The Bob Frederick memorial service created a package of guidelines that chancellor-elect Bernadette Gray-Little would do well to unwrap and study intensely. The occasion pointed out what Kansas University has been academically and athletically, where many think KU is right now, and what it can be, again.
It’s good there’s a comprehensive recording of the tribute at the Lied Center. It’s a textbook about the kind of class and dignity we so often desire but too seldom get.
Gray-Little has a golden chance to evaluate the kinder, gentler KU we knew during Freddy’s tenure. Perhaps, by building on the Frederick legacy, she can help restore more warmth and tender outreach than KU has displayed in recent years. The university needs a re-set on public relations.
Money, athletic victories, national attention, fancy buildings, football game shifts — all may have their place. Yet there’s far more to be said for what people like Freddy brought to the university and society.
Frederick, of course, was the former KU athletic director-athlete-coach-solid citizen who died after a bicycling tragedy. Gray-Little could generate immediate support with heavy emphasis on the kind of dignity, integrity, civility, humor, loyalty — oh, there are so many qualities — that Bob embodied. The Frederick-types and the innumerable values they display and perpetuate periodically may slip through the cracks into commercialism, greed and insensitivity. Yet class will re-emerge when people, like a chancellor, force it to do so.
Freddy was a solid-gold citizen even when nobody was looking. The outpouring of respect and affection in the aftermath of his death gives us examples of how soft, reasoned, respectful answers can turn away wrath and benefit us so positively. Not always; Freddy was eased out for being “too soft.”
Yet when you assemble admirers such as Roy Williams, former chancellor Gene Budig and the hundreds of other notable, accomplished people at the Lied Center, you realize there are ways to score victories without ferocity, aloofness and cash-craziness.
Frederick attracted dedicated staff members like Richard Konzem, Doug Vance and Janelle Martin, tremendous ambassadors. Who are all those highly paid but low-profile people up there now?
Freddy didn’t light up the big cigars the way hand-slapping Prof. Harold Hill or P.T. Barnum did, so KU opted for the hot-dog foolishness of Al Bohl. He bungled one thing after another and left an NCAA mess that bottom-liner Lew Perkins cleaned up.
Then the die was cast. KU was committed to an athletic program that pursued dollars and victories, sometimes at a serious cost to its reputation. The kinds of qualities that Frederick and his compadres epitomized got brushed aside from time to time. KU’s image eroded.
The affection, loyalty and appreciation KU once had among so many people, even those who never set foot on campus, has slumped. But all is not lost.
What used to be and what we’d like to get back was capsulized at the Bob Frederick service. The right things were in proper perspective; people gave them the needed focus.
The new chancellor can help re-generate such love and affection.