Incoming University of Miami President Julio Frenk grew up in Mexico playing soccer and basketball. American football became entrenched in his life when he studied for his doctorate at Michigan — another high-profile program in the world of collegiate football.
Frenk, 61, assured the audience at his introductory news conference Monday that he “indeed’’ is “fully aware of the great tradition in athletics and in particular football’’ at Miami, that he is “talking with the community to understand their expectations and dreams for that part of the university,’’ and that he sees “athletics as an integral part of a comprehensive education.’’
Frenk told the Miami Herald after his address that he went to “many, many football games at Michigan. When I was a student I almost didn’t miss any. I’m looking forward to it here.’’
With Miami president Donna Shalala retiring from her position June 1 to become president of the Clinton Foundation, her replacement was highly anticipated by UM football fans intent on the program returning to its glory days.
Frenk, currently the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Mexico’s former Minister of Health, starts his job at UM on Sept. 1, but he met with head coaches for about 45 minutes Monday.
“Very nice guy,’’ said UM baseball coach Jim Morris after the meeting. “He’s well-rounded, he’s learning and I was told that he would be very positive toward athletics.’’
UM athletic director Blake James called it “a great day’’ for Miami. Football coach Al Golden, under intense pressure to win in 2015 after a 6-7 season and 11 losses in his past 19 games, said in a prepared statement that it was “a tremendous day’’ and that he expected Frenk to take the school “to even greater heights.’’
Before Frenk met with the coaches, basketball coach Jim Larrañaga praised the hire.
“He’s got an incredible background academically and in public health,’’ Larrañaga said. “As a coach you hope that your administration is going to be very, very supportive of athletics, and from what I understand, he is.’’
When asked if the direction of the sports program was an important component in the hiring of a new president, Richard Fain, the Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO who headed the presidential-search committee, said, “Of course.
“At the U,’’ he told the Herald, “you can’t not have that be an important dialogue about the future of the university.’’
Stuart Miller, CEO of the Lennar Corporation and chair of the UM Board of Trustees, said sports was “absolutely one of the priorities’’ in the search. “It’s part of our brand. It’s part of what defines the university across the country.
“The fact that we’ve brought on a president that has such an open mind ... and recognizes all parts of the university gives me a great deal of confidence.’’
Shalala brought UM through a long NCAA investigation and has taken much criticism for the school’s decline in football. She said she believes “UM fans should be excited’’ by Frenk’s hire.
“First of all,’’ she said, “we have a great group of coaches for our athletics program, we’ve got stability and we’ve got big financial investments in the program.
“I just think the best is yet to come.’’