Incoming University of Miami President Julio Frenk grew up in Mexico playing soccer and basketball. American football became entrenched in his life when he studied for his doctorate at Michigan – another high-profile program in the world of collegiate football.
Frenk, 61, assured the audience at his introductory news conference Monday that he “indeed,’’ is “fully aware of the great tradition in athletics and in particular football’’ at Miami, that he is “talking with the community to understand their expectations and dreams for that part of the university,’’ and that he sees “athletics as an integral part of a comprehensive education.’’
Frenk told The Miami Herald after his address that he went to “many, many football games at Michigan. When I was a student I almost didn’t miss any. I’m looking forward to it here.’’
With current Miami president Donna Shalala retiring her position June 1 to become president of the Clinton Foundation, her replacement was highly anticipated by UM football fans intent on the program returning to its glory days.
Frenk, currently the dean of the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health and Mexico’s former Minister of Health, starts his job at UM on Sept. 1, but he met with head coaches for about 45 minutes Monday.
“Very nice guy,’’ said UM baseball coach Jim Morris after the meeting. “He’s well rounded, he’s learning and I was told that he would be very positive toward athletics.’’
UM athletic director Blake James called it “a great day’’ for Miami. Football coach Al Golden, under considerable pressure to win in 2015 after a 6-7 season and 11 losses in his last 19 games, said in a prepared statement that it was “a tremendous day’’ and that he expected Frenk to take the school “to even great heights.’’
Before Frenk met with the coaches, basketball coach Jim Larranaga praised the hire.
“He’s got an incredible background academically and in public health,’’ Larranaga said. “As a coach you hope that your administration is going to be very, very supportive of athletics, and from what I understand, he is.’’
When asked if the direction of the sports program was an important component in the hiring of a new president, Richard Fain, the Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO who headed the presidential search committee, said, “Of course.’’
“At the U,’’ Fain told The Herald, you can’t not have that be an important dialogue about the future of the university.’’
Stuart Miller, CEO of the Lennar Corporation and chair of the UM Board of Trustees, said sports was “absolutely one of the priorities’’ in the search. “It’s part of our brand. It’s part of what defines the university across the country.
“The fact that we’ve brought on a president that has such an open mind, a mind of inclusiveness, and recognizes all parts of the university gives me a great deal of confidence.’’
Shalala brought UM through a long NCAA investigation and has taken much criticism for the school’s decline in football. She said she believes “UM fans should be excited’’ by Frenk’s hire.
“First of all,’’ she said, “we have a great group of coaches for our athletics program, we’ve got stability and we’ve got big financial investments in the program.
“I just think the best is yet to come.’’
I talked to 104.3 FM The Ticket executive producer and on-air personality Brian London, and he said during today's "The Eric and Leroy Show,'' he "received dozens of texts regarding the hire.
"The majority of texts from sports fans were positive,'' London said. "The majority of people we heard from were encouraged by Frenk's educational background and the benefit of expanding the school with research, and in fundraising as well. There were only a small minority of nasty texts. But some fans were concerned about Dr. Frenk's lack of experience wtih American football.''
MIAMI HERALD QUESTION TO FRENK:
Throughout this long process, how much have you acquainted yourself with Miami athletics, and in particular the football program, and what do you foresee your role being with football and athletics at Miami?
FRENK: "Indeed, I am fully aware of the great tradition in athletics and in particular in football here. Again, this will be a central part of my immersion process understanding the culture, understanding what was the process through which the University of Miami, including its athletic program has come to where it is now, and I’m talking with the community to understand their expectations and their dreams for that part of the university. I will say that I see athletics as an integral part of a comprehensive education. To me it is … a part of the educational experience of our students and I value that part of the educational experience of a comprehensive education.
"But I look forward to understanding better and talking with many of the key players in more than one sense of the word player, and I will be meeting with the coaches later today in this visit and this will be a central part of that process of immersion and my process of learning more about the cultural, the history, the traditions and the expectations and dreams of this university."
MIAMI HERALD: What sport, if any, do you enjoy most as a fan and perhaps, participant, or have you ever played any sports?
“As anyone who looks at me can surmise immediately, I’m not the most athletic person. However I did play basketball when I was a younger person and I played soccer football. I was a goalkeeper. That served me greatly in the later stages of my political career, trying to keep goals away from my net.
“I enjoy football very much, having started at the University of Michigan. I was there five years because I did a Ph.D. so I got moved closer and closer to the 50-yard line… I understand the position of president comes with already a very good position on the field and I look forward [to it]. It is a game I enjoy very much, and again, it’s part of my respect to the university and my conviction that this is a key part of a comprehensive education that I look very much forward to that part of my new job starting on Sept. 1."
What are your thoughts on the new hire? My first impression is positive. I think he'll be very good for UM in general. As for the athletic program, the jury is obviously still out.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN