Norton resigns from athletic board position

By Jeff Kirik

Curt Norton is no rebel, but when men’s basketball coach Jim Rosborough was fired, Norton felt compelled to take action.

Frustrated by Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell’s decision to prematurely end a four-year university commitment to Rosborough, Norton resigned from his position as athletic board chairman on March 10. He had been a board member for the past 10 years and had served as chairman for the past three.

The four-year commitment was made to Rosborough in 1986 by a search committee that Norton was on. Since the March 8 firing, O’Dell has explained that he did not feel obligated to keep the commitment because the men’s basketball program was not showing necessary improvement.

“(The committee) was really concerned about a coach that would make a commitment to Northern,” said Norton in reference to why the university made the four-year pledge. “What was decided in the search committee was that we shouldn’t be asking for that type of a commitment from a coach unless we were willing to make that type of a commitment as an institution.

“It’s not a legally binding contract … but I think it was pretty genuinely understood by everybody on the search committee. My primary concern is that we have not—as an institution—we have not lived up to that commitment.”

Norton, an accounting professor, first learned of Rosborough’s dismissal when O’Dell informed him shortly before a March 8 athletic board meeting. O’Dell said he did not tell the rest of the board members at the meeting because he first wanted to discuss the matter with Rosborough and the basketball players.

“I think as a matter of courtesy the athletic board should have been told—especially when the press knew about it,” said Norton, who was also on the committee that chose O’Dell in 1987. “I don’t understand the reasoning why we were not told.”

The athletic board’s duties do not include the hiring and firing or the evaluation of personnel, so O’Dell was not—according to university bylaws—obligated to discuss his decision with the board.

“Even if the athletic board does not have a role in the evaluation of personnel, we have a role in the integrity of the program,” Norton said. “Even though we did not have a role in the actual firing of the coach, this affects the way the whole program is seen by other people.

“There may be situations where I would say an athletic director is justified in not meeting a commitment, but I haven’t heard any of those reasons in this situation. I met with him the day after the firing (March 9) and he did not give any reasons to me.”

Norton also said he was upset because he did not think Rosborough was given a fair shot at turning the struggling NIU program around.

He said, “I think that most people think it is unreasonable to assume that a basketball coach could turn the program around and show more progress than what has been shown in the situation that we’re in—it’s a very tough job.”

NIU President John LaTourette could not be reached for comment.