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Canzano: Don't forget the 'fixer' who fixed Kevin Warren's act
A look behind the curtain.
Kevin Warren raided the Pac-12 and blew up 100 years of tradition while fortifying the Big Ten Conference. Good for him, I guess, but the commissioner must have figured there was nothing left for him to do in the college ranks. He’s going back to the pros where he was named President and CEO of the Chicago Bears on Thursday.
To Warren, I say: “So long.”
To the NFL, I say: “No handshake deals.”
Warren will probably do just fine in helping the Bears build a new football stadium. He’s not a bad hire. But I’m certain he should tip Carrie Gerlach Cecil on his way out of college athletics.
She’s the CEO of Anachel, a branding firm that helps high-profile clients with things such as “headline issues” per its website. Cecil has been part of “Team Warren” for the last couple of years, back-channeling, advising and shifting the narrative.
Warren has only been on the job since 2020. Just 71 days into his tenure, he was vilified for his handling of the early part of the pandemic. Coaches and players were upset. Conference members were frustrated. There were threats of lawsuits and cries for Warren’s job.
That’s when he hired Cecil, who told Sports Business Journal late last year: “I’m not in the judgment business, I’m in the fixer business.”
Cecil’s client list is extensive and impressive. Anachel’s website boasts the logos of the NCAA, the Bears, FOX Sports, UCLA and a variety of other sports brands and media companies. When you’re sewing together the story about Warren’s Big Ten tenure, there are lots of unknowns, but be sure — Cecil is the thread.
She’s married to ex-NFL defensive back Chuck Cecil, who is coaching the secondary at the University of Arizona. On Twitter, she utilizes a masked, cartoonish superhero-like avatar and her profile includes “Media Muse.”
Cecil didn’t respond to a message I sent her for comment. If she does, I’ll add it here. But be sure, her fingerprints are all over Warren’s tenure in the Big Ten.
The Bears are already a client, but if Warren is smart, he’ll keep Carrie Gerlach Cecil around. He landed the biggest media rights deal in college athletics history. He challenged conventional thinking. And for all but roughly 71 days of Warren’s tenure, his trusted fixer was along for the ride.
Cecil worked with the commissioner in front of last June’s announcement that UCLA and USC were joining the Big Ten. Also, she helped shape his appearance on HBO’s Real Sports, which declared Warren “the most powerful man in college sports.” And when Sports Business Journal put the Big Ten leader on its cover in August, Cecil was quick to thank the publication. She called it “one of the most meaningful comeback stories in sports.”
She’s not wrong. Warren was teetering before he hired Anachel in 2020. He’d misread the room out of the gates and a few of his constituents were uneasy with his leadership style. His reputation was being battered.
The Big Ten was accustomed to the tough, fair, collaborative act of Jim Delany, who stepped down as commissioner after 30 years. Here came Warren, who helped the Minnesota Vikings build a new football stadium. Tradition-be-damned, he saw the growth opportunities for college sports.
More than one member of the Pac-12 noted Cecil’s heavy-handed involvement with the Big Ten and Warren, of course. One high-level Pac-12 campus administrator sent me a screenshot of a tweet. It showed Warren and Cecil posing outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after Big Ten Conference Media Day last July.
Earlier in the two-day event, Warren declared: “We’re in a time of change. I think there’s two types of people in the world: They look at change as a problem, or they look at it as an opportunity. I’m one of those people that, when change occurs, I’m excited about it.”
His words? Her words? Hard to tell these days. They were said nonetheless. Decide for yourself if you love Warren for dreaming big or loathe him for trying to make college sports look more like the pros. I happen to think Warren left the college football world richer — but worse — than he found it.
Warren’s return to the NFL signals to me that he saw the ceiling on his work in the Big Ten. Also, interesting that the conference wasn’t falling over itself to offer him an extension. Some of his own conference members didn’t appreciate that he’d openly talked about expanding beyond USC and UCLA last year. There didn’t seem to be much of an appetite for more additions. There certainly wasn’t consensus.
A few months later, that guy skipped off to run the Bears.
You know what they say with commodities — buy low, sell high. Warren is getting out with his reputation mostly whole and his value still high. He expanded his conference into the Los Angeles television market and landed a windfall media deal. There isn’t much for him to personally gain by sticking around to find out if any of the moves will actually work out long term.
I don’t blame Carrie Gerlach Cecil one bit for doing her job. Be clear — she’s a fixer. It’s what she tells clients in the first meeting. When it comes to Kevin Warren, she may just be getting started.
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