Canzano: Oregon president Michael Schill leaving for the Big Ten himself
Ducks leader hired by Northwestern.
University of Oregon president Michael Schill is leaving his post in Eugene. He’s headed to the Big Ten Conference, where he’ll take the same job at Northwestern.
The timing stinks.
The uncertainty for UO is precarious.
Sure as Chicago, Schill is Northwestern’s pick. That campus is getting a smart guy who cares about students. He often confessed that he wasn’t a die-hard sports junkie, and now Schill is getting as far away from sports as a university president can possibly get — Northwestern.
Except, the Wildcats have made significant recent investments in facilities. Also, they’re due $70 million-plus in annual media rights payouts from the Big Ten’s new deal with Fox. So maybe this is just about Schill finding a better athletic/academic fit.
Years ago, I arrived at the press box for a Ducks’ football game and found Schill standing at my seat, waiting. He was new on the job and wanted to introduce himself. We spoke about football, leadership, family and life.
Schill was born in upstate New York. His father, Simon, was a factory worker who was frequently laid off near the end of his career. His mother, Ruth, was a nurse. Michael Schill’s earliest childhood memory is of himself in his father’s lap.
He told his father, “I’m going to go to Harvard.”
The kid might as well have said, “I’m going to the Moon.”
Years later, Schill got put on the wait list at Harvard. That bummed him out. He attended Princeton, instead. Then, he went to Yale law school and became editor of the Yale Law Journal. After that, Schill clerked for a prestigious judge, practiced law, then got into teaching it to students.
The Pac-12 Conference desperately needs stability. These are tumultuous times and Oregon’s position as a tentpole of the conference demands a strong, stable voice in the room. Schill’s departure to Northwestern will spark some doubt and uncertainty.
He was UO’s 18th president. The Ducks will soon be looking for No. 19. After beloved Oregon-native Dave Frohnmayer left the post in 2009, UO shuffled through campus leaders at a blistering pace.
Two years with Richard Lariviere at the helm. Two more with Michael Gottfredson. The instability made the campus uneasy. Then came Schill, who is now in his seventh year on the job.
Schill told me on Thursday, “It’s a great university and closer to my family.”
During last season’s loss to Stanford I stood with Oregon’s president on a landing outside the press box and we watched the third quarter of the game together. Mario Cristobal’s team was trying to hang on and avoid an upset.
“Mario is so intense on the sideline,” Schill noted.
Then came a long pause.
“I think I’m starting to understand football,” he said.
Schill recently served as chair of the Pac-12’s CEO Group. He was the face of the conference when it canceled football amid the pandemic, and the guy who spoke first when it came back. Pac-12 headquarters wasn’t aware that Schill was leaving for Northwestern until I tipped them off on Thursday morning. They’re currently focused on more pressing matters.
Eventually, they’ll be tasked with breaking in his replacement.
UCLA and USC’s defections to the Big Ten were a gut punch for the Pac-12. It caused unrest and anxiety among the remaining members. Few have the brand and juice that Oregon carry. Whoever UO hires will inherit that clout.
Rival Oregon State has been without a permanent president since F. King Alexander was pushed out in the spring of 2021. Becky Johnson has served admirably as the interim president, but I’ve wondered how the lack of a tenured campus president might hurt OSU amid so much Pac-12 uncertainty. Jayathi Murthy is the new presidential hire. She starts Sept. 9.
Now, the Ducks get to make a hire.
To Schill, I say, “Good luck. Bring a jacket.”
To Oregon, I say, “You’ll figure it out. President No. 19 might turn out better than 18.”
Schill was big on literature and quotes. So I’ll leave you with one today. John Steinbeck once wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
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