HARRISONBURG — It didn’t take athletic director Jeff Bourne long to end speculation that he might be leaving James Madison for Virginia Tech.
Shortly after reports surfaced this week that Bourne was a serious candidate, he shot them down Wednesday evening.
“I am fully committed to James Madison University and our student-athletes, coaches, staff and many constituents,” Bourne said in a written statement, after declining interview requests from the media on his interest in the Virginia Tech job.
While Bourne did not mention the Tech athletic director’s vacancy or make a vow to remain at JMU in the statement – raising the question of whether it was simply a smokescreen – a highly placed source said the 54-year-old Salem native is no longer under consideration for the job.
On Tuesday, a Roanoke radio station named Bourne as one of six finalists for the Tech position. The others, it said, were Harrisonburg High School and JMU graduate Whit Babcock, currently the Cincinnati A.D.; Chris Plonsky, Texas women’s director of athletics; Michael Kelly, chief operating officer of the new college football playoff; and John Ballein, an associate athletic director for football at Virginia Tech.
Wednesday evening, the Virginia Tech fan website HokieHaven.com published an article that said Tech is down to three finalists, with Bourne among those names.
A source at JMU said Wednesday that Bourne informed him some time ago that he intended to apply for the Tech job, where he would have roughly tripled his current $180,000-a-year salary.
In the statement, Bourne – who has been Madison’s athletic director for 14-plus years – stressed that he still has plenty of work remaining at JMU.
“The future of our program is extremely bright as we are currently engaged in the development of a comprehensive departmental strategic plan,” Bourne said. “Mary Lou and I bleed purple and gold and truly enjoy living in the Harrisonburg community. It is my privilege to lead one of the best athletic programs in the country.”
Tech is looking to replace Jim Weaver, the school’s athletic director for the last 16 years. Weaver retired effective Dec. 31 because of health concerns. He has battled Parkinson’s disease since 2004 and has had several back operations in recent years.
The appeal of the Virginia Tech job to Bourne was obvious. Not only did he once work for the Hokies, he also would have received a massive pay raise. Weaver made $621,529 annually, which put him fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 28th nationally. In 2012-13, the last year for which figures were immediately available, Bourne made $180,000 at Madison. His original 1999 contact at JMU was for $125,000.
Tech, according to media reports, would like to have a new athletic director in place by the beginning of February. Outgoing president Charles Steger and Weaver are both assisting in the search.
Before coming to Harrisonburg, Bourne was senior associate athletics director at Georgia Tech from 1997-99. Before that, he served in a number of different positions at Virginia Tech from 1986-97, including associate athletic director his last two years.
Bourne, a Bridgewater College graduate, received his master’s degree from Virginia Tech in 1994.
At JMU, Bourne has overseen a massive expansion of the football program – building state-of-the art facilities, including a 25,000-seat stadium, that are among the best in Division I-AA – while also preparing the university for a likely move to I-A in the near future.
He also proved effective at performing the unpleasant tasks that fall to an athletic director, slashing sports to bring Madison into gender-equity compliance and firing longtime coach Mickey Matthews as the fan base grew restless at prolonged mediocrity.
His record in hiring high-profile coaches is still open for debate. Dean Keener failed as the Dukes’ basketball coach, and Keener’s replacement, Matt Brady, was on the brink of failure before receiving an extension last year after winning the weakened Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Bourne’s interest in the Tech job was well-known, but he didn’t emerge as a serious candidate until WFIR’s Greg Roberts reported Tuesday that he was a finalist.
“I want to start with some of the obvious names,” Roberts said on his radio show Tuesday. “Jeff Bourne, the athletic director at James Madison. Jeff Bourne is a former administrator at Virginia Tech, has ties to Virginia Tech, just up the road in Harrisonburg. He would be an obvious candidate, and I don’t think there’s any question that Jeff Bourne is making a run at becoming Virginia Tech’s next athletic director.”
Babcock took over as Cincinnati’s A.D. in October 2011. He lettered four seasons in baseball at James Madison and served as team captain his senior year. He earned his bachelor’s degree from JMU in 1992. His father, Brad, was a long-time coach of the JMU baseball team.
It is unclear whether he is a candidate for the Tech job.
Cincinnati athletics spokesman Ryan Koslen said Wednesday Babcock would not comment on the Virginia Tech position.
HokieHaven.com identified the three finalists as Bourne, Minnesota (and former VCU) athletic director Norwood Teague and Arizona State assistant A.D. Mike Chismar. The Minneapolis Star Tribune said it received a text message from Teague denying that he is a candidate.