Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State interim president John Engler decided the university had no need to conduct a national search for a new athletic director after receiving feedback on interim leader and longtime Spartans employee Bill Beekman.
Engler and a host of other Michigan State brass formally introduced Beekman as the school’s new permanent athletic director Monday morning.
Engler cited Beekman’s “calming presence” and his ability to handle legal and business matters as reasons for offering him the job.
“I think we could have looked across the country and been hard-pressed to find somebody that knows Michigan State the way Bill does with the qualities he has,” Engler said. “We ended up not needing to do a national search.”
Engler asked Beekman to serve as the interim athletic director in February shortly after he took over as the university’s interim president. The two men replaced former president Lou Anna Simon and former athletic director Mark Hollis after both resigned during the last week of January, the same week that dozens of sexual assault survivors chastised Michigan State in court for its culture and its administration’s response to sexual assault and violence against women.
Simon resigned the day former university doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in state prison for abusing his patients. Hollis resigned two days later, hours before an Outside the Lines report that detailed a pattern of denial, inaction and information suppression surrounding reports of assault involving Michigan State athletics.
Beekman said he plans to be “laser-focused” on the success of student-athletes in his role as athletic director. He said the university and the athletic department must do better to build a culture that places a priority on health, safety and wellness of its students in the wake of the Nassar scandal, which he referred to as some of the “darkest” years in Michigan State history.
The university has started a formal search process to replace Engler as the university’s president. He said Monday that he did not consider leaving the decision to hire a permanent athletic director for his eventual replacement.
Beekman is a Michigan State graduate who has worked at the university since 1995 in a variety of posts. He served as the secretary of the board of trustees, the executive director of the alumni association and an assistant dean for the College of Human Medicine, among other roles.
A month after assigning Beekman to a temporary role in the athletic department, Engler said he planned to conduct a national search for a new voice to lead Michigan State’s athletic department on a permanent basis. Members of Michigan State’s faculty, student body and community have held protests and signed petitions in the past six months asking the administration to hire outsiders to bring a fresh perspective to the university as it attempts to change its culture.
Engler said Monday that Beekman can “check the box” when it comes to providing a fresh perspective because his last 23 years at the university hasn’t included any previous work in athletics. Beekman said that improving the culture on campus is a “very, very high priority for me.”
“You can come up with all kinds of policies and procedures that can collect dust on the shelf, but you really have to believe it in your heart,” he said. “You have to think about it every day as you go through your day. That’s the culture piece.”
To those disappointed that Michigan State did not consider candidates from outside of East Lansing for the position, Beekman said: “Give us six months or a year and re-assess. I think you’ll be pleased.”
Beekman received unanimous support from the school’s board of trustees, according to chairman Brian Breslin. Football coach Mark Dantonio, men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant also provided votes of confidence for their new boss.
Dantonio said Beekman has been a unifying force for the athletic department in the past six months. Izzo said Beekman has been a good listener, a man of integrity and someone who understand the complexity of being a modern-day athletic director. He also stressed the importance of all of the university’s leaders agreeing on Beekman’s appointment.
“I think this time right now unanimous decisions are imperative as we heal and try to advance,” Izzo said.
Beekman, who has kept a low profile in his five months as an interim director, said he was initially surprised when Engler asked him to take over on a temporary basis in February because of his lack of experience in athletics. He said he has received help from fellow Big Ten athletic directors and conference commissioner Jim Delany in getting up to speed.
“As I met with the coaches and met with the student-athletes, it really became very rewarding,” Beekman said. “They’re easy people to work for. Certainly as the months progressed, I felt more comfortable in the role and thought that it would be a great challenge to take on.”
Photo: Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK