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Alan Haller never went too far from home.
The Lansing native and Michigan State alum returned to campus after a few years in the NFL to become a police officer, then moved into the athletic department. He now faces an even bigger task: running all of the Spartans' sports and pulling his alma mater’s athletic department out of post-pandemic debt.
Haller was named MSU's 20th athletic director Wednesday during a special Board of Trustees meeting. His five-year deal is worth $900,000 annually, plus a number of other performance bonus opportunities, according to his contract provided by the university.
The 50-year-old beat out current Auburn athletic director Allen Greene after interviews over the weekend, sources told the Free Press on Monday. University President Samuel Stanley underwent a national search to replace Bill Beekman.
“It is truly an honor to lead a department that has meant so much to my life,” Haller said during the board Zoom call.
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Haller's hiring became effective on the first day of classes at MSU and two days before the Spartans' football team kicks off the season at Northwestern.
“I love this community. I love MSU,” Haller said. “Being a student-athlete was a transformational experience for me. I learned the values and traits of hard work, dedication, being a team player, being able to pick yourself up and working through difficulties — all traits I use today. That's why it is my passion, every single day, to help our current and future student-athletes have the same transformational experience that I did.
“This is not a job. This is my responsibility to make sure our student-athletes succeed.”
Beekman, 54, announced his resignation as athletic director Aug. 4. The Okemos native is moving into a new role as vice president for strategic initiatives under Stanley, who hired College Sports Associates to conduct a national search and help identify candidates.
MSU hired its fourth consecutive athletic director from within the university: Clarence Underwood in 1999, Ron Mason in 2002, Mark Hollis in 2007 and Beekman in 2018. The last external hires were Merrily Dean Baker in 1992 and her replacement Merritt Norvell in 1995.
“I think it was really important to do a national search. I think it had been some time since Michigan State had done a national search for an athletic director,” Stanley said on a call with reporters. “I think that they've been fortunate at Michigan State in having some strong internal candidates. But I think it's always important to benchmark with what's out there in the field and recognize whether you're picking the right person for the position.
“So that was really the reason for it. I wanted to make sure that the person we were going to have lead Michigan State University's athletic program was really the most qualified and best suited for the job. And so I think we accomplished that.”
That process was not without friction internally between Stanley and the Board of Trustees, particularly when a woman was not included among the three final candidates presented to the board. Pittsburgh athletic director Heather Lyke, a Michigan graduate who also ran Eastern Michigan’s athletic department from 2013-17, was not part of the final list according to sources but told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review she had been in contact about the MSU job.
The third candidate on the final list, UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond, declined an interview, per sources.
Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson during Wednesday’s board meeting expressed her approval of Haller’s hiring but also voiced displeasure with the search process she said “lacked the openness and public transparency” that she and others — including Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — demanded. Knake Jefferson was appointed to MSU’s Board of Trustees by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December 2019, and Benson is chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Women in Sports.
“I am worried that the lack of transparency here will only further perpetuate concerns about the institution’s commitment to improved treatment of women in the wake of the (Larry) Nassar scandal and the harm that continues, for example as documented in the 2019 campus climate survey on relationship violence and sexual misconduct,” Knake read from a statement. “Equitable treatment for women and minorities is at the core of who I am as a scholar and a member of this community. This is personal for me.”
Stanley said College Sports Associates representatives told him MSU assembled “one of the most, if not the most, diverse (candidate) pools they've had in any of the searches they've ever done, and they've done a number of them.” Sources said at least two women were considered but did not make the final list of three, and Stanley said the assertions it wasn’t inclusive “was not an issue as far as I'm concerned.”
“We did everything we could to include an open and inclusive search. And where we weren't transparent was just in the identities of the people who were involved in this search, and that's incredibly important,” Stanley said. “It's very difficult to do these kinds of searches unless people feel their confidentiality will be respected. It's an important personnel decision for them to even think about becoming engaged in a search. And so, protecting them I think is very, very important.”
