BY JOHN DAVIS
Contributing Writer – The Oxford Citizen
Photos COURTESY OLE MISS ATHLETICS
As published in the May/June 2016 Issue of Rebel Nation Magazine™
There was a time when money didn’t flow like a river at Ole Miss. Pete Boone, the athletics director during two different tenures, knows that as well as anyone. If he wanted to get something built, he had to raise all the money for the project first. That was a rule Chancellor Robert Khayat wanted him to follow.
“There was no money during those 15 years, with a four-year break in between,” Boone said. “It was a zero sum game. If tennis needed an extra dollar, I had to go to softball to get the dollar. We were raising money and we had raised more money through the foundation than had ever been raised, but there was an insatiable appetite. It’s real and it’s real in the sense of keeping up with the other schools. And that’s a whole different topic.”
Not having a lot of money made Boone, and his staff, manage the money at their disposal. That was really his strength, the big reason he was even running the athletics at his alma mater.
“My whole background has always been shareholder benefit and here, your shareholders are the players and the coaches,” Boone said. “They are the ones that you are having to please, basically. You certainly have to please the fans but in order to please them, you have to put the programs in place to win. I’ve never been in the position where I had more money than I had projects.”
The SEC Network was voted on four years ago and approved by all the schools of the league. The league then formed a relationship with ESPN to get things rolling by hiring the necessary people it would take to run such an operation. At the time Boone and others voted on the measure, the estimate was $10 million that would be brought in annually. The amount garnered by the schools has been even greater than that, and Boone said another benefit is the amount of leverage a school can now take on because of the extra revenue.
“You can go and borrow an extra $50 to $100 million because you have the cash flow to pay for it,” Boone said. “The closest thing we had to doing that was back when we expanded the east side of the stadium and added 20 rows to the stadium and added the Rebel Club. That was a $12 million project if you can imagine. And that was big then. I had to convince Robert Khayat that we could raise $1 million a year to cover it based on the club seating. I finally convinced him because he was always about raising the money before you do it. That’s not the way the world works.”
Boone was able to lead an effort that got $150 million worth of projects built at Ole Miss during his two tenures. He added that only about $30 million in debt came along with that.
The economy was just starting to return four years ago when Boone was leaving. Now, things are much better, and as Boone put it, “everyone is happy and they have more discretionary income to spend.”
This past January, The Pavilion opened to the general public. Boone was in attendance when the Rebels hosted Alabama in men’s basketball. The project had been in the works for years, back when Boone was where Ross Bjork is now, and back when Danny White helped get things going as the senior associate AD.
“The thing that is fantastic is to see it come to fruition. It took two really tough parts. The first part, the origination, that’s really tough to do,” Boone said. “And then probably the hardest is finishing. And they finished it well. We had about $60 million, maybe about $70 million, in pledges when I left. But that didn’t get the job done. With Hugh (Freeze) coming in and Ross coming in, they have really done a fantastic job. And Andy (Kennedy) has been real good. He’s gone to the NCAAs and winning 20 games a year. The things that are drawing the fans’ attention is very positive right now. Ross has done a fantastic job of rallying the donors. And Keith (Carter) has done a great job, so it’s great to see all their hard work come to be something like that.”
The former Rebel offensive lineman, who played for the legendary Johnny Vaught, first served as AD from 1994 through 1998. He came back to Oxford in 2002 and served in that role for another decade. He keeps up with the Rebels from a sports standpoint even if doesn’t always attend the games like he did for the opening of The Pavilion.
“I watch it all on TV,” Boone said. “I dearly love Ole Miss and I’m passionate about it, but I’ve been to a lot of Ole Miss stuff. I probably don’t enjoy the crowds as much as maybe I used to. I still buy tickets and donate money because it takes all of that to make it work.”
Baseball is the sport that Boone goes to the most because, as he said, it’s easy to get in and get out.
“You can go in the first or second inning and if you need to leave in the eighth or ninth inning, you can,” Boone said. “It’s just not as intense. Of course, Mike (Bianco) has always put a great team out there. I’m just pretty flexible about what I can do.”
Going on a week-long vacation is something Boone never did when he was AD. He also rarely worked on his home, and the 165 acres that surround it, because he just never had the time. He and his wife built a home down in Orange Beach, Alabama since he has retired, and that took a year to complete. Boone also said he works out four or five days a week for about an hour.
“I always find things to do. It used to be, when something was broken or the battery was down, I would get so frustrated because I only had so much time to get it done in,” Boone said. “Now, my patience is so much better. If something isn’t working right, I can go and get the stuff to do it right and learn how to fix myself. I’m not frustrated at all or like I used to be because I have the time to get it done. It’s been great. I have really enjoyed it.”
Andy Kennedy is the last head coach that Boone was involved in hiring. He didn’t hire Bianco, but he did have to hold off LSU from getting him back when the Tigers let go of Smoke Laval. Boone said that former LSU AD Skip Bertman called him and said “What was I going to do?”
“I told him ‘Skip, it won’t be a money thing. He won’t leave here because of money,’” Boone told Bertman. “He may leave for other things like loyalty to LSU and playing ball there. And he said that’s what I wanted to know. Mike and I got together and really gave him what he deserved, No. 1, based on what other SEC winning coaches were getting. I think he and his family just love it here and have for years.”
Of course, Boone had to “keep” Houston Nutt away from Kansas in the late part of his tenure. Boone said a lot of speculation about a coach leaving for another job revolves around agents, and fans, he said.
“Someone says something and someone repeats it and now there are two sources,” Boone said with a laugh. “Most of those things, there was nothing to them. If anything, it was a fleeting thought on some AD’s mind. Bertman was the only AD that called and they’re supposed to call. That’s a NCAA rule. Everything is done back door now, and always has been, I’m sure.”
Boone and Bertman were close when the two were in office. The two knew each other when Boone lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was working in the banking business.
“He and Joe Dean, we just had a great relationship,” Boone said. “The best part of it all was being in the athletics director group with all those iconic sorts of AD’s. It was a great time to be in that group.”
Mike Slive was somebody who Boone said made a big difference in regards to the SEC, and involving everyone compared to Roy Kramer, who Boone dealt with more his first tenure.
“Roy he’s a nice guy, great guy. At the time, if you can believe it, I was actually new school from a thinking standpoint, and to a certain extent, it felt like you had to earn some stripes in order to get a voice at the table with Roy,” Boone said. “When Mike came in, he just encouraged everyone to talk. There were many times early and then when I was the chairman where the discussion would get to be pretty intense and it would just stop. Well, Robert’s Rule of Order is when you don’t have any more discussion, you ask for a vote. Mike would just tap me on the hand and say ‘Let’s just wait a minute.’ And sure enough, somebody would say something and then somebody else would say something and you actually got the facts and feelings out on the table in order to make good decisions. Mike brought that sort of feeling to everyone, that you were just as important as the next person. We got a lot done. And in those meetings, it’s not so easy going. There are things that affect one school negatively that affect another school positively. You have to work through those things and I think Mike did an outstanding job of making everyone feel like they had a voice. When votes were taken and decisions were made, we were all one going forward.” – RN
This is just a sample of the type of features you’ll find in every issue of Rebel Nation Magazine™. The Sept/Oct issue is up next. Subscribe online here or find a store location near you here and pick up a copy.