The question that any leader of any organization should ask themselves when they finally step away is whether or not they left that organization better than they found it. It's the one way to truly judge a legacy or a person's effectiveness over a period of time. With the announcement by Lew Perkins on Tuesday afternoon that his retirement would take effect immediately, Kansas fans have to begin asking themselves that very question.
What is the legacy of Lew Perkins? Over the past year the answer to that question varies a great deal depending on who you ask. Perkins has taken Kansas from a time of relative uncertainty in the beginning of his tenure, to the top of the college sports world and seemingly full circle back to the start. Kansas fans are as divided as ever on what Perkins' exit means and as to whether his tenure at Kansas was worth it.
Lew Perkins stepped onto the Kansas campus in June of 2003 after the controversial firing of then athletic director Al Bohl. The move perceived by many as a last ditch effort to keep Roy Williams in Lawrence obviously failed to do so, but in the end Kansas ended up with Bill Self and the rest is history. For his part, Perkins wasn't involved in the hiring of Self. That move came prior to his arrival at the hands of an interim AD.
From the get go Perkins proved to be focused on increasing the Kansas athletic budget and helping transform the University into a big time athletic program. Early changes to the Williams Fund and basketball seating assignments made for fast enemies among many long term supporters, but the moves very clearly leveraged the departments most valuable asset. Initially the detractors were vocal, but success and winning quickly put an end to those critics
Lew Perkins knew how to make money. Over his time he significantly raised the Universities athletic budget and reinvested those dollars into the further development of the programs. Perkins orchestrated and paved the way for multimillion dollar upgrades to Allen Fieldhouse, Memorial Stadium, and the Booth Family Hall of Athletics. Perkins improved the situation of every program at Kansas down to the women's rowing team which received a huge boost to their program to the tune of a $6 million boathouse.
Plain and simple, Lew leveraged what he had and reinvested those funds and provided further resources for the programs that were generating those funds. As a Kansas fan, what more could you ask?
The 2007-2008 academic year represented the high water mark for Perkins and Kansas. The Jayhawks completed a 12-1 Orange Bowl football season and won their first basketball National Championship in two decades. At this point it didn't matter what the feeling was regarding Perkins' tactics, they were working and he was producing.
Following that year Perkins successfully secured both Kansas coaches with long-term high paying contracts putting Kansas on par with some of the best athletic programs in the nation. Things were looking up in a big way for Kansas and you wouldn't have found many Jayhawks that would argue against that point.
Over the last year however things have taken a bit of a turn. The football team went from a North title contender to the bottom of the conference and an embarrassing coaching scandal. The basketball team continues to plug along on the court, but a ticket scandal and internal problems have sometimes overshadowed those achievements in the offseason. There were other problems and black eyes for the department that can't necessarily be put on the shoulders of Lew Perkins, but when the department that you head is constantly in the public eye for negative reasons the buck stops at the top.
For Perkins and Kansas it was time to break up a successful partnership. A partnership that had been more than lucrative for both parties but perhaps had run it's course. What Perkins leaves the University of Kansas with is very similar to what he started with, a divided fanbase. Just as when he arrived, Perkins has adamant supporters and vocal detractors. Just as when he arrived Kansas appears to be at a bit of a crossroads in some areas of the department.
What has changed however are the resources available to whoever takes his place.
Lew Perkins leaves Kansas with an improved athletic budget. He also leaves Kansas with renovated and upgraded facilities to compete with those elsewhere in the country. Those things aren't going anywhere.
The challenge for the next in line is going to be repairing the trust of portions of the fanbase and instilling once again the belief that Kansas football can compete. Bernadette Gray-Little has to find an Athletic Director that can take the good that Lew Perkins was able to do and re-build some of the late damage that was done to better position Kansas for the inevitable change that comes with college athletics.
As for the legacy of Perkins, that might just take a few years to accurately judge.