Fred Glass doesn’t feel ripped off.
He didn't know he was attending his last game as IU athletic director March 11 when he walked into Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. IU men’s basketball played Nebraska in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The next day, March Madness was canceled. So was every athletic event in the Big Ten for the rest of the academic year.
Glass knew he would retire at the year's end. He thought he knew when his last game would be. He thought he had complete control over how he’d go out.
He thought he would travel across the country from the men’s and women’s basketball NCAA Tournaments.
He didn’t think he’d be where he is now, working from home.
But he also never saw himself in this job in the first place.
Glass made the decision to retire at the beginning of the school year. He wanted to spend more time with his five grandkids, just how he’d spent time with his own kids. He wanted to carpool for school, go to their recitals and plays. He couldn’t do that in his current job.
He knew that each final football game or basketball game would be his final too. He couldn’t tell anyone at IU right away.
But ultimately, his hand was forced.
As Glass discussed a contract extension with Tom Allen, the head football coach asked Glass what his future plans were. With Allen signing on for seven more years in Bloomington, he wanted to know who would be in charge over his tenure.
But he couldn’t tell Allen yet.
Glass scheduled a late night meeting with IU President Michael McRobbie. He had to tell him first.
He told Allen the next day — the highest paid employee of the school took it well. He told men’s basketball head coach Archie Miller too, who took it with an even-keeled attitude.
“Fred is as passionate about Indiana University as anyone you will ever meet and his impact on the University over the last 12 years is profound,” Miller said in an IU press release. “Our family certainly owes him a debt of gratitude and his loyalty from day 1 has never wavered.”
Glass was 49 when he took the job as IU’s athletic director in 2009. He graduated from IU in 1981 and worked in Indianapolis as a partner in Baker & Daniels law firm. He was content with his job. He was involved in projects that included developing Lucas Oil Stadium and bringing events such as the Final Four to the city on a regular rotation.
He felt the time was right when his alma mater asked him to return as the athletic director. His kids were going off to college, and he could put in the time needed for the job. He was ready to try something he’d never done before.
The program he took over was in disarray. It hadn’t yet been 10 years since former men’s head basketball coach Bob Knight was fired. The program was just coming off a recruiting violation scandal with then-men’s basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson. Glass was IU’s fifth athletic director in eight years.
“Multiple coaches said to me, ‘Why would someone who looks like they could be doing something else want to come here and be athletic director,’” Glass said. “That didn’t scare me or anything but it made me sad because for me it was like Bloomington, Indiana, the quintessential college town, beautiful campus, Big Ten, IU sports, kids what’s not to like? I think these coaches were so beaten down that they didn’t know why anyone would want to associate with them.”
Glass looked to five principles while he attempted to build the program back: play by the rules, be well in mind, body and spirit, achieve academically, excel athletically and be something bigger than themselves. He tried to build a staff with a strong foundation, unlike the dysfunction he found the program in.
He did that amid constant outside pressure from fans calling for his firing after every men’s basketball loss. That just comes with the territory of his job.
“I listen to criticism, I take it seriously, not personally,” Glass said. “Sometimes it leads us to reconsider some things but sometimes after I consider it, I ultimately just dismiss it. I don’t think it’s on target. You shouldn’t have a job like this if you’re not thick-skinned. I think through my experience in government politics I’ve grown a fairly thick skin.”
Glass leaves the program with the football team coming off its best season in 26 years. He had a women’s basketball program with the best year in team history before it was cut short. He has led record-setting fundraising campaigns of more than $215 million.
He doesn’t think everything is accomplished yet. There’s still growth he wants to see from men’s basketball.
Among his favorite memories are the opportunities to work with students, but also includes trips to the White House with the men’s soccer team and to the Gator Bowl for his final football game.
“I will forever be indebted to him for believing in me to lead the Indiana Hoosiers as head football coach,” Allen said in an IU press release. “Fred is a tremendous person who cares about and has invested so much into all of the programs here at IU and allowed us to achieve the success we enjoy today.”
After his time at IU runs out, Glass plans to return to law. He thinks he may work more with higher education after his experience at IU.
But he isn’t done just yet, and he hasn’t had an easy ride to the end.
Glass’ finale is anticlimactic, but he doesn’t feel he deserved something with more pompous. He wishes he could have seen it all through, to see what type of runs the basketball teams may have gone on or what type of season his spring sports had in store.
“It’s crazy how quickly it’s all happened,” Glass said. “It caught me by surprise like it likely did everybody else.”
He’ll work the final weeks of his tenure away from the field or the court.
So what does an athletic director do when there is no athletics?
Glass will retire on June 30 and the new athletic director Scott Dolson will take over on July 1. The final office cleaning hasn’t come yet.
“I’m going to lead like the athletic director until the day I’m not,” Glass said. “But then I’m going to walk away and I’m not going to be the athletic director. I’m not going to be one of those guys that hangs around.”
Glass said he’s busier now than if sports were continuing. Normally, this is when his schedule calms down. Instead, he’s facing a challenge unlike any he’s seen in his 11-year tenure. Glass is overseeing a program where things appear to change every hour. He’s learning what elements of technology teams are allowed to use for communication under the current NCAA policy and what aren’t. He’s dealing with fiscal challenges caused by COVID-19 cancellations and spring sports athletes getting an extra year of eligibility.
Glass is away from the part of the job he cherishes more than anything when working from home — working with the student-athletes. He has talked to the athletes who had their final seasons wiped away. Glass mentioned talking to Brenna Wise — the lone senior of the women’s basketball team’s — who won’t get to take part in a postseason run to end what had been the winningest season in program history.
For Glass it isn’t about the latter half of his 11th year being sent awry amid a pandemic. He’s more concerned with the final weeks for the seniors in his athletic program, and those across all of IU’s campus. Seniors won’t get their last Little 500 or commencement ceremony.
“Student-athletes are the most publicly seen people making sacrifices,” Glass said. “But it cuts across the entire student body.”
Glass’ final day will still be as scheduled, though his path has been greatly altered by COVID-19. At his retirement press conference in December, Glass said the biggest problem for his successor would be financial challenges. The coronavirus has only exacerbated that.
But Glass knows he left the program better off than how he found it.