Jeanne Love can only remember two occasions in 49 years when her youngest of three daughters lost her cool.
More than 20 years ago, then-University of Texas-Arlington volleyball coach Lisa Love threw her clipboard to the court in disgust while her team was sleepwalking through a match with rival Texas.
"She was definitely upset," her mom remembered. "But I think it was an attempt to get her team going."
Then there was that night in 1970 when Jeanne refused to let 15-year-old Lisa join three older girls who were going to see the movie "Love Story."
The message behind that demonstration was easier to decipher. Although the movie’s most famous line is "Love means never having to say you’re sorry,’’ daughter Love felt mother Love owed her an apology.
"She felt like I was treating her like a baby,’’ Jeanne said. "She couldn’t stand that.’’
Other than that, no matter what has been thrown at her, Lisa Love has kept her cool — despite repeatedly throwing herself head-first into a series of challenging career situations.
Whether it was establishing herself as one of the country’s premier volleyball coaches, juggling the fulltime gigs of coach and associate athletic director at a sports giant like Southern California or now taking over as the first full-time female athletic director in Arizona State University’s history, Love leaves handicapping her chances at success to others.
"You just take whatever comes at you — someone is pitching and I’m up to bat. I don’t know how to explain it any other way,’’ said Love, who takes over ASU’s reins in earnest on Monday. "Sometimes, if you wait for the perfect time, the perfect scenario, it never arrives. There were many opportunities to leave USC over the last decade, but none felt like the absolute right move.’’
Sitting in her new seventh-floor office that affords a picturesque view of Sun Devil Stadium and the surrounding scenery that always attracted her to Arizona, Love said the latest move has a feeling of permanence.
"I’m not a puddle jumper. I like to put down a tap root,’’ she said. "I enjoy becoming a part of a community, the new relationships you get to build. I’m very much a nester. At this point in my life and career, Arizona State and Tempe certainly represents the perfect scenario for me.’’
But is Love perfect for ASU? She takes over amid questions.
Can someone who has never administrated a football program succeed at a school where football is king? Can she find her niche with an aging, traditional, entrenched booster and donor base? How will she handle her first major challenges out of the gate — the Loren Wade investigation in football and the future of men’s basketball coach Rob Evans. How will they foreshadow what is to come?
The game plan is simple: Hit the ground running.
"I want to be ‘we’ as soon as possible,’’ Love said. "You want to know what makes the place tick, the culture. You want to feel it, understand it and certainly respect it. These are the people you’re going to be in the trenches with, the die-hard Sun Devils — the staff, coaches, and student athletes, and then our fans and donors. My first impressions have been wonderful and I’m doing as much homework as possible.’’
If ASU Nation does its homework on Love, the discovery process includes three decades of success as a player, coach and administrator, a person who is used to winning and convinced the greatest victories lie ahead.
DEVOTED TO HER WORK
Love is an avid reader, a patron of the arts — foreign films, theater and music — and can be found as easily on the hiking trails as the golf course. She does her best thinking at the end of the day, using the quiet of her home and the task of constructing meals to spark ideas.
"That’s when I’m my most creative,’’ she said.
Her father was a high school quarterback before becoming an engineer, but much of her competitive fire comes from her mom — a life master bridge player who travels to big-time tournaments.
"Whether it’s table games or croquet,’’ Love said, laughing, "the only way the Love clan knows how to play is knock-down, drag-out, may-the-best-person-win.’’
Never married with no children, Love admits her career has complicated her personal life and "Had I been in another profession, things may have been different. But it’s not a stress point.’’
Those she has worked for, and those who have worked for her, agree ASU should prepare themselves.
"She looks you dead in the eye, tells you what’s going to happen and asks if you want to go along for the ride,’’ said Mick Halley, who Love hired as her replacement as USC’s volleyball coach in 1998. "She’ll be the hit of the town. She’s aggressive, not a play-it-safe person at all.
"She’ll show up at every event, she’ll have a handle on what the coaches are thinking, feeling and needing, and she’ll stay one step ahead.’’
Mike McGee hired Love as volleyball coach in 1989 and again two years later, when Barbara Hedges left for Washington to become the Pac-10's first female AD and left a gaping hole in USC’s administration. "Lisa is creative, intelligent, a problem solver, a people person who had always had a great deal of crossover ability,’’ McGee said. "There’s no question she’ll be able to handle football — not adequately, but spectacularly — and the coach will come to value the relationship she’ll foster."
Debbie Buchanan is the head volleyball coach at Idaho and one of five Love disciples currently running Division I-A programs.
"Lisa is always working and so organized,’’ Buchanan said. "She’s warm and generally interested in you as a person, but she’s also no-nonsense. You’re accountable for your job and that’s it."
And when it comes to getting the job done, Love has an impressive resumé.
BRING ON THE CHALLENGES
A few months after completing her playing career — in the infancy of Title IX, she was the first female to receive an athletic scholarship at Texas Tech in 1975, completing a degree in physical education — 22-year-old Lisa Love was hired as head volleyball coach and teacher at hometown James Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas.
"My head was spinning,’’ Love said. "I knew how to train a team, but I forgot to hand out the uniforms.’’
