MSU hires Alan Haller as athletic director, but search process questioned

Improving the academic development of all student-athletes. Elevating women's sports. Fostering an environment that develops women in leadership. 

These were some of the priorities new Michigan State University Athletic Director Alan Haller outlined as his vision for the department, giving him the edge in becoming the university's next athletic director, according to MSU Trustee Rema Vassar.

Haller also spoke of increasing the graduation rates of athletes so that the university is serving the students, not the other way around.

"He said this is not his dream job, it’s his dream responsibility," Vassar said Wednesday after the board voted unanimously to hire Haller despite concerns from some board members over how the search was conducted. "That is a big deal to make that distinction. He feels responsible for this athletic department. He wants to serve. It’s a nuanced paradigm shift in leadership."

MSU's decision makes its now-former deputy athletic director the face of one of the most-watched athletic departments in the state. Haller, 51, becomes MSU's 20th athletic director. 

Board members described him as a leader with vision and scope to not only guide a department known for its football and basketball teams but to also boost women's and non-revenue-generating sports. He immediately assumed the job after the board's vote at a virtual meeting on Wednesday. His contract is for five years.

Alan Haller

MSU President Samuel Stanley said Haller was selected after a national search and was the single finalist.

"Alan has the integrity, leadership skills and empathy and public service mindset and dedication for student-athlete success that we need in our next leader," Stanley said during the meeting. "He's been a leader promoting diversity among our athletic administrators and helping them become more engaged in the student-athletes that they serve."

The president added that Haller has led by example and described him as "caring and empathetic."

"Through the past four years, Alan has been the leader in supporting prevention education and helping survivors connect to supportive services," said Stanley, referring to MSU's efforts in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.

Haller said it's an honor "to lead a department that has meant so much to his life."

More: What's in MSU athletic director Alan Haller's contract?

He recounted growing up in Lansing and attending art and football camps as a kid, and coming to MSU's campus for 40 years.

"Being a student-athlete was a transformational experience for me," Haller said. "I learned the values and traits of hard work, dedication, being a team player, being able to pick yourself up and work through difficulties. All traits I use today. That's why that it is my passion, every single day, to help our current and future student-athletes to have the same transformational experience that I did.

"This is not a job. This is my responsibility to make sure our student-athletes succeed."

Haller's base salary will be $800,000 annually, with supplemental compensation of $100,000 each year of his five-year contract. Former MSU AD Bill Beekman's salary was $750,000.

Haller will also be eligible for plenty of bonuses, including $25,000 if the football team wins a Big Ten championship, $45,000 if it reaches the College Football Playoff and $75,000 for capturing a national championship. Similar bonuses exist with the men’s basketball team with a conference title bringing $25,000, a Final Four appearance landing Haller $35,000 and a national championship netting him a $60,000 bonus.

Specific bonuses exist for women’s basketball and men’s hockey — $50,000 each for a national title, for example — while Haller will make $5,000 for a Big Ten championship and $25,000 for a national title from any other varsity sport outside of football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and men’s ice hockey.

Search questioned

Two trustees raised concerns about the search process even as the board approved Haller's selection in an 8-0 vote.

Trustee Renee Knake Jefferson hailed Haller as the next athletic director, saying she is confident in him because he is "committed to remedying the structural inequities" at MSU, whether it's finding money for students athletes — including female athletes to have appropriate facilities — or reforming policies to provide advancement for women and minority leaders.

Renee Knake Jefferson

"Alan Haller has been doing this work behind the scenes throughout his career at Michigan State, and I believe he has the ability to transform the athletic department," Knake Jefferson said. 

But she expressed deep concerns with a selection process that she said lacked transparency and openness.

Knake Jefferson, a legal ethics professor who was appointed to the board in December 2019 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said she had hoped to usher in a new era at MSU for women and people of color.

"I'm worried the lack of transparency may only further perpetuate concerns and misperceptions about the institution's commitment to the improved treatment of women in the wake of the Nassar scandal and the harm that continues," Knake Jefferson said. 

She said she was referring to a 2019 MSU survey on relationship violence and sexual misconduct on campus. She added that she needed to speak because she personally experienced discrimination while an MSU faculty member. She said she was discouraged from seeking tenure due to the stress on her family and questioned the pay gap between her and her female colleagues and male colleagues. 

"The harms that Nassar caused so many women and the inequities that have been experienced by others, including me, through this institution compel me to raise these concerns now about the selection process," Knake Jefferson said. "One of my many goals as trustee is to help this institution move forward through inclusive, open and transparent processes in the future."

Board Vice Chair Dan Kelly said he shared some of Knake Jefferson's concerns but still welcomed the selection of Haller.

During the meeting, Vassar thanked Knake Jefferson for speaking out about her convictions.

