Why Did SMU Really Fire Steve Orsini?

OrsiniSteve.jpeg
SMU
Steve Orsini brought in millions to SMU's athletic department. Why was he fired?
You don't shoot the goose that laid the golden egg. You just don't -- not unless you really, really have to or the goose stops pooping out gold. Which is why SMU's firing of athletic director Steve Orsini yesterday was so perplexing, and why the non-explanation offered by school President Gerald Turner and the unnamed sources in this morning's Dallas Morning News (basically that Turner and Orsini didn't see eye-to-eye) are so unsatisfying.

Both my parents are SMU alums, and growing up my dad and I would go to a handful of SMU basketball games each year, avoiding the football games because I didn't care much for football (Editor's note: What are you, French?), and because I think my dad preferred not to see the Mustangs get slaughtered by third-rate teams in the Cotton Bowl, always embarrassingly empty. The death penalty, which came down when I was a toddler, was always spoken of with some bitterness, when it was mentioned at all.

Then came Steve Orsini.

It was with considerable relief that long-suffering Mustang fans like my dad watched as the football program was resurrected after Orsini was hired in 2006. Winning records, competitiveness, bowl games, all of which he delivered in short order, were unthinkable before his arrival.

This was all fueled, of course, by money, and lots of it. There was, until recently, a profile of Orsini on SMU's website; it's since been replaced with an announcement that associate athletic director Tim Leonard will serve as an interim replacement. But it is still available on a cached version of the site, and it praises Orsini's "fundraising prowess."

2008-09 was SMU's best fundraising year to date, as the Mustangs added over $4.5 million to the coffers in annual gifts, and SMU also set a record in royalties received. To land Jones, Orsini convinced over 20 donors to join his creation, "The Circle of Champions," and commit $100,000 a year for five years, giving SMU the ability to compete financially with top-25 institutions.

Orsini made some mistakes (former basketball coach Matt Doherty never quite earned his half-mil salary), and he may have butted heads with Turner behind the scenes over the hiring of new basketball coach Larry Brown, as the News suggests, but does that override Orsini's undeniable success, both on the field and with donors? It's hard to believe that it would, especially at a school that by all appearances aspires to join the elite in college athletics. Especially at a school that was happy enough a year ago to offer him a four-year contract extension last year.

Maybe Turner is legitimately uneasy at the money that now sloshes around the athletic department and fears an increasing shift in the university's focus toward athletics and away from academics. (In a fundraising pitch on SMU's website, Orsini urges SMU alums to "Pony Up!") Or maybe Turner just really hated Orsini.

No one's saying right now. The university is declining to comment on the matter, as is Orsini. When I stopped by his University Park house on my way home from work yesterday, his wife told me he's not ready to talk.

All of which leaves this fair game to wild speculation.

Like what if some of that money went where it wasn't supposed to go? In a Bloomberg Businessweek article on the resurgence of football team published last year, SMU history professor James Hopkins worries about the big-money culture developing in the athletic department.

"The death penalty left a black mark on the entire institution, which took years to recover. I look at the recent football scandals at Miami and Ohio State, and as a historian I think that it can happen again here, too."

Again, wild speculation, but it will have to do until more answers surface. Maybe Orsini will have them when I stop by the house again. See you around 6ish, Mrs. Orsini?


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26 comments
Paul
Paul

When will SMU have a school that the football team can be proud of?

Ed Carter
Ed Carter

Need to do some research there buddy. SMU Athletic Department lost over a $100 MILLION since he was AD. I think that's a solid reason to fire.

GuiltyBystander
GuiltyBystander

According to a story in the student newspaper just over 2 weeks ago, over the last 7 years the SMU athletic department has over $113 million in losses. Anyone think that had something/anything to do with Orsini getting the big haircut?

scottindallas
scottindallas

I heard that a $100million had either gone missing or was short or some such, your entire premise may be wrong.  That said, I'm gonna read the comments now.  I thought I heard that on NPR, but if could've been some other source

Curious Chick
Curious Chick

I agree with the question about money. Turner makes 2.8 million a year.....he appoints his own trustees....who's gonna question the "absolute power" guy. I WOULD LIKE TO SEE A UNIVERSITY WIDE AUDIT.....MAYBE THE ADMINISTRATION IS UP TO SOME OF THEIR SAME OLD TRICKS?

Jay
Jay

Maybe Orsini demanded that President Turner start calling him "DeLoss."

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Or maybe just maybe someone was questioning someone's Sleeping arrangements ? And wasn't happy ?

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

My guess is - dead woman or live boy.

phe_75034
phe_75034

Hey Mr. Editor: You're paying enough attention to question Eric's manhood (or nationality, which is obviously the same thing), but you can't get on him to close a parenthesis?

:)

Seriously, I wondered a lot of this myself when I heard the news yesterday. What, exactly, DOES SMU want out of it's athletic programs? Do they know? I sure don't.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Golden egg? More like a plastic egg spray-painted gold.

They're no TCU, don't kid yourself.

Guest
Guest

Those "losses" include SMU's sticker price for every scholarship athlete.

SMU's deficit is not particularly large once you factor in how expensive the list price of the school is.

Steve
Steve

 SO YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE A UNIVERSITY-WIDE AUDIT OF THIS PRIVATE SCHOOL?  THAT SOUNDS GENIUS.

Outside Source
Outside Source

Craig James and Larry Brown's controversial Super Bowl MVP had something to do with it.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

I honestly can't get him to close his parentheses. I'm constantly badgering him to do this, but he refuses. Something to discuss on his next evaluation.

Bob
Bob

SMU beat TCU and dominated the early eighties.  You guys did get hosed by not playing for BCS game vs Oregon. Auburn should have never been able to play in the game. SEC covered the Cam Scam.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

It's all relative though, isn't Scruff? Isn't the money he raised pretty golden by SMU's standards?

scottindallas
scottindallas

 but, that certainly undercuts the meme of the story, that Orsini was some rainmaker. 

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

The Soviets dominated the early 80s too, where are they now? Got any more dated references for me? Going to talk about how awesome Falcon Crest was? Plymouth cars? New Coke?

I didn't go to TCU, dingus. But I recognize how SMU really, really wishes they could've had TCU's past decade. Someone who'd get rejected by UTA can recognize that.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I heard that a $100 had either gone missing or was short or some such.  You might want to check into those reports. 

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Has SMU even decided on their own standards? Seems like they think of themselves much more highly than is realistic, which may have been rather detrimental to Orsini.

scottindallas
scottindallas

 one game doesn't mean shit, put a season together.  And, don't go bragging that you found an acorn amidst a loosing season. 

Guest
Guest

A couple of years ago? You mean last year?

scottindallas
scottindallas

my father's an SMU alum, and it's kinda sad to see them bow up about an upset win a couple of years ago, and that's about it.  I'm indifferent personally.  But, god, it's like bringing a switchblade to a gun fight. 

scottindallas
scottindallas

not sure those standards are all that high if you're paying full tuition.

Steve
Steve

Yes they have indeed decided their own standards.   Unfortunately, they are stricter than the NCAA, and most other schools, regarding athletic enrollment.  This was the burr in June's saddle that spurred him to seek greener pastures way out west.

P.S.: Fuck TCU.

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