I am just going to be blunt about this. I am borderline happy to see Mike Thomas walk out the door. OK in complete seriousness I am very happy to see Mike Thomas walk out the door. I don't think that he was ever really a good fit for the University of Cincinnati. Brian Kelly coined the phrase that will forever define Mike Thomas's tenure in Clfiton in Josh Katzowitz's excellent Bearcats Rising. Kelly. The quote verbatim.
Maybe this won't be looked at kindly, but we have a tendency to operate with a MAC mentality. It's easier to say no to things than to find solutions to problems. Although these are tight times for everybody, I try to remind everybody that we are in the Big East now.
Brian Kelly - 2009
Kelly makes no mention what so ever of Thomas in the phrase. But I couldn't be any clearer who the intended target of the comment was. Mike Thomas as the Athletic Director sets the agenda, the tone, the mindset of the entire department. That is, in essence the job at hand for the AD. There are other things involved sure in the job, corporate relations, media rights, marketing ect. but an AD must have a clear idea of where he wants the department to head, and most importantly a plan for getting that result. That feeling of innate momentum that good leaders give to those under their charge, well under Thomas...nothing.
I have made no bones about my distaste for Thomas. I know for a fact that I am not alone with this sentiment. The Mark Dantonio staff never had any respect for Thomas, they thought that he was way out of his depth in the position and not remotely able to give the department the direction and leadership that it needed.
Brian Kelly's relationship with Thomas was at best servilely strained and at worst completely untenable. Thomas fought Kelly on absolutely everything he wanted. Kelly didn't like the cell phone plans offered by the department, Thomas wouldn't entertain alternatives so Kelly wound up paying for the staff's phones out of his pocket. Kelly wanted a practice facility, Thomas dragged his feet so Kelly basically had to strike out on his own and do the fund raising for the project himself. Kelly wanted to look into expanding Nippert from the day he got here. Thomas didn't but he paid lip service to it. He ordered a study, the results of which still haven't been published. Brian Kelly had to kick Thomas in the balls and put him in a headlock to get anything done.
Even Butch Jones has already found a point of contention with Thomas this past off season. Jones sent someone to Ole Miss to observe how they handle their tailgate operations at the Grove. Jones was sufficiently impressed by what he heard, and more likely saw on video or at least pictures that he came up with a plan to sell tailgating spots at Nippert. There are 100 spots available, 84 of them have been sold. The problem isn't that Jones had to take time to do that. It's that in 5 years, the last 4 of which shattered attendance records one after another a similar idea never occurred to Thomas. Not once.
And these issues of Thomas not being any easy guy to work with, it's not just with the coaches either. UC is reportedly one of the most difficult schools in the country to get licensed with. If you have ever wondered why it is such a struggle to find anything branded UC outside of I-275 that's why. I live in North Central Ohio and I can't find anything UC branded up here. Anything I want I have to order. They allow only a select few companies to be licensed to create UC gear and are always on the lookout for anyone trying to circumvent their licensing agreements. I know that the fault for that is as much with the University itself as it is with Thomas. But the question is a simple one. Do you want people to be flying your flag, wearing your gear and representing your University even if it is with a backdated logo like Bennie Coney's hat. Or do you want to protect the companies that work for you? The answer is simple, to me at least. That is something that expansion of vendors and licensing of products is something that Thomas should fight for as an AD. He did nothing.
I will remember Mike Thomas as the guy who made three good to great hires for the most important coaching jobs in the department, sort them as you please, turned UCats into a legitimate fundraising entity and did almost nothing else right in 5 years. I recognize that Thomas was dealt a very difficult hand with the department's finances. But there is no doubt that he could have done more. In the end I am happy to see him go.