The Weber State football players want to know when Mike Price is going to grow a beard so he'll look more like the only athletic director the school has known since 1976. Gary Crompton retires at the end of the school year and leaves Price, the flamboyant football coach, as his successor.
One of Price's first stunts as new athletic director was to wear the "Waldo" Wildcat mascot's suit to the final home basketball game with the football team attending en masse toshow support for the basketball players during their trying season. He'd set that up before being named AD.
From now on, says Price, "I probably won't be the AD that dresses up as Waldo but who knows? I might."
Being athletic director Price remains football coach will change him. "I think it will," he says. He'll hang out more on the main campus with the faculty and spend more time in the Ogden business community, and he already feels more permanent. "I've probably got to wear a tie and wear an ascot and grow a beard," he adds.
"They call me `Little Hitler' around here already," he laughs, "and I'm really a nice guy."
That's because, while the job is going to change Price no purple hair, "not unless I have to" Price is changing the athletic department. He's already "restructuring" with a definite plan in mind.
"There are things that have to be done that are not going to be very pleasant to do, and I have to have the courage to do that.
"It's no reflection on Gary," Price says. "It's just a different style probably more aggressive and more structured. He was more free-flowing. I'm probably not going to be as nice a guy to work for."
Price knows what he wants because the idea of being athletic director wasn't new to him, although it surprised many. In fact, with Price's football contract up following his best season, 10-3, and him complaining about busing to away games and then applying for the University of Illinois job, it looked as though Weber suddenly offered him the job to keep him around.
He says that isn't true. "I didn't think of it that way," he says. He was ready to sign a new football-only contract when Crompton decifed to retire and asked Price if he would take over.
The subject was first discussed a year ago, when the early retirement opportunity presented itself to Crompton, now 53. Late last summer, they talked again. Also last summer, Price decided not to pursue a contact from Washington State University to be athletic director at the school where he once played. "It was right before football season and would have been poor timing," says Price, whose father was a junior college football coach/AD.
"I'd always thought about getting into administration, but not this fast and furious and soon," he says, noting that it is "a thankless job. You're head of the complaint department, and right now, there are a lot of complaints."
The highest-profile complaint at the time he was named AD-to-be was the Larry Farmer situation in basketball. Price wasn't consulted much on that. He said he realized Farmer would be fired when he watched him walk off the floor after losing his last Big Sky tournament game in Bozeman, Mont. "I never watched a coach walk off the court before. I looked at Joyce (Price's wife). I knew he was fired."
But the hiring of Denny Huston to replace Farmer was definitely Price's decision, with input from a selection committee. "I was all-consumed with that," says Price, claiming 20-hour days checking out 45 candidates including two close friends who didn't get the job and making certain all had equal opportunity, as required by law.
That's been his biggest surprise so far. "As a football coach, my assistant coaches were pretty much who I wanted. I didn't know those laws existed," Price says.
These days, Price is concentrating on finding a head trainer to replace Tom Abdenour, now with the NBA Golden State Warriors, and on his reorganization.
That's the ironic part. When Price was merely a coach, he could grumble about his recruiting budget and about being the only Big Sky football team that had to bus to games. As AD, he says that balancing the overall budget will be his main concern and, yes, Weber will bus again next year. "We're going to have to get on the bus next year but some day we're not," he vows.
"Next year will be tough because we lost so much money (on basketball). We're really going to have to tighten our belts. There's going to be cuts."
Price says he hopes he doesn't have to drop any sports, although wrestling, on trial last season, is gone.
Price will ask all of his athletic staff to help raise money, to come up with ideas and pitch in. "We've never asked them to do that before. In fact, they don't even know it yet," Price blurts.
He will ask all coaches to recruit heavily in Utah. It saves money and is good policy for a state school, he says. He's had good luck doing that in football with players like Wade Orton, Jon Fuller, Paul Valenzuela, Joe Long, Taani Tai, Kelly Widmeyer, Angus MacInnes, Mike Robinson and Fine Unga.
He will change the basketball ticket policy that offended many long-time patrons last season. A winning team might have kept bodies in the Dee Center, but the combination of losing and of an unpopular ticket policy emptied the place. Football and basketball prices will not increase next season, Price says.
"It's certainly not as much fun or as rewarding as coaching," he says of his first month in office, but the reworking should be done by mid-August.
"And then," says Price, "I've got to be football coach, too, and that's going to be my release when I have fun," he says.