Following the first interview I did with Whit Babcock upon his hiring, I hung up the phone and shook my head in near disbelief.
Making a living in the media we are trained to smell dishonesty. We swim to and from the office in a pool of half PR spin, half blatant lies. So, upon talking about his first job as an athletic direction and the challenging decisions confronted with at the University of Cincinnati the gut reaction on Babcock stuck with me for days.
This guy is different. He's honest. He's transparent. More specifically, he's genuine.
Through 27 months of toeing the line of reporting about and working alongside Babcock that genuine demeanor and commitment to honesty, the power of positivity and belief people make all the difference never eroded from me.
In every instance, on and off the record, Babcock lived in humility, quest for truth and empowering others around him.
One walk around the Lindner Center shows how that filtered from personal philosophy to athletic department culture.
One Team began showing up everywhere. Attitudes of employees perked up. A department often treading water in hopes of establishing its visions walked with purpose and direction. Accomplishment followed.
Marketing broke new ground. Basketball grew. Accountability reigned.
Boosters believed in the vision and suddenly the Nippert Expansion fast-tracked with millions of dollars to cover it already in the pocket.
Daily life felt and looked different.
UC athletics excelled and accomplished before Babcock. Claiming otherwise would be preposterous. What Babcock developed and instituted into every aspect of Bearcats sports was a reinvigoration of pride, optimism and honesty. The restoration of being genuine. This resonated with everyone connected to the program, by paycheck or diploma, ticket or jersey.
The great news for fans as Babcock moves on to a well-deserved return home as AD at Virginia Tech is the culture he created in Clifton so embedded itself into every day, undoing that momentum would be difficult to envision.
Differing strategically with how daily events are handled can be debated. Success rates can be achieved many different ways. And quickly.
However, there is no easy way to fix a defeating culture. The person who comes sits in the chair after Babcock and interim AD Desiree Reed-Francois won't need to worry about such problems. Reed-Francois enters the fray as a dedicated professional in the same mold of her former boss. The ship sails forward, route unchanged.
In the days following Babcock's departure I was shocked to hear from fans frustration and even a few ugly words directed at his leaving. Seemed almost mind-boggling to me. Doesn't everyone see what happened here the last few years? Well, the answer to my own question was not really.
Perhaps anyone without a view of the program from the inside out can't truly appreciate the enormity of what he accomplished.
They can't truly appreciate how much easier this job will now be for his successor.
Changing leadership can be done seamlessly. Just ask Brian Kelly, Butch Jones and Tommy Tuberville. Changing culture takes years, sometimes decades.
Babcock leaves that legacy behind. His time at UC was shorter than anybody in the building would have liked, but the residue of his work will cake the program for years to come.
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