Goss, Tom 1946–
Tom Goss 1946–
University athletic director
One of a small group of African Americans who have risen to the prestigious and powerful job of athletic director at a major American university, Tom A. Goss underwent a fiery baptism. When he became athletic director at the University of Michigan in September of 1997, he inherited a deeply troubled program. It was foreordained that Goss would spend the first several years at his new post in a swirl of controversy. But Goss, an experienced executive before coming to Michigan, made decisive moves to maintain the integrity of the revered sports program.
Tom Goss was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. He played football at the city’s Austin High School; a defensive lineman, he was later described by the Knoxville News-Sentinel as a “standout.” In the segregated South of the middle 1960s, however, Goss would have had to restrict his own chances to display his skills on the field if he had stayed close to home. Instead, he went north to the University of Michigan, where he was a letter winner for three years-1966 through 1968-and in his last year was named to the all-Big Ten team as a defensive tackle.
Goss later recalled the strict atmosphere that formed his own values while he was part of the Michigan program. “Everyone should know the rules,” he was quoted as saying in the News-Sentinel. “They’re there in black and white. When I was playing, if you screwed up one of the rules, even if you were a star player, you weren’t there. You were gone.” Goss graduated in 1968 from the highly-competitive school with a Bachelor of Science degree in education; his major was in physical education.
For a time Goss harbored dreams of making it as a professional football player, playing or trying out with both pro and semipro teams before deciding to enter the business world, a career path that grew in attraction with his marriage to Michigan alumna Carol Goings and with the birth of their three children. Goss joined Procter & Gamble in 1969, and gradually worked his way up to executive ranks in a succession of positions with various companies, many of them in the food and beverage industry. He became a regional manager at R. J. Reynolds Industries, then vice-president for sales at Del Monte Corp., and then returned to Michigan in the middle 1980s as a sales executive at Detroit’s Faygo
Born July 6, 1946 in Knoxville, Tennessee; married Carol Goings; three children: Anika, Fatima, and Maloni.Education: University of Michigan, BS, physical education major, 1968.
Career: University of Michigan athletic director, Joined Procter & Gamble Corp., 1969; R. J. Reynolds industries, Del Monte Corp., sales management positions, 1970-1980s; Faygo Beverage, Detroit, MI, sales executive, mid-1980s; National Beverage, executive vice president, early 1990s; PIA Merchandising, Irvine, CA, president and chief executive, 1993-97; University of Michigan, athletic director, 1997-.
Awards: All-Big Ten team, University of Michigan, 1968.
Addresses: Office —Department of Athletics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
Another step up took Goss to California as an executive vice-president at National Beverage. But even when he was away from Michigan, Goss kept in contact with the school’s athletic program, serving as Michigan’s special advisory representative to the Big Ten conference, and sitting on the board of the school’s alumni association. In 1993 Goss became president and CEO of PIA Merchandising, an Irvine, California company that promoted new products placed in retail food and drug stores. Goss was in charge of 1,440 employees and managed a budget of nearly $120 million.
With the power and prestige of the position came difficulties. Goss, who lived with his family in the lush hills of Oakland, had to commute 350 miles each way to PIA’s headquarters, and he felt a growing tie to his alma mater. When the job of athletic director at Michigan opened up in 1994, Goss applied. The post went to a longtime department employee, but Goss tried again in 1997, and on September 8 of that year became Michigan’s ninth athletic. Of 307 Division I institutions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), 34 of them had African American coaches, and of that group, 19 were at historically-black institutions.
It was in part Goss’s business background that won him the job; he was one of a new breed of athletic directors who applied corporate management styles and techniques to university athletics programs, which over the years had grown to the point where they really represented good-sized businesses in themselves. “This is not a guy trapped into old stereotypes of college athletics,” a source told the Detroit News. “He knows how to manage large operations and knows how to make them produce and perform. The word I would use to describe him is ‘assertive.’”
Just how assertive Goss could be was quickly demonstrated when he fired Michigan head basketball coach Steve Fisher just slightly more than a month after starting work himself. Goss knew that Michigan’s basketball program had been rocked by allegations of improper booster payments to players, resulting in a scandal the details of which continued to emerge for several years. Early in October of 1997, Goss made public the details of an investigation of the matter that had been conducted by a university-selected law firm, and less than 48 hours later he fired Fisher. “Steve is a great guy, and he’s a great salesman,” Goss told the Detroit News. “But he could not convince me that he was the person to lead this program into the future.” Goss has never discussed the exact reasons behind Fisher’s dismissal, and has taken criticism from some program supporters, but no one doubted his ability to make quick changes in Michigan athletics.
Some of those changes have won general acclaim. Goss executed plans to add 5,200 seats to Michigan’s giant football stadium, making it once again the largest stadium in the country after a short period when the distinction had gone to the University of Tennessee in Goss’s old hometown of Knoxville. He spearheaded new initiatives to market Michigan’s image and logo, but respected the school’s sober traditions by deflecting moves similar to those undertaken by other schools. He refused to reap the millions of dollars available if he sold the right to rename the football stadium to a corporation, nor did he allow corporate signage in the stadium itself.
Goss ran into trouble again in 1999 when the athletic department ran a deficit for the first time in some years. Responding to questioning from university regents, Goss pointed out that key sources of revenue, including sales of licensed merchandise, had dropped considerably due to the hard times the basketball team had suffered as it struggled to rebuild. Goss himself might have borne responsibility for some of the loss: an effort he had supported to offer Michigan supporters Internet access with a Michigan athletics theme collapsed even before it got off the ground. But Goss could forecast rebounding revenues for the following year, and in late 1999 it seemed probable that if Michigan’s high-profile athletic teams resumed their championship-winning ways, Goss would remain the school’s athletic director for years to come.
Crain’s Detroit Business, July 19, 1999, p. 56.
Detroit News, August 24, 1997, p. A1; September 7, 1997, p. D2; September 9, 1997, p. D1; September 11, 1997, pp. D1, D7; October 12, 1997, p. A1; February 23, 1999, p. B1; April 4, 1999, p. D1; July 16, 1999, p. A1.
Knoxville News Sentinel, September 10, 1997, p. D1; November 12, 1997, p. D1.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the Office of Media Relations, Department of Athletics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
—James M. Manheim
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