After losing every match the year before Love arrived, Bowie won a state championship three years later. With her local reputation blossoming, Love leaped for a new challenge at Texas-Arlington in 1982. Just four years out of college, she turned heads in predicting the program was going after the national powers. While completing her master’s degree in educational administration, Love led the Roadrunners to five Southland Conference titles in seven years, capped by a magical 30-4 season in 1988 when UTA reached the NCAA quarterfinals.
That earned her National Coach of the Year honors, and opened more doors. On the short list for several marquee jobs, including ASU, Love instinctively reached for the most daunting challenge.
USC’s volleyball program had fallen on hard times and far behind Pac-10 powers Stanford and UCLA. Two years earlier, USC hit rock bottom with a pathetic 2-32 record, leading McGee to put his faith in a coach from the South to resurrect a West Coast-dominated sport.
Love put any questions to rest with the same formula that got her the job. She won.
Within two years, the Trojans were back in the NCAA tournament. Love had found her dream job and was positioning herself for a run at coach of the U.S. national team. She was in Beijing, scouting a China-Cuba match in the summer of 1991 when McGee picked up the phone with another job offer — the associate athletic director job vacated by Hedges.
"Mike, you’re crazy,’’ Love said. "I’ve been at USC for a year and a half, I came to coach volleyball on the coast. Things are starting to roll, I have aspirations to coach Team USA in the Olympics and you want me to replace Barbara? I’m not ready.’’
McGee called again when Love returned to Los Angeles, and again a month later, but Love refused. Finally, McGee reshaped the position, allowing Love to fill both roles, and she relented.
"When something is clear to me, I tend to be rather persistent until it becomes clear to others,’’ said McGee, who left USC to become the athletic director at South Carolina in 1993 and recently retired to Colorado. "When I was at Southern California, (basketball coach) George Raveling turned me down twice. Lou Holtz turned me down three times at South Carolina. Lisa was a tough sell, but it was the move. I just had to sell it.’’
For the next eight years, Love coached volleyball while handling the day-to-day supervision of four other sports (women’s basketball, tennis and men’s and women’s swimming and diving). Her personal life became non-existent, but she stuck with it.
"I don’t think she knew exactly how much work it was going to be, but she couldn’t give up the coaching,’’ Jeanne Love said. "It was too important to her.’’
Love finally handed the volleyball program over to Halley in 1998, and was promoted to senior associate under McGee in 2002. Several schools, which Love will only identify as "major conference," have gauged her interest in joining the select group of female athletic directors, but none of them piqued her interest until Gene Smith announced he was leaving ASU for Ohio State.
"I’ve always had an attraction for this area and kept tabs from a distance on ASU,’’ said Love, who signed a fiveyear deal worth $280,000 annually, plus bonuses. "Everything I knew and everything I’ve learned about this place, I like. It took a lot to move me this time, but this was a lot.’’
GENDER A NON-ISSUE
Becoming one of only six female athletic directors in the country isn’t an issue in Love’s mind, it’s just a statistic.
"My gender isn’t an issue unless someone wants to make it one,’’ she said. "It’s not part of my mantra and daily existence. Not many women have this job, so it remains an oddity. But the issue in my position is wins and success not whether I’m wearing a skirt. We’re all Sun Devils.’’
That makes sense, since she’s been smashing stereotypes since she was in grade school.
"When she was a football cheerleader, she would always forget to do the cheers because she was busy watching the field,’’ Jeanne Love remembered. "It was the game and the competition that interested her.’’
AND THAT’S NOT ALL...
In addition to the $280,000 base salary new ASU vice president for university athletics Lisa Love will receive each of the next five years, there are also many extras and bonus opportunities:
• A one-time payment of $75,000 for moving expenses — "grossed up" so that the net payment to Love after subtracting federal and state income and employment taxes equals $75,000.
• Special compensation (to be determined) for radio and/or television shows featuring Love.
• Tickets to ASU sporting events, use of one vehicle, golfing privileges at the ASU golf course, and reimbursement of membership fees and monthly dues at a country club.
• One week’s salary ($5,385) if scholarship student athletes’ graduation rate is 5 percent higher than the general university graduation rate.
• Two weeks’ salary ($10,769) if it is 10 percent higher.
• Three weeks’ salary ($16,154) if it is 15 percent higher.
• Four weeks’ salary ($21,538) if it is 20 percent higher.
Grade Point Averages:
• One week’s salary if scholarship student athletes’ GPA is at least 2.50.
• Two weeks’ salary if it is at least 2.70.
• Three weeks’ salary if it is at least 2.90.
Directors’ Cup (ASU placed 11th this year):
• Two weeks’ salary for top-10 ranking.
• Three weeks’ salary for top-5 ranking.
• Four weeks’ salary for firstplace ranking.
• Each postseason appearance by a team sport (excluding football): two weeks’ salary.
• Each NCAA Championship by a team sport, (excluding football): two weeks’ salary.
Football postseason play:
• Three weeks’ salary for appearance in an NCAA Bowl Championship Series game.
• Two weeks’ salary for an appearance in any other bowl game.
• Each NCAA top-5 finish in an individual sport: One week’s salary.
• Each NCAA championship in an individual sport: Two weeks’ salary.
* — Total performance bonuses are capped at 50 percent of vice president’s base salary.
— Source: Arizona Board of Regents