Most of us couldn’t believe our eyes this afternoon, myself included. As I opened my e-mail preparing for yet another day of preseason football camp, I read the subject line of my newest message as my jaw dropped.
“COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT TONY FRANK REMOVES ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, WILL SOON LAUNCH NATIONAL SEARCH”
After pausing for a few seconds, I shared a look of shock with the other four men in the Colorado State media room. Immediately, questions began running amok in my mind. And as I began writing my own version of the story, the recurring thought popping into my head was, “Man, CSU is going to miss Jack Graham.”
Whether you liked him, disliked him, agreed, or disagreed with him, one thing cannot be disputed about Captain Jack – he loved his Rams.
Graham was a Ram from the beginning, playing quarterback for the 1973-74 team coached by the legendary Sark Arslanian. After graduating from the University in 1975, Graham was drafted by the Miami Dolphins before beginning his career in the insurance world.
And while Graham would go on to be one of the innovators in the insurance and reinsurance business over the next 30 years, he always held his time at Colorado State very close to his heart.
After the firing of former athletic director Paul Kowalczyk, Captain Jack came to University president Tony Frank with a bold plan for Colorado State athletics. Graham was tired of watching his alma mater serve as the doormat for other programs when it came to athletics. So when he was hired in 2011, it was time for a “Bold New Era.”
And that’s exactly what Colorado State got.
Under Jack’s captaincy, CSU won its first bowl game in five years, played in consecutive men’s NCAA basketball tournaments, won the its first women’s basketball league title in more than a decade, and even added a Division I women’s soccer program that the city of Fort Collins had desired for years. But none of those even came close to Captain Jack’s greatest accomplishment – turning Colorado State athletics into a “Ramily.”
As a resident of Fort Collins for the past 18 years, I’ve been to more CSU athletic events than most. I watched Becky Hammon in her prime as she bamboozled defenses with a deft 3-point shot. I was there when Bradlee Van Pelt taunted a CU defender as he ran in for a touchdown by flicking the ball off his helmet in celebration. I stood in awe of 7-footer Jason Smith as he single-handedly carried undermatched Ram hoops’ teams to victory. I’ve seen a lot as a resident of this town, but I’ve never seen the kind of genuine friendship and care between athletes of different sports that Jack Graham and his athletic department promoted. It was truly incredible to see basketball players like Daniel Bejarano, Gerson Santo and JJ Avila braving the elements last fall to support the CSU women’s soccer team on a field that is nearly half an hour from campus. Or too see football and basketball players sitting for hours in the sun to watch their friends compete on the Jack Christiansen track this spring. You don’t see that just anywhere.
And that’s exactly what CSU will miss when Jack packs up his office and moves on to the next chapter of his life. Whether Tony Frank was right to fire him isn’t my call. For now, we don’t know what the issues were, or what they disagreed on, or why it eventually led to Jack’s demise, but for now that’s a moot point. We may find out why in the next few weeks, or we may never find out. But as Dr. Frank and his advisors begin the national search for a new athletic director I can tell you what they won’t find – someone who cares anywhere near as much about Colorado State athletics as Mr. Jack Graham does. He’s a man who bleeds green and gold and can never be replaced in the lives of the athletes he connected with.
The CSU “Ramily” lost its leader today and they’ll never find another one quite like him.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.