The man who nearly reshaped college football never played or coached college football. In fact, before taking over as Pacific-10 Conference commissioner last summer, Larry Scott hadn't attended a college football game in five years.
The former chief executive of the women's pro tennis tour, Scott was an unconventional hire by what had been a decidedly inside-the-box conference. He grew up on Long Island, not in Long Beach. He studied European history at Harvard, not Rose Bowl history at USC. He has never worked in college athletics.
But Scott, 45, has been a quick study, turning the passive Pac-10 into an aggressive player on the college sports landscape.
Less than one year into his tenure, Scott made a bold, albeit unsuccessful attempt to corral Texas and Oklahoma and form a 16-team superconference.
He orchestrated the Pac-10's first membership change in three decades by adding Colorado and Utah.
He increased the size of the league's Walnut Creek office staff, creating an organizational chart that's more corporate than collegiate.
And in an ongoing effort to expand the Pac-10's profile, Scott is exploring marketing strategies in Asia and the Pacific Rim.
"I'd give him an A-plus," Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said.
But as Barbour and others are quick to note, Scott's final grade won't be determined until next winter, when the Pac-10 negotiates a new television contract — a contract that league
"The proof is in the tasting," said Scott Woodward, Washington's athletic director. "When the TV negotiations are finished, we'll know."
League officials are optimistic. Scott's success representing women's tennis at the negotiating table was the reason the Pac-10 hired him.
An All-America tennis player at Harvard, Scott spent three years on tour — he won one tournament, in doubles — then jumped to the administrative side of professional tennis. In 2003, he became the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association and went about revolutionizing the sport.
Scott was the driving force behind the WTA's unprecedented six-year, $88 million deal with Sony Ericsson — the largest sponsorship deal in the history of women's sports — and he worked to secure equal pay for women and men at Grand Slam events. But when his attempt to merge the men's and women's tours (with Scott in charge) was rebuffed in December '08, he "realized I'd taken the WTA as far as it could go on its own.''
At the time, the Pac-10 was looking for a successor to longtime commissioner Tom Hansen — and not just any successor: The conference needed someone well-versed in the realm of sponsorship, marketing and media rights.
To assist in the search, the conference hired the New York-based firm Spencer Stuart. One of its consultants, Jed Hughes, a former assistant football coach at Stanford (1972-73) and UCLA, was working with the men's tennis tour and had seen Scott present his vision for the future of tennis.
Hughes did not respond to an interview request for this story, but Scott recalled their initial conversation.
"Jed said: 'The board isn't ready for a merger. But have you ever thought about college sports?' "
Scott hadn't thought about it, "but there's a part of me that likes building, repositioning, unlocking new value."
Scott fit the profile established by the Pac-10's presidents and athletic directors:
"It was very clear that Larry is really smart," Barbour said. "It was also very clear in the process that he was creative, had a handle on the television world, the media world, that was obviously going to consume us."
Scott, who is married with three young children, is widely viewed as smart, bold and ambitious. He's studious but decisive — "When I'm in," he said, "I'm all in" — and he has impressed league coaches and executives with an inclusive approach.
Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer said Scott has sought her opinion on several issues. "He's shaking things up in a good way," she said. Gary Cavalli, executive director of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, said that after the league signed its bowl contracts, Scott asked, "How can we make the process better the next time?"
Scott's management style is part innate, part learned — he cut his administrative teeth under the tutelage of tennis executive Hamilton Jordan, former White House chief of staff during the Carter Administration — and wholly necessary.
The labyrinthine nature of professional tennis requires a methodical, inclusive style. Every player is an independent contractor, each tournament an individual entity. There are national federations, international federations and Grand Slams. One minute, you're dealing with Arab businessmen, the next the Chinese government.
"You have to work with the various constituents to see how the interests of the sport align with their interests," said Stacey Allaster, who worked for Scott at the WTA before succeeding him as CEO. "You have to build consensus and trust and you have got to communicate."
Compared to overseeing an organization that includes more than 150 players and 50-odd tournaments, navigating Pac-10 politics is as easy as a chip-shot field goal.
Even for someone who never worked in college sports.
"Different leaders are needed for different times," Allaster added. "When Larry came to the WTA, it needed a revolution — like what the Pac-10 needs now. He brought everybody together for the most significant set of reforms the sport has ever seen. And they're working."