He started out as a professor and teacher of accounting, although the majority of his career has been spent as a BYU administrator. But Fred Skousen will always be remembered as the man placed on the front lines in the volatile world of Cougar sports and it was his task to make decisions become reality and ideas turn to rubber on the road.
Many hats were placed on Skousen's head. He's a university vice president over athletics; he's been advancement vice president, founding director of BYU's now famed school of accountancy and a former dean of the Marriott School of Business. For some time, although technically not his job description, he's been referred to as BYU's actual athletic director since the days of the Merrill Bateman administration.
Sometimes it's been a tough hike. Like saying good-bye to LaVell Edwards, then dismissing his replacement, football coach Gary Crowton. Or consolidating the men's and women's athletic departments into one, which meant terminating loyalists Val Hale and Elaine Michaelis, a painful ministorm which he publicly admitted could have been handled more tactfully back in the fall of 2004.
He was a driving force behind other decisions, like hiring head coach Bronco Mendenhall just days after current Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had agreed in word but not on paper to take the job. During his tenure, BYU built the long-awaited Indoor Practice Facility, renovated LaVell Edward Stadium, constructed Larry Miller Park, erected the Student Athlete Building and is now finishing a new soccer stadium. Skousen was the front man in making the Cougar Club a bigger part of the department's fundraising, which, in turn, became part of a bigger financial collection machine to endow athletic scholarships and coaching salaries and hopefully, someday, to keep ticket prices from escalating.
When he leaves his post in July, BYU will have established itself as the Mountain West power in football and basketball and a consistent championship presence in other sports.
Skousen had a front seat in the creation of the MWC and chaired a committee to name the new league.
"Fred Skousen did a lot to advance the athletic program at BYU," said Hale, now a vice president of Utah Valley State College.
"He worked hard to help get the athletic facilities built and funded. He enjoyed his association with the student athletes and the coaches and cared deeply about their success, doing everything he could to provide them with the resources they needed to succeed. I wish him and Julie the best as they retire to their beautiful ranch."
It'll be tough. To carry a big stick, then lay it down.
Skousen was ready to retire a decade ago, but Bateman then and current BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson, asked him to grip the BYU sports two-by-four a little longer. Now it's been 38 years. He's looking forward to spending time with his 24 grandchildren, five sons, a daughter and his wife, Julie, an older sister of former Cougar quarterback, Gifford Nielsen.
It's ironic that a guy who teaches bean counters how to line up figures on a ledger sheet would end up impacting BYU football and basketball and other sports so heavily. Dr. Fred Skousen's introductory and intermediate accounting books have been distributed to millions of college students throughout the world. One is in its ninth edition, the other is in its 13th.
"A lot of students have had a lot of pain trying to go through those books," he said.
Current athletic director Tom Holmoe, whom Skousen helped hire to replace himself in 2004-05 as acting athletic director, says the professor knows his stuff.
"His wealth of experience on our campus in his level positions provided me tremendous insight when making important decisions," said Holmoe.
Of late, Skousen's worries have been over the MWC television contract and exposure BYU and other schools have not obtained as promised. As he leaves his post, it still haunts him.
BYU is committed to the MWC as a founding member, but that hasn't come without frustration. "We've made some aggressive moves with the conference and let our TV partners know the situation, that it is not acceptable and we need to have some changes made.
"Getting DirecTV on board so more exposure is given to the league is an important step, but it's the first step. Unless we're able to get additional progress in getting our sports on BYU television and our Olympic sports more broadly broadcast, we haven't done a total job."
Skousen said BYU is still working on TV issues that frustrate MWC fans, specifically BYU fans who demand more exposure. "I'm optimistic and hopeful we can do that within the MWC framework. If we're not able to accomplish all of our objectives, we may have to pursue other options."
And what would that be?
Skousen isn't saying specifically. Fans routinely rally around a conference change to the Pac-10 or Big 12. "But you have to be invited," said Skousen. No invitation is on the table.
Of the exposure issues and "other options," Skousen said, "We are working on it and feel good about where things are going but we are not done yet. We've got to make sure our fans have total access to all our BYU sports."
BYU TV could be part of the answer. While The mtn. network has between 1 and 2 million viewers, BYU boasts 45 million.
One of the newest capital projects on campus is erecting a new broadcast facility. BYU television, combined with new technology, including the Internet, provides "unlimited potential" for exposure world wide.
It was one of the most bizarre periods in BYU athletics, the firing of Gary Crowton and the hiring of Bronco Mendenhall in late 2004. It was a couple of weeks of changing tides, and Skousen describes it as a time of intensity.
"We courted Kyle, of course, and we had some starts and stops, some false starts here and there a little bit, but fortunately we were working with quality people all along," said Skousen.
At one point, Whittingham, a former Cougar captain, teammate of Holmoe and initial candidate, had orally committed to replace Crowton pending "working out" things in his mind. That changed within hours, and BYU then looked hard at longtime assistant coach Lance Reynolds.
Folks on campus had started plans for an announcement for Reynolds before further interviews changed the tide once more for Mendenhall, a loyal friend Crowton had brought to campus.
"With Gary Crowton, I think he is an outstanding person and a very good coach. It just wasn't working for him to be head coach and running the program, so we felt we had to make a change. That proved to be a good decision, but it wasn't an easy decision when dealing with very good people."
Mendenhall still had raw feelings over Crowton's dismissal when he interviewed. "He was so loyal to Gary that he didn't represent himself as well as he did later on in the process when we came back for a second look. We really thought Kyle was the one we wanted to go for. And in the process of interviewing and all, that didn't turn out. When we had to look at it again, we settled on Bronco and had Lance as a very good candidate as well, but we believe we were directed to the right choice in the end. It just took us a little longer to get there."
President Samuelson likes to joke about that hire, said Skousen. "He says, 'Well, even the Saints had to wander around a little and get to Nauvoo before they came back West.'"
Said Skousen, "You don't always know the paths you are going down are the right ones, but looking back, you can see it pretty clearly. We were helped to do the right thing, and it has worked out. Bronco has blossomed as our head coach, and we couldn't be more pleased."
Back-to-back football and basketball titles are rare, but Skousen believes both short- and long-term, BYU's athletic programs will continue to succeed. "We have the leadership in Tom, and the coaches and athletes to continue to be aligned with what the university is trying to do."
"I'm very bullish on the athletic program. We have excellent people in place, not only in football and basketball, the major revenue sports but in all 21 other sports, 11 women and 10 men."
Skousen can take a stroll down Legacy Hall in the Student Athlete Building and look to the south were one of the country's finest indoor practice facilities stands. If a little pride trickles in, he can be forgiven. He had a hand in the doing and sometimes it took a stick as well as a shovel.
Skousen has often been criticized publicly and privately for myriad decisions, actions and ways and means. But nobody has ever criticized him for not trying or being lazy or asleep at the wheel.
Doers do. Complainers complain.
"You do what you've been asked to do," said Skousen of his tenure as professor, vice president and yes, even athletic director. He once even sat on the resident staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission."I've never been one to look back on decisions that I've made. Sometimes you get hammered, but you stick the course. I'm looking forward to spending time with my family, the 24 grandkids and my wife. I have the greatest family in the world. They've been my support system. When times get rough, you have to rely on other people, and I've had the best backers in my wife and kids."
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