Board of Trustees

'Bittersweet': Joyner to step down as Penn State athletic director

Acting Athletic Director Dave Joyner addresses the board.  The Penn State Board of Trustees met  January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus.
Acting Athletic Director Dave Joyner addresses the board. The Penn State Board of Trustees met January 20, 2012, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the Penn State campus. CDT file photo

Dave Joyner, who became Penn State’s athletic director at the height of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, helped steer the department through historic sanctions and hired two head football coaches in as many years, is stepping down from his job.

Joyner plans to retire Aug. 1, and the university will launch a national search for his successor, Penn State said in a statement Tuesday.

“It’s a bittersweet day,” he told the Centre Daily Times.

Joyner has offered to work past his retirement date to help with a transition. He discussed the plan with Penn State President Eric Barron, and said he believes it is one both men were happy with.

“Maybe my legacy is to help take this place to even bigger and better things,” Joyner said.

Barron will name a search committee to work with Collegiate Sports Associates, an executive search and consulting firm based in North Carolina, to recruit the next athletic director, the university said in a statement.

David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business at Penn State, will lead the committee.

“He stepped in at a critical moment,” Barron said of Joyner. “Everybody tells me he did it because he cares deeply for the university. And I get the distinct impression he is stepping aside because he cares about the institution.”

In his tenure as athletic director, Joyner was tasked with finding the successor for legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired by the university in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.

His hire, Bill O’Brien, had success at Penn State despite the historic NCAA sanctions levied against the university and left for the NFL after the 2013 season.

Joyner then landed former Vanderbilt University coach James Franklin, who was considered by many to be the most desirable candidate for vacant college coaching jobs this year.

He was named acting athletic director in November 2011, the most tumultuous time in the university’s history, after Tim Curley was placed on administrative leave during the Sandusky fallout. Curley and two other former top administrators, Gary Schultz and Graham Spanier, face charges for allegedly covering up child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky and are awaiting trial in Dauphin County Court.

Former Penn State president Rodney Erickson told the Centre Daily Times that Joyner “did an outstanding job under very trying circumstances.”

“When it became clear that we needed someone to step forward in November of 2011, I called Dave,” Erickson said Tuesday from Iowa, where he is traveling with his wife. “He stepped forward willingly to take on that challenge during a very challenging time.”

In January 2013, Penn State removed the “acting” tag from Joyner’s title and said he would continue to serve in that role through the end of Erickson’s time as president in May. After that, the university said, a national search would be conducted for the position, though Joyner wasn’t ruled out as a candidate.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Penn State reached out to Northwestern University Athletic Director Jim Phillips. Sources told the newspaper that might be a difficult sell, as Phillips could be reluctant to leave his current job.

Penn State’s statement Tuesday said more information about the search would be released in the coming days.

“We will be seeking candidates who have demonstrated a thorough understanding of NCAA rules and have a track record of success in meeting compliance standards,” Barron said. “They also must have a commitment to academic integrity, and the academic progress and graduation of student-athletes.”

Barron, at his introductory news conference earlier this year, revealed a bit of his philosophy on the potential hire.

“The truth of the matter is,” Barron said, “I like to have a really strong AD who’s (an) expert, who understands compliance, who understands scheduling, who understands how to attract a coach, who works hard to make sure that student-athletes are successful, with the student being a very important part of that hyphenated word.”

At Florida State, Barron removed Randy Spetman as athletic director in July 2013 because he wanted the athletic department to follow a model with “very business-oriented as well as truly athletic-oriented people.”

Although Joyner has had success with his football coach hires, he also has been criticized in the Penn State community.

Some were critical of how Joyner got the job. He was a former member of the university’s board of trustees and was given the position without a search.

Joyner was an orthopedic physician based in Hummelstown at the time of his appointment, but his ties to Penn State athletics were deep.

He’s a former Penn State wrestler and football player who was an All-American offensive tackle in 1971 under Paterno. Joyner’s two sons, Matt and Andy, played for Paterno and Penn State in the 1990s.

Before he became AD, but while he was a trustee, Joyner was involved in the search for wrestling coach Troy Sunderland’s replacement and was part of the group that lured Cael Sanderson from Iowa State to State College. Sanderson has coached the Nittany Lion wrestlers to four straight NCAA team titles.

As AD, he helped keep women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington, fresh off a Big Ten Coach of the Year award, in State College by signing her to a five-year extension after she had interviewed for a vacant job at Michigan in 2012.

Erickson praised Joyner’s hires and pointed to eight Big Ten team titles and three NCAA team titles in the past year (wrestling, women’s volleyball and fencing).

Penn State’s academic side has also done well, with an 88 percent student-athlete graduation rate, as of October 2013.

“I’ve been very impressed with the job Dave has done,” Erickson said. “I certainly wish Dave well in his retirement, and in any future endeavors he might pursue.”

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