MASS athletic director Bob Marcum spent his youth in Huntington, West Virginia, and it's a good bet that's where he learned the "rope method." In places like Huntington, where the only birthright is hard work, you need to know such methods and we're not talking about hog-tying some barnyard animal.
"I do rely a lot on the rope method," says the AD. "You give a person a rope and they can do one of several things with it: They can throw it onto something and climb to the top I like those kind of people. Then there's others that put it around their necks. That's unfortunate."
Marcum himself has always taken the rope and made like Tarzan. After graduating from Marshall University in Huntington he started off small it doesn't get much smaller than the Rutland, Ohio, high school and gradually moved upward, through the schools, through the colleges. He spent eight years as associate AD at Iowa State in the `70s, became AD at Kansas from 1978 to 1982, took over the same position at South Carolina from 1982 to 1988. That job ended in hard feelings; but after a five-yeour into southland auto racing as vice-president of first the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, and then the equivalent facility at Atlanta he returned to college athletics, at UMass, in 1993.
"I'm one of these individuals that doesn't think I've ever had a bad job," says Marcum. "I've had some jobs that other people didn't think were that good."
The AD's philosophical outlook may be partly a byproduct of his job. In his line of work, some things you just have to accept. You can't argue with a final score: a 41-7 loss in football for your team is bad, and so is a buzzer-beater in basketball or a soft goal in overtime.
Marcum has also had much tougher things to accept. He's been walloped a few times by fate. He lost a daughter on an icy stretch of road as she headed off to college. And his wife to cancer, shortly after the move to Amherst. Tears well up in his eyes when he thinks about these losses.
"I don't think people can give you some cookie-cutter approach on how to handle tragedy," he says. "There were just so many good times as compared to the bad times, that you take the bad times and you just deal with them.
"I don't think of what my daughter didn't get to do, I somehow seem to think of all the things she got to do, as young as she was. And Cecile, Cecile was never excluded from my work. She was always an intricate part of it. She really liked to go to the ballgames and so forth.
"We were married for thirty-seven years and by some standards that's probably worth maybe two or three marriages."
Somewhere between lost games and the family losses worse than the first, peanuts compared to the second come the professional trials Marcum has endured. He's been subject to a crooked president at South Carolina and crooked agents here at UMass. At South Carolina, the school's president wanted him to shift some funds in defiance of proper procedure. Marcum refused; he was let go, but later won a federal case for wrongful dismissal.
More recently, in the midst of the Minutemen's rise to the top of college basketball, came the Marcus Camby imbroglio. Those behind the scenes in UMass athletics say they felt as if they were caught in some twisted, made-for-TV movie sex, money, unsavory characters, this situation had it all. Still, Marcum still discounts the claim that college athletics has become a cesspool. "I really like college athletics, I do," he says.
That's why he's proud to wear his basketball-size Final Four ring, even though UMass had to forfeit the Final Four appearance. "The ring represents a lot of things about that season," says Marcum. "We played the games. We won the games. It was more than just Marcus Camby. We had a lot of people follow that team. I don't think you can take away those memories from those people."
These days, Marcum is plowing ahead with another dream: that of moving UMass from Division I-AA to Division I-A football status. This is roughly the equivalent of trading your old Schwinn bicycle with the rusty wheels for a late-model Harley Davidson with mirror-chrome. Having logged a lot of miles on the Division I-A highway South Carolina, Kansas, and Iowa State are all I-A schools Marcum appears to experience the littler league as a bit of a by-way.
He certainly associates going I-A with being all we can be. "I remember at my interview here, one of the questions was, `What would keep you from taking this position?' And I said, `Lack of commitment by the administration.'
"I tell our people sometimes it's a little like ham and eggs," he adds. "You know, the chicken is a participant, the hog is committed." The metaphor could be faulted the hog is also dead but in Marcum's mind it expresses the logic of what sports people call "Making The Jump."
Now, Making The Jump would be expensive requiring, among other things, a multi-million-dollar expansion of Alumni Stadium. A campus task force on the issue two years ago reported a majority of its members in favor but a minority requesting a wider review. Subseqently the faculty senate considered the task force report in four of its councils and committees, and last April the full senate voted to oppose the move at this time. "Until the financial foundation for our existing academic and athletic programs is more secure, faculty members are not likely to embrace an upgrade to I-A football," says faculty senator Joseph Larson `56, 58G of the biology faculty.
Marcum's response is not nuanced. "Look," he said last fall, not long before the hopes of UConn football boosters for a similar upgrade were stalled by a doubtful legislature. "UConn is looking to move up, too, and they had some of the same concerns that people here do. But it's a matter of what our alumni and others want to be compared to. If they want to be compared to UConn and BC, then we're going to have parallel those programs.
"If UConn goes, then the biggest football rivalry in New England will be UConn and BC," says the AD. "If that's okay with people, then that's fine." (Somehow you get the feeling it wouldn't be.) Anyway, he concludes, "If we want to be competing with those programs, we'll have to look at it. And it makes more sense to look at it now and see what all our options are."
If it's a matter of rallying support in the athletic community, you can be sure Marcum has the means at his fingertips. The Rolodex file on his desk, which is roughly the size of a tire on an eighteen-wheeler, is filled with the phone numbers of friends and colleagues in the business. He frequently talks to John Calipari, the coach he calls the best in basketball, "Bar none." Calipari, in turn, is founder and president-emeritus of the UMass chapter of the Bob Marcum Fan Club, and his admiration is shared by others.
"If I were hired as president of the University of Georgia today, the first move I would make is to hire Bob Marcum," says Lou McCollough of Athens, Georgia, a former major player in college athletics and Marcum's long-time friend. "When he tells you something, you put it down and it's done. You don't look twice."
Another Marcum admirer, Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo, says their friendship go back to his tyro days at a South Carolina satellite campus. "I'm really a nobody and Bob is the AD at South Carolina and he calls me, takes the time to talk to me, sends me two season tickets for football and takes me golfing," says DeFilippo. Likewise, Bob Frederick at Kansas, whom Marcum hired back in 1981 and who has gone on to become one of the most respected ADs in the country, says he'll "be forever grateful to Bob for giving me a start in this business."
According to Marcum, he's the one who's been lucky. "I've just been fortunate to be around great people wherever I've been," he says. "When I was hired to go to Iowa State, we drove to a Holiday Inn, picked up an envelope at the front desk and went straight to the campus. The envelope had the keys to the athletic department and we opened it up and got to work."
These days, he gets to work in an office overlooking the Mullins Center arena. He wakes up before six every day to meet Marcum is to know he's not an alarm-clock guy catches the news, checks the weather, and is on his way. He's a tall and sturdy sixty-one-year-old with a golfer's tan in the summer and a healthy glow in the winter. Whether he's talking with the crew rolling the field before the game, chatting up the donors during the game, or congratulating the players after the game, Marcum is a man who's at home at UMass. He's a southern gentleman in a New England town. He fits in like the tobacco barns and leftover hippies. He's got style, charm, class, whatever. He's got it, UMass has got him, and the way he sees things, this is no time to be walking past any dangling rope.
by David Scott '93