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Fehlberg's out as Y. picks new athletics chief
His departure is part of shakeup of department

PROVO -- Rondo Fehlberg never was a typical BYU athletic director.

Though he is a former All-America Cougar wrestler and ardent sports fan, he's not a former coach. Prior to becoming the A.D. in 1995, he did not possess prior athletic administration experience. He was plucked from a different world to take the reins of the BYU athletic department.What he did have was aggressive ideas, a law degree and, as a former Pennzoil executive, a strong business background.

From Day One, Fehlberg knew that, unlike his predecessors, the A.D. title would not lead him directly into retirement. He knew BYU would not be his last stop in life.

On Friday, the end arrived, as Fehlberg announced at a press conference that his four-year tenure was over. The news came as part of a major shakeup in the BYU athletic department.

There was little time for suspense about who would replace him as Val Hale, a longtime member of the athletic department staff, was introduced as his successor.

In another move announced Friday, Gary Pullins, who guided the Cougar baseball program for 23 years, will retire from that post to become the assistant athletic director.

"It's been a great run for me, a great run for my family," Fehlberg said of his departure, which will take place July 1. "We have loved being part of BYU. My loyalty to the school is the same as when I came here. My understanding of this institution is deeper and greater . . . It's the right time to go. This was not a career destination for me."

Hale, meanwhile, sounds like he would be more than happy to work in this A.D. job for the rest of his life. He did not contain his excitement and enthusiasm, calling this new role his dream job. "I'm just some normal little kid from Snowflake, Ariz.," he said. "I never thought in a million years I would be in this position. I always dreamed it would happen someday."

Hale, who becomes the ninth A.D. in school history, paid tribute to Fehlberg for his role in guiding the athletic department. "A great foundation has been laid," Hale said. "Filling his shoes will be a tremendous challenge."

Hale was, along with Fehlberg, a candidate for the athletic director's position in 1995. But soon after taking the job, Fehlberg indicated he wouldn't be around long. "From that moment on I sensed that he has prepared me for this job," he said. "He's allowed me a glimpse of what the job entails."

When Fehlberg arrived in Provo in May 1995 after 16 years as an attorney and oil business executive, he drew attention almost immediately for his bold "vision" for BYU athletics, which included hopes for unprecedented success both on and off the field of play.

When asked to assess his feelings upon his leaving BYU, Fehlberg simply said, "I'm calm. Surprisingly calm."

His years at BYU were rarely calm. Change was one of the hallmarks of his administration, which saw BYU leave the Western Athletic Conference and the basketball program go through wholesale changes as Roger Reid was fired and replaced by an unknown junior college coach, Steve Cleveland.

In the end, his tenure was marked by both memorable victories and bitter defeats. "It's been at times more difficult than I had imagined and more fulfilling than I had expected," he said. He walks away with a clear understanding that intercollegiate athletics "is more a business than a game."

He admitted he didn't accomplish everything he set out to do. One thing he wished he could have accomplished was see the construction of an indoor practice facility. Advancement vice president Fred Skousen said he will continue to use Fehlberg as a resource in future indoor athletic facility plans.

Fehlberg also expressed his disappointment that some of the teams in the department did not perform better under his watch.

The decision made public in April that the school will be eliminating men's gymnastics and wrestling after the 2000-01 season was painful. "I'm still devastated," he said.

On the positive side, though, he pointed to BYU's establishment of the student athlete center as a notable accomplishment.

During his years at BYU, several high-profile athletes were either suspended or dismissed from the university for Honor Code infractions.

"The intensity of press scrutiny is much greater now," he said. "Unfortunately, every time we stumble, it's a very public thing. The public pressure and perception has contributed to a great blessing. We've marshaled our resources to establish the student athlete center to acclimatize athletes academically and culturally."

From all indications at the press conference, the parting between Fehlberg and BYU seemed to be amicable and a mutual decision. But was he nudged out the door? "That would not be an accurate assessment," he said. "You just get the sense that it's time, that it's a good time to make a change."

"We thank him for his significant contributions to the athletic department," Skousen said, adding that Fehlberg played a critical role, partly because of his negotiation expertise, in establishing the Mountain West Conference, which opens play this year.

President Merrill J. Bateman was not in attendance at the press conference. Skousen said he had previous engagements to attend to.

Fehlberg says he will continue to support the school and the athletic department both financially and by volunteering his time. He added that he stands by his vision of what BYU's athletic department can become someday.

Fehlberg was vague about his future plans, saying that he has some opportunities in front of him but no idea where he might end up. "I'm in for a great adventure," he said. "I look forward to the next transition. I'm curious about what I'm going to do next."

Meanwhile, Hale's first major task as athletic director is finding a replacement for Pullins and, in the not-too-distant future, a replacement for football coach and icon LaVell Edwards. "There is no more important assignment that I can see than selecting good coaches," Hale said.

He added that he has high hopes for the MWC and is looking forward to assisting in the process of building a reputation and identity for the new league.