Fred Glass doesn't remember who Indiana's opponent was or what call officials made that led Pat Kraft to use a commercial and the giant video board at Memorial Stadium to make a joke. But the former Indiana athletic director does remember that within a few days, he was being asked if Kraft, now Penn State's athletic director, should keep his job.
When he was hired as athletic director in 2008, Glass hired Kraft, a former Indiana linebacker, to be his assistant athletic director in charge of marketing. Glass made Kraft his point man in improving the gameday experience for fans, and he gave him ample freedom to take chances, especially when it came to football games because of the Hoosiers' historic struggles in filling Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers added a massive video board to the stadium in 2010, and Glass encouraged Kraft to be bold and creative with it.
"I told Pat, 'Hey man, it's all about the inventory of content with that thing,'" Glass said. "So have some fun, put some stuff up there. He was big on the fan cam, because kids love to see themselves up there. Pushing the envelope on content, making it fun."
Pushing the button... and limits
But once, he or someone on his marketing team had perhaps a little too much fun with it. In 2007, Subway put together a TV advertising campaign of "fresh moments." One included a football referee turning on his microphone to say "I totally blew that call. In fact, it wasn't even close, but don't worry, I'll penalize the other team for no good reason in the second half to even things up."
During a conference among the officials about a controversial call in an Indiana game in 2010, a clip of the ad played over the Memorial Stadium video board, causing some fans to think the referee was actually speaking. Glass doesn't remember if it was Kraft or someone on his team who actually pressed the button to play the clip, but the marketing team as a whole caught fire.
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"The refs were pissed," Glass said. "And the conference was pissed. Pat and his guy were afraid that they were going to get fired or something."
Glass said he was actually asked by a reporter if he was going to fire Kraft. He said he never considered it.
"I told Pat, 'Hey man, you guys are good,'" Glass said. "'When you color outside the lines, sometimes you make a mistake, so shake it off and we're not going to worry about it.' I was asked if I was going to fire this person. I said, 'Well, hell no.' I thought Pat was changing the complexion of the game-day experience and we were creating an atmosphere when people wanted to go to the games."
Finding his way back to the Big Ten
Twelve years later, Kraft has risen up the ladder and is now directing his third athletic department. He left Indiana in 2011 for Loyola (Ill.) where he was an associate athletic director for two years before going to Temple in 2013.
He became athletic director for the Owls in 2015 and oversaw the most successful stretch of football in Temple history with Matt Rhule and then Geoff Collins as coaches. The Owls went to five straight bowl games from 2015-19, won two American Athletic Conference East Division titles and one conference championship.
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He went from there to Boston College in 2020, then in April it was announced that he would take over as athletic director at Penn State on July 1.
Embracing a measure of transparency
Penn State athletic directors have traditionally not sought the limelight and have embraced the secrecy that the job can provide. Penn State is considered a "state-related" institution, and it is not required by Pennsylvania's open records laws to divulge nearly as much information as public institutions in other states.
That fact was of particular relevance a decade ago when the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal stained and decimated the university and the athletic department when the university fought off requests to release information and documents about the case.
The athletic department keeps much less serious matters private as well, including coach's contracts, agreements with apparel companies and costs of investments in department infrastructure. It took Pennsylvania journalists a legal battle of several years from 2002-07 just to find out what Joe Paterno's base salary was.
But in a meeting with Penn State's beat media on Wednesday at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis, the gregarious Kraft showed a desire to color outside of those lines and bring much more transparency to the position. Though he made a point not to criticize his predecessor Sandy Barbour, he shined light on the areas where he thinks Penn State is short of where it needs to be.
What needs to change
"A lot of the sports performance, nutrition, we're behind there," Kraft said. "Then one big thing, and I've said this before, is we're behind in NIL (name, image and likeness). ... We're Penn State, we should lead the country in how we do NIL. We should lead the country in everything we do. But we have to get better."
Kraft also said he saw major shortcomings in facilities for its Olympic sports, meaning those outside of football and men's and women's basketball that make less revenue.
"Our Olympic facilities are way behind," Kraft said. "We've got to focus on our Olympic facilities. We're building nutrition centers right now as we speak in East Hall. Football is beautiful and this new addition they're doing is great, but we've gotta get better in our Olympic facilities. We got a field hockey facility approved, which is huge, I had nothing to do with it. The No. 1 priority right now is men's and women's soccer. They have no bathrooms at their facility. It's unacceptable. Those teams win national championships."
Current outlook enhanced
He showed a willingness to disclose more information, especially the information that makes Penn State look good. The Nittany Lions recently agreed to a contract extension with wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who has led Penn State to an astounding nine team national championships out of the 11 that have been contested since 2011. The fact that he signed an extension was reported, but not the terms.
"He's the GOAT," Kraft said. "He can be here as long as he wants. ... I asked, 'Why does no one know this?' I'm with you. I don't know why. There's some things we're uncovering right now that, I mean, yell it from the mountaintops. Our coach is staying with us."
Campaigning a part of the job
As much as he seems willing to shake things up within the department, he's also unabashed about making noise externally on behalf of Penn State. Kraft said he was told by football coach James Franklin that 2022 will mark the seventh straight season the Lions open Big Ten play on the road with their season opener Sept. 1 at Purdue. Kraft promptly called the Big Ten.
"It stinks," Kraft said. "He called me the other day and I called the conference office. This is unacceptable. ... That shouldn't happen to Penn State. We should be at home for our opener. That's crazy. It stinks. I called our friends in the conference office, who I love dearly, but that's not right."
That willingness to go to bat with both university administration and the conference has already endeared Kraft to Penn State's coaches, Franklin in particular.
"There's things that I go to him about or we have discussions about, and we're aligned already without him having to convince me or me having to convince him," Franklin said of Kraft. "The other thing is having somebody that's a fighter. Everybody needs that across every campus. I want this to come off specifically to Pat, because total respect for the regime we had previously, but Pat is fighting some battles that maybe hadn't been fought in the past."
Using the lessons he learned at IU
That willingness to push the envelope is proof that, though Kraft has matured since his time at Indiana, he's still the same guy who worked for Glass and the same guy who won a scholarship as a linebacker at IU, playing for the Hoosiers from 1997-99 under Cam Cameron. The Libertyville, Ill. native's No. 47 jersey still hangs on the wall at Nicks English Hut.
"He approaches life as the former middle linebacker that he is," Glass said. "It's search and destroy. It's take the initiative, in a very positive way."
Kraft said he still takes lessons from his former mentors, Glass as well as current IU athletic director Scott Dolson, who was Glass' deputy and took over when he retired from his position in 2020. He still keeps in touch with both, considering them among his best friends.
But now that he's in their conference, he's circling Penn State's games with Indiana on his calendar. This year, the teams meet in Bloomington on Nov. 5, so he plans on returning to his alma mater.
"I look at my time at Indiana fondly," Kraft said, then giggled. "Now I'm focused on beating them."
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: IU alum Pat Kraft still taking chances as Penn State athletic director