Cincinnati hires Akron athletic director Thomas

Updated: October 20, 2005, 4:23 PM ET
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- Bob Huggins' successor will be picked by an athletic director who shares a grades-come-first philosophy with the University of Cincinnati's president.

Mike Thomas will take over as athletic director Dec. 1, when Bob Goin retires after eight years of running a program most closely identified with Huggins' successful basketball teams.

University president Nancy Zimpher forced Huggins to step down in August, citing the basketball team's image during his 16 seasons. The team had one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation during Huggins' early years, and players repeatedly were charged with crimes.

By bringing in the 45-year-old Thomas from the University of Akron, Zimpher ensured that the next coach will be the antithesis of Huggins, who lost a power struggle over a contract extension and recruiting.

"I think we have a pretty clear mutual understanding of our expectations of the campus," Zimpher said after handing Thomas a black-and-red Bearcats baseball cap during his introduction Thursday.

Huggins' ouster has taken the luster off Cincinnati's inaugural season in the Big East. Assistant coach Andy Kennedy agreed to stay as the interim head coach for one season, before a full-time coach is picked.

Unsure who will be the next coach, Cincinnati has been forced to skip recruiting in the fall, a setback that could hinder the program for years. One recruit pulled out of his commitment after Huggins took a $3 million buyout in August.

Huggins took the Bearcats to a Final Four and 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He also recruited some players with a history of problems and defended them when they got into trouble on Cincinnati's campus.

His arrest and conviction for drunken driving in June 2004 set the stage for his ouster. Thomas was introduced Thursday at the same on-campus conference center where Huggins held a tearful news conference after his DUI arrest.

Zimpher, hired in 2003, wants to recruit players who have better grades and stay out of trouble, bringing sports in line with her overall push to toughen the school's academic standards and raise its national profile.

The admission standards include class rank in high school, grades, scores on college entrance exams and other accomplishments.

"We think that array of issues in each student's admission will give us the kind of latitude we need to recruit a world-class tuba player, a world-class designer, a world-class athlete to our program," Zimpher said.

Thomas spent seven years as associate athletic director at Virginia and the last five as athletic director at Akron.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press