FRISCO, Texas — A few years back, former Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell was retelling a favorite story about retiring OU president David Boren.
They were riding up the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa, on their way to an OU fundraiser, when Boren’s cell phone rang.
“I’m sorry, Larry,” Boren said. “I have to take this call. It’s Henry Kissinger.”
There may be no greater illustration of the power and respect that Boren wielded as the most influential man ever to sit on the Sooner throne.
Governor? Pssh. U.S. Senator? Whatever. Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee? Now that’s the kind of six-year run — longest in the history of the office — that puts you on speed-dial with the most powerful men in the world, like Kissinger, or draws applause from the most respected men in the world, like late South African president Nelson Mandela, or mentors the most feared men in the world, like former CIA boss George Tenet, with whom Boren was sharing breakfast when the 9/11 attacks occurred.
That’s also the kind of political clout that easily walked into Big 12 Conference board rooms and got things done — for 24 years.
“David brought a level of experience and a level of wisdom that was truly remarkable,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told The Franchise on Monday at Big 12 Media Day. “And you don’t get an opportunity to serve alongside of a guy that’s been a sitting governor and a senator and an icon in higher education for so many years — you just don’t get that opportunity very often. And he brought a lot to our presidents and chancellors’ council, and a lot to the board deliberations on the major issues.”
Boren retired last month, and OU regents appointed businessman Jim Gallogly to replace him. On Big 12 issues, Bowlsby said, Gallogly is “drinking out of the fire hose.
“The first thought is we lost a lot of experience in athletic affairs and higher ed affairs,” Bowlsby said. “Jim Gallogly has hit the ground running and has really worked hard to get up to speed on athletic issues and higher ed issues. But he comes out of private enterprise, and there will be a period of adjustment for him.”
Simply put, Boren’s retirement weakens the Big 12 Conference, if only a little. He is so well connected internationally, any time anyone entered into negotiations with the Big 12 — TV or corporate or otherwise — they first had to pass through Boren’s immense political shadow.
Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, you know.
Who knows, without Boren’s influence in the board room, today’s dollar-hungry TV executives might no longer even know to ask for front-row tickets to the Met or an audience with the Queen.
That’s the kind of political stroke Boren carried. Things just always got done.
And Gallogly isn’t the Big 12’s only newbie CEO. Greg Fenves has been at Texas for three years. Retired Air Force general Richard Myers passed two years at Kansas State in April. Lawrence Schovanec is less than two years at Texas Tech. Doug Girod just celebrated his first year at Kansas. Baylor’s Linda Livingstone is just past a year in office. Wendy Wintersteen has been on the job eight months at Iowa State. And Gallogly is two weeks into his new gig.
In the context of the Big 12’s complex history and where the league is headed, there’s a lot for them to learn.
To that end, Bowlsby finds himself educating the league CEOs like never before, getting them up to speed on the issues at hand for a major athletic conference.
“It leads to having to go back and give people a sense of history, as to how we got to the decisions we got to,” Bowlsby said. “That’s my responsibility to try to do that, along with our board chair. And (West Virginia president) Gordon Gee is a great chair for our board because he’s been in the SEC, he’s been in the Big Ten, he’s been other places.
“Why we made the decisions we’ve made over the last two or three years, how we arrived at those decisions and what the rationales were. Just so we have a context for why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.