Farmer resigns as UL's athletic director
Scott Farmer is out, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is conducting a national search for its next athletic director.
The departure was presented Tuesday as a resignation, with Farmer taking a position as a full-time faculty member in UL’s School of Kinesiology.
But forces evidently were at work that prompted the move, which comes less than seven months after the release of a six-month study of the Ragin’ Cajuns athletic department overseen by former University of Missouri athletic director Mike Alden.
Alden’s consulting group examined Farmer’s understaffed, overworked department and made a series of recommendations for changes in areas including marketing, multimedia agreements, branding matters, revenue issues and much more.
“The Alden report, I think, was revealing in many ways,” Savoie said. “It had some practical solutions, and a whole lot of challenges and work.
“You know, these last few years have been, I think, dynamic times and progressive times, and it’s taken a lot of effort and put a lot of toll on a lot of people.
“I’m speculating,” the UL president added, “but maybe Scott (Farmer) decided, ‘Don’t want to go through this again. Do I want to go through another round of this, of the pressure of trying to improve multiple things simultaneously?”
UL has undertaken a massive athletic facilities master plan project over the last three-plus years.
“I think that played into his mind,” Savoie said, “and in the back of his mind he was thinking about, ‘I really want to spend more time with my family; I really want to get in the classroom; I really want to interact with students on a regular basis.”
Just how much influential financial supporters of the program played a part in what unfolded is uncertain, though some are known to have been lobbying hard for Farmer’s removal.
Savoie suggested the decision originated with Farmer’s annual evaluation last month.
“As we were talking about things and talking about his future,” Savoie said, “he (Farmer) mentioned that he always wanted to go back in the classroom … and he wanted to spend more time with his family.
“So we continued to talk about it, and this has kind of evolved as a result of that conversation.”
Savoie sidestepped the question of if he would have allowed Farmer to remain as athletic director had that been his desire, saying instead “that wasn’t the tone of the conversation at the time when we were talking about the future.”
“Finally, we concluded about two weeks ago that this would be the right course of action,” Savoie said.
Farmer came to UL from Troy University as senior associate athletic director in 2007, and was named athletic director in 2011.
He gave a tearful goodbye, reading with a choked-up voice from a prepared statement and fielding no questions afterward as media members, program boosters and some of the school’s coaches filled an auditorium in its newly built athletic performance center.
Farmer, who suggested he had always harbored a hope to someday move into the classroom, hugged his wife Jackie before leaving the room just before Savoie stepped up to the podium.
“When this opportunity became available,” said Farmer, who wore a Ragin' Cajun lapel pin and a fleur-de-lis-patterned tie, “I felt that it was not my place to determine the timing of my move to teaching — the market conditions would determine the move.”
Pressures of the position, Farmer suggested, definitely did add up.
“Athletic administration is not a job. It’s a lifestyle,” he said.
“For the past 30 years, I loved the lifestyle. I loved the job. But the job demands take a toll on you. It takes a toll on your loved ones, on your friends, on your health and your commitment to your church.”
Savoie said deputy athletic director Jessica Leger will serve as UL’s interim AD while the search is under way. Leger, formerly Jessica Clarke, played softball for the Cajuns.
Savoie said Alden has remained under contract as a consultant since the study was conducted in 2015, will aid Leger during the interim period and will assist with the search.
Savoie said he hoped a “diverse” and “inclusive” search team representing “a broad range of constituents” would be put together by sometime early next week.
The search team’s purpose, he said, will be to vet candidates and provide “guidance” and “advice. But Savoie said he will make the final choice.
Savoie offered no timeline for a hire, saying, “We’re going to take our time” and not “sacrifice quality for speed.”
No interviews are expected to take place until early 2017.
Savoie said the school will seek to hire either a “sitting AD” or a “senior-level administrator” at “a (NCAA) Division I program.”
“We’re looking for someone who is visionary,” the UL president said. “We’re looking for someone who has great integrity and a great work ethic.
“We’re looking for a relationship-builder, someone who can focus on academic as well as athletic success, someone who has a solid understanding of NCAA regulations and university and (who) can operate within those rules.
“We’re looking for someone who has the ability to generate financial support,” he added, “and someone who will be collaborative with university departments and the various communities we serve.”
Farmer said he thought the new athletic director “must be an athletics professional.”
“Anything but professional management and a complete, unselfish effort involved is planning for failure,” he said.
According to terms of a contract that runs through the end of September 2017, Farmer earns $210,000 annually.
