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This is not so much a sports column as a cautionary tale. Think of it like that country song, only with a twist: Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be athletic directors.

Once upon a time, in a big city next to a big ocean, there was this special person everybody loved. We'll call him AD Pat. Resemblances to a real person are merely coincidental.

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AD Pat played high school football in the big city next to the big ocean, stayed to play in the big football university in town, and even for the big pro team.

Even while having his head bashed in by men 150 pounds heavier, he kept his wits, retained his brain, even became a Rhodes scholar, a lawyer and successful businessman.

Through it all, he kept it in perspective.

He also retained a sense of humor, rare in big-time football, where touchdowns and fumbles become life and death.

He encouraged friends to de-romanticize him, laughing along to stories about the day he was carried off the field on a stretcher with a broken pinkie finger. It wasn't true, but it was fun and, more important, it un-glamorized a part of his life that was less important than family and career.

For years, using his business and legal background to establish personal financial security and community stature, he stayed below the public target line. He appeared at many charity events and often showed up with both a speech and a check for the charity in his pocket.

His big university needed him, and he became a trustee. He wasn't devoid of ego, but he was more driven by duty to serve, to roll up sleeves and pitch in. Sometimes, there was too much pitching in and not enough pre-thought.

As he got older, his competitive urges led him to golf. With plenty of athletic skill remaining, he carried a single-digit handicap. With the means to do so, he also became a collector of golf club memberships around his big city, and even across the country.

He loved nothing better than to take friends to one of the clubs, each prestigious, and be the ultimate host. You reached for your wallet at your own peril. He wasn't showing off. He was just terminally generous.

Along the way, he made thousands of friends and influenced a like number of people.

There were also, in retrospect, mistakes.

Television recognized his talent and personality and recruited him to do the color commentary of his school's archrival. He was a smash hit, but many fans of his school hated it, especially when the archrival won the game.

Still, that was merely a blip. Most of the negativity about it came from the place most negativity comes these days in the world of college football — rabid non-alum and under-informed fans.

His broadcasting trips to the Midwest for the games of the archrival almost always were a family affair. He had four children, two boys and two girls. One was almost always along on the trip.

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This year, when he was scheduled to go to a meeting in Indianapolis, about the same time the state was pushing through a bill that would allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers for "religious reasons," AD Pat canceled the trip to honor his gay son, Ryan. He did it publicly.

When Ryan told his parents that he was gay, AD Pat said, "We should celebrate this."

One day a few years ago, AD Pat's school got in trouble with the NCAA. The school's president looked across the table at a trustees' meeting and saw his solution.

AD Pat always had a hard time saying no.

The choice was inspired, but the road was rocky.

From the start, his intentions were honorable and the no-more-athletic-cheating mandate was quickly grasped and managed. The school won conference titles and national titles. Things such as tennis and volleyball were a big deal for AD Pat. So was preparing dozens for upcoming U.S. Olympic success.

But all that mattered was big-slime college football. AD Pat inherited AD Mike's coach. The coach knew the game but was quirky and didn't win quickly enough. He was fired at the airport, upon his return from a bad loss.

AD Pat did it there and then because the team had a bye week and everybody, including much of the team, was scattering out of town the next day. It was his only chance to do it the right way, face to face, all hands on deck. But the site of the firing, never fully understood, remained a bigger deal than the firing.

Next, he hired a coach who turned out to have a history of alcohol use. The events that led to his firing by AD Pat — a one-more-chance decision that became a second breakdown and betrayal — turned the lights even brighter on AD Pat.

The big city's local paper ran an investigative story, which is its right and duty. It said that AD Pat was on too many boards and spent too much time on outside interests. It also reported that he was paid for work on some nonprofit boards.

That raised many eyebrows. It violated no rules, just normal sensibilities. This was not the AD Pat beloved by so many. It raised questions only answered by concluding that he hadn't paid close attention, hadn't thought things through.

This also pointed to a character flaw.

AD Pat always saw the good in people. He could talk tough, but was skeptic-challenged, a glass-half-full person living in a poisoned fish tank of big-time college football.

That would explain the second chance for the second coach. People who see the positive in everybody always assume the best will happen, that good will eventually be achieved.

Now, there are two likely paths.

AD Pat, with current health issues, may decide, or be told by doctors, to go back to private equity, family time and the pursuit of scratch golf.

Or, health permitting, he may dig in, persevere to happier football Saturdays and seasons.

Rushing to judgment is almost always disastrous.

In the end, this cautionary tale is not as much about AD Pat as it is about people's misperceptions.

And the tolerance of one very good man.

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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