go against Goliath, right? When Barry speaks, it makes a big difference. And to have his voice overshadow this whole process, it's just a violation of good HR practice."
Anthony said he tried to advocate for Sean Frazier, a former Badgers deputy AD who's now athletic director at Northern Illinois, to get the position but was rebuffed. He wouldn't identify who told him to "stand down."
Frazier interviewed for the position. Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz also was believed to be among the final candidates.
Blank defended the search committee as being a diverse group that recruited a diverse crop of candidates. The nine-member committee included three Black members, all former Badgers athletes.
"People weigh in on nearly every hiring decision I make, but ultimately I hire the candidate who has the best credentials, talent and experience to build upon our success," Blank said in a written statement.
The chancellor said many of the messages she heard from those who were given a chance to weigh in were similar in nature.
"The one thing that absolutely everyone said was don't threaten the Wisconsin way," Blank said Wednesday. "Now they said that in different words and in different ways. But everyone clearly felt that we have some formula here that we have been effective at.
"And it means more than just winning on the field — though it does mean that. It means strong academics, attention to student well-being, a feeling about Wisconsin of loyalty."
Blank met via video call with coaches of Badgers teams, but at least one of them had a concern about how it was conducted.
Athletic department administrators also sat in on that discussion between Blank and the coaches. Their inclusion led one coach to privately wonder whether it stifled an honest exchange of thoughts about where the department stood and where it should go.
Pete Miller, the Athletic Board chair who led the search committee for the AD position, said Blank also invited all of the coaches that she met with to give input privately if they didn't feel comfortable doing so in a group session.
"I didn't hear her turning anyone down," Miller said.
Badgers men's hockey coach Tony Granato wouldn't share what he told Blank in the meeting but said he was happy with the way the athletic department has been running, especially through the pandemic.
"So I would like the mentality of the athletic department to stay the same," Granato said. "We don't need change. We don't need someone to come in here and say, 'Hey we're doing all of this wrong, we've got to fix this.'"
Chancellor gets feedback
Blank also had a listening session in April with some members of UW's Equity Diversity Council, a group that McIntosh was credited with helping to form. Its community members are dedicated to supporting inclusion in the athletic department.
It was a free-flowing session, said Donnel Thompson, a council member and former Badgers football co-captain alongside McIntosh.
"I thought it was a really wise approach because in some cases when you pigeonhole a group with questions you don't get a chance to hear their full perspective," he said.
Thompson listed three themes that members of the Equity Diversity Council communicated to Blank:
• The UW experience has elements that aren't universal in college sports. "It's a Tier 1 school," he said. "And what I mean by that is this isn't the SEC. Wisconsin values education over athletics, but they expect to excel in both. That is really, really hard to do."
• Having an athletic director with experience and success as a part of diverse teams was a priority.
• The next AD being from Wisconsin wasn't a mandate but was important to the group for the ability to authentically sell the state to new coaches and players.
"I wanted the chancellor to hear directly from me what I thought was important," Thompson said. "Being from Madison, being an African American, being a former player, a former captain, I wanted to make sure my voice was heard. And she listened, which was really, really cool."
UW announced there were 35 applicants but hasn't disclosed anything about them. It's unclear how much ever will come out about those who sought the position because Wisconsin law allows applicants for state positions to request anonymity from disclosure through public records requests.
The search committee last gathered May 19, according to published notices of its meetings. All discussion was done in closed session and UW turned down a request for meeting minutes. The school argued there's a greater public interest in keeping a competitive position in job searches than in making information public.
The committee interviewed candidates, Miller said, but didn't rank them before handing off a list to Blank. She, not the search committee, interviewed finalists, Miller said.
"We were able to give her our thoughts, give her names, share our thoughts on them," he said. "We didn't do it in a comparative fashion."
From there, it was on Blank for a decision.
"She was very diligent and thorough," Miller said. "She took it very seriously."