"We will work to make change," said Vassar, who was elected in 2020. "It's not lost on me that the last five folks appointed and voted to this board ran or were appointed for change. This process was wrought with the growing pains necessary to facilitate transformative change."

She said she was grateful for the flexibility of Stanley and other colleagues and said she was thrilled to see Haller at the helm.

"AD Haller immediately impressed me as integral, a passionate and kind person," Vassar said. "I immediately respected him and his commitment to our students."

Rema Vassar

Women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant and women's golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, two of MSU's most successful coaches, offered their support for Haller.

"He is someone who has demonstrated consistency in his character, integrity and passion for all things Michigan State," Merchant said. "He will do a tremendous job leading our department today and into the future challenges that college athletics will face."

"Alan is a true Spartan; he is genuine, hard-working and passionate about Michigan State University," Slobodnik-Stoll said. "We all look forward to Alan leading our department into the future, ensuring the success of our sports programs and our student-athletes."

When it came to identifying Haller as a candidate, Stanley said he consulted with men's basketball coach Tom Izzo and football coach Mel Tucker, though they were not consulted when he was determined to be the sole finalist.

Izzo and Tucker supported Haller's hiring.

"Alan Haller is a Spartan through and through, and I am thrilled that he has been selected as the athletic director at Michigan State," Izzo said. "I've known Alan since he played for George Perles, followed his pro career and worked with him when he was a police officer.

"His leadership and the class in which he handles himself always impressed me. He has served Michigan State Athletics in a variety of roles and has a great understanding of who we are and what we need as we move forward to shape our department and to keep us at the forefront of college athletics. He is someone who will make sure that our athletics program is student-athlete centered, coach driven and administrator assisted."

Added Tucker, "In order to have a championship culture, you have to have the right people in the right seats. It's the same way we work on the field when choosing players and positions, they not only have to want it, but they have to live it, and Alan does.

"Alan has tremendous leadership qualities and has had a way of bringing people together over the years. He has the vision and progressive mindset that I admire in a leader. The Spartan family is strong and ready to build a solid foundation toward a better future."

Haller has long been a part of Michigan State athletics, beginning with his days as a defensive back, playing for Perles from 1988-91. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a junior and senior and was selected in the fifth round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Haller played three seasons in the NFL before embarking on a career in law enforcement, working for the MSU Police Department for 13 years. Haller joined the MSU athletic department in 2010.

The move came less than a month after Beekman stepped down from his post after a 3½-year tenure — first as interim director and then as department head in 2018. Beekman, who is now MSU's vice president for strategic initiatives, took over for longtime athletic director Mark Hollis.

Beekman was previously a university vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees since 2008 where he performed administrative work for board meetings and for university ordinances and policies. 

Hollis announced his retirement at the height of the Nassar sex abuse scandal in January 2018. Hollis stepped down two days after then MSU President Lou Anna Simon resigned as hundreds of women accused Nassar of sexual abuse in two courtrooms over nine days. Interim MSU President John Engler named Beekman interim AD in February 2018, and he was given the permanent job in July.

Haller puts another MSU insider at the helm of the athletic department after sources said two outside candidates were interviewed, both Black men.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week lobbied Stanley and the board to make the search process open and include diverse and female candidates. She emphasized the need for a woman to lead the athletic department following the scandal involving Nassar, who is now serving an effective life sentence.

"A new, potentially female athletic director could really help the university turn a page, turn a corner and enter a new era where women athletes, as well as all athletes, will be valued," Benson said at the time in a letter to the board.

Haller gained widespread support with many endorsing him verbally, in letters and online. A 45-minute YouTube video of Spartan Dawgs, a group of MSU athletes, included numerous people endorsing Haller as MSU's next athletic director.

"I think Alan Haller will be perfect in the role of administrator of the athletic department," said Jimmy Raye, a national championship quarterback for the Spartans from 1965-67. "He's a man of high character and integrity. In my personal experience with him, I've found him to be a very relevant, innovative and highly committed individual. Alan exhibits core values of success; he's smart, tough, competitive, selfless and hardworking. From my vantage point, I think the future of Michigan State Athletics is in extremely capable and committed hands."

Added current Minnesota Vikings QB and former Spartan Kirk Cousins, "Alan possesses the three traits I care most about in a leader: integrity, influence, and intuition. He will do what's right, he will have the respect of faculty and alumni, and he will have conviction on where to take the department in the years ahead. I believe strongly that the speed of a leader determines the speed of a team. In the case of the AD at MSU, Alan's 'speed' will get our athletic department where it needs to go."

With a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and a master's degree in human resources from Central Michigan, Haller joined the MSU athletic department in 2010 as associate athletics director for administration. In 2015, he was promoted to senior associate athletic director and added chief of staff to his title in 2017 before ascending in 2019 to deputy athletic director.