A rewritten contract retroactively went into effect in October 2014. Farmer had been making $150,000 before the new deal was done.
Savoie complimented and thanked Farmer “for his many accomplishments and progress during his tenure,” calling him “one of the hardest-working people I know.”
At UL, Farmer served while the school initiated in 2013 a $115 million athletic facilities masterplan that already has seen the addition of about 6,000 new end zone seats at Cajun Field, construction of a new athletic performance center and track/soccer venue renovation.
During his tenure, the Cajuns football team won four straight New Orleans Bowls from 2011-2014, the men’s basketball team went to the NCAA Tournament in 2014, the softball team went to the 2014 College World Series and the baseball team went to back-to-back NCAA Super Regionals in 2014 and 2015.
Attendance at UL football games also rose significantly during the same time period. So did donations to the school’s Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation (RCAF) athletics fundraising arm.
According to his UL bio, Farmer also helped to found the RCAF in 2009.
After a record-setting school year from 2013-14 in which five UL teams won Sun Belt titles, the Cajuns were ranked in a National Association of College Directors of Athletics poll as the 34th-best nationally and highest among all non-BCS programs.
Last school year, UL’s baseball and softball teams both hosted NCAA Regionals, the women’s basketball tied a school-record for wins and claimed its second straight Women’s Basketball Invitational championship, and the men’s basketball team played in a second straight CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“I feel strongly that unselfish commitment starts with the athletic director,” Farmer said.
“Our underlying belief is that money does not win championships. It is not what you have but what you do with what you have that truly counts.
“What we have accomplished has been a result of great people, not great resources,” he added. “I only wish the athletic world knew how little our coaches had in some areas. Only then could they fully understand the truly outstanding job our coaches have done.”
For four consecutive years, UL student-athletes also have posted the highest graduation rate among public institutions in Louisiana.
“Being a part of the most successful era in the history of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns has been one of God’s big blessings to me,” Farmer said.
UL’s football team, however, went 4-8 last season, ending its run of bowl appearances.
After losing 35-21 at Georgia of the SEC last Saturday, the Cajuns are 4-6 this season heading into this Saturday morning’s home game against Arkansas State.
Farmer’s reign at UL also has come with what some program backers perceive to be shortcomings, prompting the most vocal of them to frequently anonymously lash out on social media.
The football team was put on NCAA probation due to a recruiting-related scandal. Some program supporters felt he was not proactive enough trying to help move UL out of the Sun Belt Conference and into a higher-profile league. And the program so far has failed to secure a long-term multimedia deal to televise its own events, including home football games not picked up by other networks.
Savoie suggested a multimedia package would be a high priority for the new athletic director.
Some Cajun fans also are upset that financing-related issues arose before major renovation work at the UL baseball team’s stadium got under way earlier this year, which could cause the Cajuns to play home games elsewhere early in the 2017 season.
Savoie avoided the question of how much the matter of conference affiliation played a part in the resignation, but he said he did not think the baseball-stadium episode “had much of an impact.”
Detractors additionally have criticized Farmer’s failure to frequently and openly communicate Cajun athletic program initiatives and direction with its fan base.
He’s been responsible for scheduling future football games against programs including SEC teams Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama.
But some who are unhappy with the team’s scheduling complain on a message board and Twitter that UL has no upcoming home games scheduled against a team from a Power 5 conference.
Earlier this month, at least four UL football players were disciplined when a cellphone video surfaced that showed students profanely singing and dancing to a protest rap song called FDT (F--- Donald Trump).
The video was filmed the same day Trump was later elected President of the United States.
Savoie indicated the video and its fallout, including negative national publicity, played no part in Farmer’s resignation.
Farmer is a Georgia Southern graduate, and a former women’s swim coach there.
The father of two previously worked as senior associate athletic director from 1999-2007 at fellow Sun Belt Conference-member Troy, where he oversaw an athletic facilities overhaul that included an $18 million football stadium renovation.
He also helped the Trojan football program transition from the FCS to higher-level NCAA FBS status.
While at UL, Farmer served a four-year term on the NCAA Division I Softball Committee and spent a three-year term representing the Sun Belt on the NCAA Leadership Council.
“I have paid a price for being an athletics director through the loss of time with family, the inability to develop friendships outside of work because of the time demands of work and a discontinuity in my spiritual life,” Farmer said.
“This career move should permit me to better balance those most-important aspects of my life.
“I love UL. What we have accomplished together can never be taken away,” the ex-athletic director added. “My time is over, but I am still here and still a Ragin’ Cajun.”