Cal Athletic Director Jim Knowlton interviews for Northwestern job

Many decisions are coming for the California Golden Bears, and this one impacts all of them.

(Photo credit: UC Berkeley)

California Golden Bears athletic director Jim Knowlton has been on the job for just over three seasons. He has drawn acclaim for his ability to fundraise from Cal alumni and help get Cal Athletics to a more fiscally responsible state. He’s helped expand the donor base to ensure Cal doesn’t have to cut Olympic sports. He’s drawn criticism for the hiring of Mark Fox, who has Cal men’s basketball stuck in a perpetually dreary state.

But his eye is wandering.

Knowlton interviewed with Northwestern for their vacant athletic director position (Jim Phillips accepted the new ACC commissioner position) along with Washington State athletic director Pat Chun, and a decision is expected in the next week or two.

Regardless of whether Northwestern does pick Knowlton or not, it leaves Cal Athletics in a pretty rough situation. If he leaves, Cal needs an athletic director at a time that crucial decisions will need to be made in the big sports. If he doesn’t leave, Cal has an athletic director that has already shown an interest to move on at a time the Bears need to prove they are taking athletics seriously to financially sustain it.

There are looming decisions coming in both major sports. For football, Justin Wilcox’s contract is up in 2023, and an extension will have to be inked by the end of the 2021 season if they want to keep him around. For men’s basketball, Mark Fox is certainly on the hot seat, and a big decision will have to come quickly as well. And it could threaten the donor base expansion work that Knowlton has been critical in driving in the past year, forcing more difficult discussions in future years about the viability of 30 college sports.

It took months for Cal to hire Knowlton after Mike Williams stepped down. With critical decisions looming on all front, this news is simply not great for Cal, regardless of your personal opinions of Knowlton.