PHOENIX — The Fiesta Bowl has turned to University of Arizona President Robert Shelton to lead the rehabilitation of its tattered reputation.
The bowl announced Monday that it has hired the respected academic as executive director to replace the ousted John Junker. Shelton, who has held the top position at the Tucson university for five years, is a member of the presidential oversight committee for the Bowl Championship Series, the system that determines major college football’s national champion.
The BCS recently fined the bowl $1 million but allowed the event to remain as one of its four games.
Junker was fired earlier this year after an internal investigation uncovered apparently illegal campaign contributions by staff and lavish spending by him on parties and a night at a strip club.
Shelton, 62, agreed to a four-year contract with a base salary of $455,000 and incentives. Junker had an annual salary of about $600,000 plus a substantial list of perks.
“The Fiesta Bowl is an Arizona treasure, and as a native Arizonan I am excited about the opportunity to lead this wonderful organization,” Shelton said in the news release announcing his hiring. “I have spent my entire career in higher education and I care passionately about UA. But there always comes a point in life where you feel that it is time to try something new. I am looking forward to helping the bowl rebuild and achieve even greater heights.”
Shelton earned $470,000 per year plus benefits at Arizona. He is to be introduced in his new job at a news conference on Tuesday and will officially begin work on Aug. 1.
“While we had an amazing number of talented applicants for this position,” Fiesta Bowl board chairman Duane Woods said. “Dr. Shelton’s impeccable record of integrity and his vast knowledge of collegiate academics and athletics are perfectly suited to restore trust and credibility with our volunteers, staff, community and key partners.”
Junker held the titles of CEO and president. Under its reorganization, those positions were replaced by the job of executive director, who will report directly to the board of directors.
BCS executive director Bill Hancock called Shelton “an excellent choice.”
“Robert is a man of integrity and his university experience means he understands what college football is all about,” Hancock said. “This is a smart hire by the Fiesta Bowl.”
Dan Beebe, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, which has an agreement with the Fiesta Bowl to send its champion to the game if it’s not in the BCS title contest, also praised Shelton’s “outstanding reputation in college athletics.”
Shelton, a physicist by training, is a Stanford graduate who earned his masters and doctorate at the University of California at San Diego. He was executive vice chancellor at the University of North Carolina for five years before taking the Arizona post in July 2006. At North Carolina, Shelton was the chief academic and chief operating officer, with responsibility for the conduct, coordination and quality of the school’s academic and research programs.
The Fiesta Bowl had promised to search for someone of high integrity for the post after its internal investigation uncovered embarrassing facts about the event’s operation under Junker, who was fired the day the report was made public.
Among the findings was a system in which employees made contributions to political candidates, then were reimbursed by the bowl. The Arizona attorney general’s office is investigating.
The probe also uncovered lavish spending, including $33,000 for a birthday bash for Junker in Pebble Beach, Calif., $13,000 for a wedding for Junker’s top aide and even a $1,200 trip to a Phoenix strip club.
The BCS decided a fine was sufficient punishment for a bowl that was host to last season’s highly anticipated national championship game between Auburn and Oregon. Last month, the NCAA announced the Fiesta Bowl, which also operates the Insight Bowl, could keep its license but would serve a one-year probation. The NCAA’s bowl licensing subcommittee ordered the bowl to return next April to provide a progress report on its promised operational changes.
Shelton leaves the state’s second-largest university as it deals with the latest in a series of serious budget cuts imposed by the Legislature.
“Since joining the university in 2006, Dr. Shelton has provided consistent leadership to the U of A and been a steady hand on the wheel during difficult economic and budgetary times,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. “The Fiesta Bowl faces challenges of its own. I am confident that Dr. Shelton can be an asset in delivering his collegiate expertise, leadership and managerial skills to this important Arizona institution.”
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