March 5, 2008
SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Gilleran knows it's time for a fresh face to lead the ever-emerging West Coast Conference.
The second-longest tenured Division I commissioner behind Bay Area neighbor Tom Hansen of the Pac-10, Gilleran has watched John Stockton finish up his college career, experienced the Steve Nash era at Santa Clara and the many successful runs by the Broncos and Portland in women's soccer.
He's been there for Gonzaga's dominance in men's basketball over the past decade and, this season, the WCC landing two men's teams in the Top 25 for the first time since 1973. This weekend will mark his 25th and final conference basketball tournament as commissioner before he retires May 31. And Gilleran will be recognized for his service and accomplishments throughout the event at the University of San Diego.
"There comes a time when institutional knowledge, which is wonderful, has to give way to a fresher perspective," Gilleran said, leaning back with hands folded across his head as he reflected on his job Tuesday afternoon in his office. "They need somebody to grow with them, because it's a young league. We have young administrators. They need somebody who is their man or their woman."
Right behind Gilleran in tenure is the Ivy League's Jeff Orleans, who has run that conference for 24 years and recently announced he too will step down in June 2009.
Gilleran can point to many strides made by the WCC and its eight mid-major schools. He has seen so much change, too--from the advancements in technology and using e-mail as a prime form of communication to better opportunities and resources for female athletes.
"I always thought of our league as having value beyond men's basketball," Gilleran said. "We had two of our teams compete for the championship in women's soccer a few years ago and that was wonderful. That probably year in and year out has been our best sport. We've had wonderful coaches and wonderful players. I've enjoyed it immensely. I've been blessed to have this job. I'll miss it, but it's definitely time."
The 58-year-old Gilleran, who on nice afternoons runs a 2 1/2 -mile loop around his office in this suburb south of San Francisco, likes the idea of the WCC tournament being held on a neutral court in the future. The conference could announce by tournament's end that the 2009 event will go to Las Vegas.
His successor also is likely to be named soon. Gilleran has no idea if his replacement will even keep the WCC offices in their current, expensive location. He realizes it is time for him to give way to someone new.
"When certain topics are brought up and I found myself cringing because I've had the conversation so many times, that's a clear message," he said. "People deserve better than that. They deserve better than I found myself doing."
"He has been with the West Coast Conference 24 years and it's grown so much during his tenure. I hope people appreciate everything he's done for this league. You've got eight schools, and that's not an easy deal. He's been as
fair as he can be."
- Saint Mary's Athletic Director Mark Orr
Gilleran has no idea what's next. He would like to teach sports management or sports law and joked that he might return to WCC games as a fan to "yell at the officials."
"He has been with the West Coast Conference 24 years and it's grown so much during his tenure," said second-year Saint Mary's athletic director Mark Orr. "I hope people appreciate everything he's done for this league. You've got eight schools, and that's not an easy deal. He's been as fair as he can be."
In these days of big money in athletics and many kids focusing on one sport, Gilleran knows the bottom line always will be winning and losing.
But he hopes to have positively impacted the athletes he's come across.
"I've always tried to take the long view, which in this industry maybe is counterintuitive because we are an impatient industry in an impatient world. In this industry, if you're a fan, it's very much, `What have you done for me since breakfast?"' Gilleran said.
The conference hasn't changed membership in 29 years, and the Ivy League and Pac-10 are the only ones to have their same schools intact longer than the WCC.
The stability of the WCC along with improvements in exposure by way of national television have been important in putting this league on the map. So was Gonzaga becoming an NCAA tournament darling with repeated March runs beginning in the late 1990s.
"Two things immediately come to mind: The first is the length of his tenure and the volatility and the radical changes in college athletics. He's been our leader during that time period," said Ken Anderson, Gonzaga's NCAA faculty athletics representative, institutional rep to the conference and also chairman of the WCC executive committee.
"Secondly, he's leaving us in a really good position. We are really excited about the future and have a lot of good things going for us in the conference. There have been a lot of cool accomplishments over the last quarter-century. He's provided stability to the league in a time when college athletics have been a sea of change."
Last weekend, two ranked WCC programs--Saint Mary's at Gonzaga--faced off in men's basketball for the first time in the conference's 55-year existence. The 22nd-ranked Zags won their eighth straight WCC regular-season title and will be the top seed this weekend, followed by the Gaels. Both teams have a strong chance of receiving NCAA tournament berths.
This season was the first time two WCC men's teams have been in the poll at the same time since San Francisco and former member UNLV were in for two weeks during December 1973. Gilleran hopes the WCC will eventually have parity closer to that of the Pac-10.
"In this industry, you can never get away from the W and the L," he said. "I wish we were better in men's basketball top to bottom."
A Seattle native, the 6-foot-5 1/2 Gilleran is a former college forward and three-year letter winner for Seattle University who played one season professionally in France. He worked for the NCAA prior to joining the WCC.
Hansen, the Pac-10's longtime commissioner, has served with Gilleran on the Collegiate Commissioner's Association and worked closely on NCAA matters with his WCC counterpart.
"He's been a superb member on that and has a great feel for the student athlete and a great empathy for students who are having a difficult time at school or in sports," Hansen said. "He is intellectually curious, very bright, a very fine administrator and someone I will miss in administration."