Rick George helped build the University of Colorado into a football powerhouse in the early 1990s.
Now, he’s going back to his roots in a bid to buttress the entire athletic department.
The 53-year-old resigned from his role as a Texas Rangers’ executive Wednesday to become the school’s athletic director, effective Aug. 12.
He’s returning to the campus where he served as the Buffaloes’ assistant athletic director for football operations from 1987 to 1991 during Hall of Fame coach Bill McCartney’s tenure. He first joined McCartney’s staff as a recruiting coordinator.
“When I was here (before), it was Ralphie II,” said George, referring to the school’s buffalo mascot. “Today it’s Ralphie V, so I’ve been gone a while. As you can imagine, I’ve lost a little of my hair, I’ve gained a little weight. The one thing I haven’t lost is my passion for CU and CU athletics.”
George will make $700,000 a year over five years, plus incentives that could push his annual pay well over $1 million, pending approval by the board of regents in its meeting the first week of August. His predecessor, Mike Bohn, made $306,640 in his final year plus $100,000 in incentives.
Bohn was forced out in May after eight years in charge of the athletic program despite being the most successful AD in school history in terms of fundraising. At the time, Chancellor Philip DiStefano said he wanted someone who would run the department like a business, one with an annual budget of $60 million.
“We found that person,” DiStefano said Wednesday.
The school wants to raise $50 million in private funds to help pay for $170 million in facility face-lifts.
“Is it doable? Heck yeah,” George said. “We’ll hit that goal, because we’re going to work hard at it.”
George has spent the last three decades as a sports executive on the pro and collegiate levels.
In his first stop in Boulder, he was credited with helping to build the talent base that made Colorado one of the most successful football programs in the country. He also was executive vice president and chief of operations for the PGA Tour, and he’s held administrative positions at Vanderbilt and the University of Illinois, where he was a four-year starter in football.
George joined the Rangers as chief operating officer in 2010 and was promoted to president of business operations in March.
“We wish Rick well as he pursues his passion of college athletics,” Rangers chief executive officer and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan said. “We appreciate his many contributions the past few years, particularly his efforts to help us increase revenues and attendance to record levels.”
George said he wouldn’t have left the Rangers for just any job, but he said during a news conference at Folsom Field, “I’m here today because I’m convinced this is the best job at the best university in the best conference in the nation.”
Over the last three years, the Rangers set club records for sales and sponsorship revenue and surpassed the 3-million mark in home attendance for the first time last season.
Those are the skills Colorado is looking for as it seeks a boost in fundraising, the elimination of a $7.5-million budget shortfall and the fixing of a fan base fractured after years of embarrassing afternoons on the football field.
“Rick’s financial and management acumen, his networking and relationship development skills, and his enthusiasm, work ethic and principled leadership all make him the ideal leader for CU athletics at this important and challenging moment in our history,” DiStefano said.
Bohn made successful hires in Tad Boyle and Linda Lappe in basketball but also fired football coaches Gary Barnett, Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree, requiring costly buyouts.
Bohn replaced Embree in December with Mike MacIntyre, who met with George for the first time before his new boss’s introductory news conference Wednesday. The two appeared to hit it off right away.
“He’s got pedigree, he’s got the character that we want to lead this program, and he’s got the experience that’s going to bring CU-Boulder’s football back to winning championships,” George said.