BILL CRAWFORD: Lucas in USM relief again

By Bill Crawford

It’s Aubrey Lucas back on the mound in relief again for Southern Miss.
Aubrey just can’t stay retired. In 1996 he retired as all-star president of USM, a post he held for nearly 22 years. In 2001, he came on in relief of USM President Horace Fleming. In 2008, he stepped in to relieve David Potter as Commissioner of Higher Education. Now, in 2012, he’s coming on to relieve Martha Saunders as USM president.
Miss Ella must wonder what has gotten into his 77 year old mind!
Of course, those of us who know Aubrey understand it’s a very simple notion called commitment. When Aubrey gets committed to something, like he is and has been to Southern Miss and to Mississippi higher education, he never lets go, turns away, or gives up.
They really ought to change the name to Aubrey Lucas University of Mississippi – ALUM, because he is the quintessential alum.
And, Southern Miss needs him now as much as ever. Problem areas include administrative leadership, money, athletic leadership, money, stirring faculty discontent, money, and so on … none of which is new to Aubrey.
So, once again, the dapper, congenial, lay leader will be holding things together as only he can, until it’s time to pass the ball to a new president … again.
The passing part promises to be harder this time.
Since Aubrey retired the first time, Southern Miss has welcomed and said goodbye to three presidents – Fleming, Shelby Thames, and Saunders – none of whom was able to lift the university to the higher levels alums, faculty, students, and supporters so desire.
To put it bluntly, given this history, what qualified rising university leader will want the job? Oh, there will be plenty who want it who think they’re qualified. There always are. But will there be that special person who can take Southern Miss where it needs to go? In the past three presidential searches, there haven’t been many, if any, of that ilk.
Maybe it’s time for a designated hitter.
In baseball designated hitters don’t need the skills most players have. Their job is simply to hit homers and make the team a winner. A university designated hitter may not have academic skills, but can hit homers in attracting money and talent and make the university a winner.
These would be big hitters like former U.S. Senator Trent Lott, former Hancock Bank Chairman and Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel, former Netscape CEO and interim Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority Jim Barksdale, or former Mississippi Power Company Presidents Dwight Evans and Anthony Topazzi. There are others. Finding one willing to step up to the plate for Southern Miss would be the challenge, if the College Board would even consider such.
Meanwhile, Aubrey takes the mound, again.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.