8:47 PM EST, February 26, 2013
FAIRFIELD — We know why Bobby Valentine is here. This is one more step on his path to spiritual enlightenment, a path that includes doing everything, everywhere in one lifetime, culminating one day with Bobby V's repainting Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and becoming The Most Interesting Man in the World in Dos Equis commercials.
We know, too, why Sacred Heart has named Valentine, who will be 63 when he takes over July 1, as its executive director of athletics. The school wants to make him the face of its Division I athletics, a face that, incidentally, wears a smirk nearly as big as the one on the Pioneers mascot. Raising funds? Recruiting sponsors? Recruiting athletes on the fence? These could be Valentine's greatest contributions.
Bobby V is cashing in on his need to be the greatest Renaissance Man since da Vinci. Sacred Heart is looking to cash in on Valentine's fame, name and brain with what school President John Petillo called "out of the box" thinking.
Here's what we don't know: How well it will all work. We certainly don't know how long it will last.
"I had a lifetime contract once in Japan and I found out it was the lifetime of the owner's dog," Valentine said Tuesday at an introductory press conference/pep rally packed with 300 people. "I don't deal with the future. I deal with today and I'm very excited about what I'm doing today."
"It's a term that will last until we no longer are mutually beneficial to each other."
Over-under? Eighteen months.
That's why the opening question by Bill Paxton of the Connecticut Post was both brilliant in its terseness and maddening to Valentine, school authorities and locals who would rush to publicly rubber-stamp the move.
"At this point in your life, why do you want to be an athletic director at Sacred Heart?" asked Paxton, who had broken the news of Valentine's hiring. "Some people think this is kind of a joke and stuff like that. What can you say about people not taking you seriously as athletic director?"
"Ouch," Valentine said. "If it's a joke, it's an inside joke. I'm very serious about everything I do in my life. I deal with passion and commitment and I deal with excellence. I really didn't think I'd be insulted with the first question but what the hell."
"I'm a guy who loves challenges. I was a ballroom dancer during the Babe Ruth League state and regional championships. … I was a manager at 35 and never managed before. I opened a restaurant and I'd never flipped a hamburger before. I do things that are presented to me so I can be challenged and strive for excellence every day."
Yes, Bobby V is a Pioneer in every way. A three-sport guy at Rippowam-Stamford, he arguably was the greatest overall athlete in state high school history. Major leaguer, manager in Texas, New York, Boston and Japan, media analyst, restaurateur, entrepreneur, ballroom dancer, self-proclaimed inventor of the sandwich wrap, Stamford director of public safety. … Jim Barquinero, Sacred Heart senior vice president of athletics and student affairs, said that ordinarily the AD's job today would require a bachelor's degree and preferably a master's, but Valentine has an equivalent degree called experience.
"A boatload of life's experiences," Valentine said. "I've lived in five different countries. I've spoken different languages. I've been fired. I've been up. I've been broke. I've been rich. I have things that I think every person in life wants to experience."
"My mom once said, 'You're not going to be an athlete only.' My English teacher said, 'You're not going to be an athlete only.' I became the lead in the class play. I became a ballroom dancer. I became a student council president. I never wanted to limit myself and I haven't."
Ring, ring. Da Vinci and Al Gore just called. They're jealous.
Here's the thing. It was never spelled out in the press release. It was never introduced at the press conference. Not until afterward did Barquinero spell out that the school — specifically Barquinero and Valentine — will hire a deputy AD. "A clear No. 2 who will run the day-to-day with us, take care of those nuts and bolts," Barquinero said. All the administrators will report to that person to allow Bobby to have freedom to fundraise and be the face of the school.
That makes a big difference. That makes a lot of common sense. Because let's face it, Valentine might be the smartest man in the room, but he has so, so much to learn about the NCAA and operating a 31-varsity team program.
Now, will the No. 2 be a "yes" man/woman for Bobby V, who sometimes sends off conflicting messages? Or will that No. 2 be a more powerful personality who could cause sparks? Will the No. 2 be groomed to be the next AD? Or a Figure Filbert holding the fort as Bobby V learns the ropes? We'll have to see. This much is sure. Sacred Heart got a lot of bang out of Valentine on this day.
"His arrival certainly allows us to view the world of intercollegiate athletics differently," Barquinero said. "Our being a mid-major, a lot of times you sit around and ask, 'Can we be the next Gonzaga, the next Butler, can we be those schools that prior to their runs nobody really knew them in terms of a household name?' Yeah. Will other conferences consider us? Maybe."
"If you have a family of a top recruit, going up against the Fairfields, Quinnipiacs, a Hartford, we'll have times when the kid's a tweener, and Bobby Valentine is able to come into the room. We've been kidding [baseball coach] Nick Giaquinto, 'If you can't get good baseball kids now, you'll never get them.'"
Valentine said his recruitment started with a text message from the school's legal counsel Michael Larobina a couple of months ago. There were phone calls, a half-dozen meetings. He's from Stamford, from Connecticut, always was, always will be, he said, even got his plot picked out. He's knows so many Sacred Heart graduates. He respects coaches like Dave Bike and Giaquinto. He made it sound so easy-peasy.
"I saw some foolish talking head on TV saying, 'Geez, Valentine's baseball coach really has to watch out,'" Valentine said. "That fool didn't know I had Nicky's picture on the wall at my restaurant in a place of honor."
He was smirking when he said that, yes. Bobby V gave the impression Tuesday that life's pain rolls off his back. Questions if he'd leave for a managing job? "Silly." Boston, 2012? You remember the manager and the Red Sox team doomed to a 93-loss failure?
"It was six months of a 62-year life, six months of a 42-year career in baseball," Valentine said. "It's a blip. It's a little spot on the radar as far as I'm concerned. I thought I did a hell of a job in Boston. I thought what had to be done there was done except for winning a pennant. Connie Mack wasn't going to win with that team."
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, 50 Yankee fans just burst their spleens laughing and agreeing that you did a hell of a job.
"Difficult? I don't think that's the word," Valentine said of his Red Sox tenure. "I didn't think it was that tough. Kind of silly most of the time, I thought."
"It wasn't the biggest challenge of my life. It wasn't the most exciting challenge of my life. It was just one of those things."
So now Bobby V is on to another one of those things in his Renaissance life. And it was refreshing to hear Valentine, the smartest man in the room, admit that he couldn't get his head wrapped around all the realignment in college sports and, yes, even admit something he couldn't do.
"It wasn't a hard decision to ballroom dance because my mom said I was either going to sing or dance," Valentine said. "I realized I couldn't sing."
OK, cross off winning "American Idol." The Sistine Chapel is still in play.
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