The eight trustees during a roll call vote unanimously decided to pick Haller, whose only time away from the greater Lansing area came when he played professionally in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Carolina from 1992-95.
Haller graduated from J.W. Sexton High in Lansing and went on to play football for the Spartans and coach George Perles from 1988-91 and then in the NFL from 1992-95. He spent 13 years in the MSU Police Department starting in July 1997 after retiring from football, eventually rising to lieutenant before joining the athletic department in July 2010.
Haller began as associate athletic director, then was promoted to senior associate athletic director in 2015 and added chief of staff to his title in 2017. Beekman promoted him to his second-in-command as deputy athletic director in 2019.
Having earned a criminal justice degree from MSU and his master’s degree in human resources from Central Michigan, Haller was part of the two football coaching search committees that produced Mark Dantonio in late 2006 and Mel Tucker in February.
“His leadership and the class in which he handles himself always impressed me,” MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “He has served Michigan State Athletics in a variety of roles and has a great understanding of who we are and what we need as we move forward to shape our department and to keep us at the forefront of college athletics. He is someone who will make sure that our athletics program is student-athlete centered, coach-driven and administrator assisted.”
In recent years, Haller became a point person for MSU’s developing athletic department facilities master plan. In 2019, he, Beekman, Dantonio other staff members and donors visited Clemson’s renovated $55 million facility. Then in December, Haller revealed initial plans and blueprints to athletic department staff showing significant facilities upgrades that could change the center of campus and cost tens of millions of dollars if one as designed.
“Despite my concerns with the process, I enthusiastically endorse Alan Haller’s appointment to the role of athletic director,” Knake Jefferson said. “I am confident that, like me and my colleagues on the Board of Trustees, he is committed to remedying structural inequities. … I look forward to the next era of leadership under Alan Haller that will prioritize achieving diversity, inclusion, equity, and a culture of care as much as winning in the competitive arena.”
Haller’s candidacy to replace Beekman got support from prominent athletic alumni over the past month, including video testimonials from former football players and members of the 1965 and 1966 national championship teams, as well as former basketball star Shawn Respert.
“When I came back to Michigan State to coach, I saw the same things from Alan that I saw when we were back in school together,” former teammate Courtney Hawkins, who is MSU’s wide receivers coach, said in a statement. “He's consistent, he's a good person and he's the kind of guy that makes everyone feel important. I think those qualities are why he's such a great leader. People gravitate to him because he's such a solid individual.”
It won’t be an easy beginning for Haller considering the pandemic. Beekman said MSU’s athletic department is projected to be operating at a $30 million deficit this fall, despite cutting $50 million during the 2020-21 school year. Beekman also eliminated the school’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs after last season. Stanley said he has not spoken with Haller about reinstating swimming and diving but added, “I think that’s a closed issue as far as I’m concerned.”
Stanley, the trustees and others all pointed to Haller’s ability to connect on a personal level with coaches, athletes, donors and the community as traits they believe will help that.
“He understands what it takes to be successful at this level, and that's exactly what is needed in this role,” MSU football coach Mel Tucker said in a statement. “In order to have a championship culture, you have to have the right people in the right seats. … Alan has tremendous leadership qualities and has had a way of bringing people together over the years. He has the vision and progressive mindset that I admire in a leader.”
Beekman, who had no experience in athletic administration and did not participate in high-level sports, was appointed interim athletic director Feb. 5, 2018 by then-interim president John Engler after Mark Hollis’ abrupt resignation. Engler, the former governor, made Beekman permanent athletic director five months later and gave him the five-year contract after reneging on a pledge to undertake a national search.
Beekman’s contract as athletic director was for $750,000 and runs through 2023, but it contained a provision that would allow him to be reassigned to a different role within the university at $375,000 a year for the remainder of his five-year contract.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What Alan Haller brings to Michigan State as new athletic director