Dan Beebe once was an NCAA investigator, a job which commands all the public appeal of an IRS agent. “Only NCAA guy I ever liked,” cracked Barry Switzer, even though Beebe was on the infamous 1989 OU case.
Beebe was an onion-picker, too, at the age of 12, the son of an alcoholic father, needing to make a little money in his dysfunctional family.
Beebe also was a rugby player. Not that long ago. The 53-year-old Beebe played the rugged sport until he was 43.
Are you starting to see a trend? Are you starting to see why this guy who some said was allowing the Big 12 to die instead was the man who saved it?
Dan Beebe is tough. Smart, yes, but more tough than smart. More tough than anything.
The Big 12 commissioner is a competitor. Those who blamed Beebe for the exits of Nebraska and Colorado were clueless, but none of us had any idea how strong was the Big 12 leader.
First, Beebe kept the remaining 10 teams together by making financial promises. Now, he's delivered on the promise, with a 13-year, $90-million-per-year contract with Fox Sports.
The Big 12 is stable. Still no assurance that some school won't bolt sometime in the next decade and start the madness all over again, but even those still quietly talking further conference realignment admit Beebe has produced revenue that will make anyone hesitate to jump.
Truth is, the Big 12 is more stable now with 10 teams than it was with 12.
Anyone who played college football — offensive line, Cal Poly-Pomona — then met his physical fix with another two decades of rugby, does not give in lightly.
“We played hard, tried to win the game, then would meet the visiting team at the local pub,” Beebe said.
But Beebe was competitive long before rugby. “That came from rather difficult circumstances,” Beebe said, referring to growing up in Walla Walla, Wash. “I got a lot of lessons through athletics I wasn't going to get in my home life.”
Beebe went to junior college, Cal Poly and finally law school at Cal-Hastings.
The NCAA was hiring, so Beebe signed on. He worked SMU's Pony Excess case and OU's.
It's a natural step from NCAA cop to conference commissioner. The SEC's Mike Slive and the Big Ten's Jim Delany also were NCAA detectives before becoming conference power-brokers.
“We had to have a kind of personality, go in and deal with tough issues,” Beebe said. “Deal with people from all walks of life exposed to all areas of intercollegiate athletics.”
Boosters. Athletic directors. Presidents. Coaches.
“It provides exposure to how things operate on campus,” Beebe said.
In 1989, the Ohio Valley Conference hired Beebe as its commissioner; he stayed 13 years. The Big 12 hired Beebe as associate commissioner in 2003, then promoted him in 2007 when Kevin Weiberg outstayed his welcome.
So when the Big 12 faced extinction last June, the right man was on the job.
“I was blessed with gifts God gave me,” Beebe said. “One, perseverance. Two, optimism, a positive outlook. I started with that.
“Comes from my background. Twelve years old, crawled through fields, pulling onions, I couldn't get money any other way. Working hard.
“Rely on hard work, God and the people around me. I do seek advice, from above and from all sorts of people. Those factors may have helped as much as anything. Donnie Duncan was a tremendous supporter and counselor.”
Duncan is a former OU athletic director and Big 12 associate commissioner. He helped form the conference back in 1994.
But Beebe also said current athletic directors Joe Castiglione (Oklahoma) and Mike Holder (Oklahoma State) “were rocks. Great friends, great supporters.”
Funny. Lots of Big 12 people say Beebe was the rock.
“When Rome was burning, he certainly wasn't fiddling,” said Big 12 assistant commissioner Bob Burda. “Dan was so singularly focused, doing what was required to keep the conference intact.”
Rampant criticism of Beebe came from primarily Nebraska but also nationally. That Beebe hadn't been minding the store. That Beebe wasn't strong enough to keep the conference together. That Beebe was just a puppet for Texas, even though Beebe fought for equitable Big 12 revenue sharing, to no avail.
“Never really affected me,” Beebe said of the critics, though last autumn he famously skipped a trip to Lincoln, Neb., because of threats from fans.
“My mom or my wife may not like it. Never really affected me. Doesn't bother me. If (OU president) David Boren or (OSU president) Burns Hargis or Joe (Castiglione) or Mike Holder were telling me I was making bad mistakes, I would be concerned. Those are people I respect and work for. I serve at their pleasure.”
Beebe serves well. The guy who some said was killing the Big 12 instead saved it.