Ray Anderson knows the value of hard work.
He said that’s what defined his entire career all the back from when he was 9-years-old. Anderson decided then he wanted to attend law school in honor of his father, who had passed away at that time.
After attending Stanford and Harvard Law School, Anderson ended up not being a lawyer. He went on to be a sports agent before moving his way up to being the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.
Now he will serve as ASU’s next vice president of athletics.
ASU President Michael Crow introduced Anderson as ASU’s newest athletic director in a press conference on Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale, where senior administrators were on a retreat. News of Anderson’s hire leaked Wednesday night.
Anderson replaces fellow former pro sports executive Steve Patterson, who left ASU Nov. 5 to become the athletic director at the University of Texas at Austin.
Anderson said he is still working in the NFL and is involved in groups and operations projects during the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl XLVIII, but will officially begin on Feb. 5.
“This is an awesome, awesome opportunity,” Anderson said.
Anderson assured ASU is where he wants to be, dispelling any initial concerns he would leave for a bigger job. ASU has been considered as a “stepping stone” for athletic directors to launch into more prominent universities, as Kevin White left for Notre Dame and Gene Smith left for Ohio State.
Anderson said the ASU position could potentially be better than any NFL general manager or president job he considered taking.
“This is not a stepping stone for me to anywhere else,” he said. “This is my destination. I’m going to be here as long as I’m effective, as long as I’m a teammate, as long as I’m a collaborator and as long as my boss-to-be (Crow) thinks I am deserving of this honor.
“This for me is a dream destination,” Anderson said.
Crow said the recruitment process was “relatively quick,” barely two months since Patterson left for Texas. He enlisted the help of Jed Hughes, a vice chairman of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, to seek a replacement.
It didn’t take too much to win over Anderson. When Hughes presented him ASU’s profile, Anderson replied, “I’m in.”
“It’s student-athlete driven,” Anderson said. “We want excellence in the classroom. We want excellence in our athletic venues. We want excellence in our business and development. We want excellence in our community. We want community activism. We want fan engagement. We want to be embedded in society. We want to be influential to our stakeholders, primarily to our student athletes. That’s what really got me excited about this position.”
Anderson’s compensation has not been released yet, but it’s expected he will take a significant pay cut from his NFL salary. It wasn’t much of an issue when ASU negotiated with him.
“Like everyone else, I want to be paid fairly, I want to make what’s due and that’s happening here,” Anderson said. “I don’t need NFL money. I need gratification and I need a chance to be part of something really special and really dynamic and really life-changing.”
Crow said Anderson’s background as an NFL executive embodies everything to what Sun Devil Athletics stands for.
“It’s challenging to find leaders in this space who have sports experience, executive experience, business experience all rolled into one individual,” Crow said. “With the departure of Steve Patterson to the University of Texas, we found ourselves unexpectedly at a moment of time where we needed a new athletic director. I’m a big believer that all things that seem negative are but an opportunity. You have to seize opportunities when they occur and we have seized that opportunity in Ray Anderson.”
Anderson is an unorthodox choice as an athletic director because he doesn’t have any experience working in the NCAA or any immediate ties to the Valley. However, Anderson revealed he was in charge of maintaining the NFL’s relations with the NCAA, making him even more qualified to work in college athletics.
“I’m very involved and have been involved and will anticipate continuing to involve, learning from them, bringing the experience I have from my current position, lending them, and not missing a beat,” Anderson said.
Anderson will immediately face the challenge of developing ASU’s athletic facilities district, which includes a renovation plan of Sun Devil Stadium. The plans became a concern and were in question when Patterson left. Anderson said he hasn’t been fully trained in venue development, but he has participated in discussions of building new NFL stadiums. He said he’ll take a “passenger seat” and advise the current projects at ASU.
“Those were a big attraction here,” he said. “Those were things that made it different from a more traditional athletic directors position.”
Crow said he assigned Anderson with four other major tasks, which are delivering an athletic academic program rather than simply managing sports teams, winning while playing by rules, connecting to the University’s community and keeping the athletic department financially stable.
After Crow finished outlining his tasks, Anderson turned to him with a look of readiness.
“I am up to the task,” Anderson said.
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