By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
Kent State President Lester Lefton knew it wasn't going to be easy to replace longtime Golden Flashes Athletic Director Laing Kennedy, who is retiring June 30 after 16 years overseeing the school's sports departments.
That's why a diverse 17-member committee — headed by Business School Dean Robert ''Yank'' Heisler — will meet for the first time Wednesday to begin a lengthy and thorough process to determine Kennedy's successor.
''The plan is to have a committee orientation meeting Wednesday, where we hope everybody can be present, maybe some by teleconference,'' Heisler said. ''But we felt it was important to get something started before the holiday break. Otherwise, by the time we all get back, it's already into the third week of January.''
In addition to introducing themselves Wednesday, members of the committee will be addressed by Lefton and then will meet Todd Turner, an ISP search consultant the school hired to help the committee.
When the committee reconvenes after the break, Heisler said, he expects to be flooded with resumes from a ''rich candidate pool.''
''We already have a couple of resumes that have. . .started to trickle in,'' Heisler said. ''And we fully expect the committee to interview some 20 candidates face to face before ultimately forwarding a list of three to five recommendations [to Lefton] by late March or early April.''
Like Lefton, Heisler knows Kennedy has set a high standard.
Currently the longest-tenured athletic director in the Mid-American Conference, Kennedy is also in his final year on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. A 1963 graduate of Cornell University, the Woodstock, Ontario, native came to Kent State in 1994 after an 11-year stint as director of athletics at his alma mater.
Under his leadership, KSU's athletic teams have claimed 87 MAC regular-season and tournament championships.
KSU student athletes have won 251 individual MAC titles and have earned 84 All-America honors and 26 Academic All-America citations.
As a department, Kent State has also been the top MAC school in the NCAA championships performance-based Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings nine of the past 10 years and has won six Jacoby Trophies and four Reese Trophies for overall women's and men's excellence, respectively, in the MAC.
''Laing has been a model man and model leader to so many folks here for so long,'' Heisler said. ''He's a legend.''
Although Heisler said Kennedy chose not to be on the search committee because he did not want to interfere, Heisler said he has no doubts that Kennedy would be ''available in an unofficial role if we need him.''
If all goes well in the next couple of months, the search committee aims to have Kennedy's successor in place before he retires ''so that there's a little overlap.''