Sources: Vanderbilt could have stopped Turner's spending, but didn't
Vanderbilt athletic director Malcolm Turner resigned last week after his relationship with university administrators disintegrated in the wake of what was characterized as excessive spending.
But sources indicate the university had measures in place to stop such things that it didn't use, and communicated little to Turner with regards to expectations once interim chancellor Susan Wente took over in August.
Turner, who started at Vanderbilt on Feb. 1, 2019 after he was hired by ex-chancellor Nick Zeppos, stepped down on Feb. 3 of this year.
Multiple sources told VandySports.com that the school was unhappy with Turner's spending, which was frequently described as extravagant and unnecessary. Turner allegedly blew though a "rainy day" fund bequeathed him by his predecessor, David Williams, that was estimated at around $17 million as of spring 2019.
Turner spent what was estimated at $7.1 million to fire basketball coach Bryce Drew and staff. The rest was gone within a year and allegedly, a seven-figure number was spent beyond that. (Vanderbilt is a private institution and does not release such information.)
The parts perceived as unnecessary included Turner’s travel expenses, an office renovation, hiring multiple consultants and/or consulting firms, and what was described as “a bloated staff” for basketball coach Jerry Stackhouse.
A source intimately familiar with Vanderbilt’s budgetary processes told VandySports.com last week that the university is typically aware of any and all spending as it is happening.
“The question people should be asking is not how much spending there was, but how this happened without anyone at Vanderbilt red-flagging it,” the source said. “The CFO is aware of what’s going on. Kirkland [Hall] is aware of what’s going on. They know, every day, what’s spent. The comptroller and head of the athletics business office would know.”
Kirkland Hall is the campus building where university administrators typically work.
Another source reiterated that concern.
“If his spending was so bad, the checks and balances, where were they?” the source said. “Were they complaining during or before? Did they onboard him? Once Zeppos left, were there any meetings?”
When Turner started, multiple sources indicated to VandySports at the time that Zeppos gave Turner unprecedented authority to change VU’s flagging athletics culture. Zeppos charged Turner with authoring a strategic plan for athletics and raising money for new facilities, among other things.
That plan began to meet resistance once Zeppos stepped down on Aug. 15 and was replaced by Wente on an interim basis.
“Whatever Zeppos and Turner had discussed went out the door with Zeppos's departure. And then with the new interim chancellor, there was a different philosophy in place.
“Think about it: You can’t spend [millions] of dollars by yourself.”
There are unanswered questions in the wake of what's happened, including those about Turner's interim replacement, Candice Storey Lee, and her role in this.
Turner did plenty of good in his VU tenure, too. There is new turf for Hawkins Field, new lights for Memorial Gym, a new scoreboard for Dudley Field, and renovations to McGugin Center.
People on both sides of the issue admit Turner made mistakes. But Turner also accomplished some things in his tenure, too.
“I mean, clearly, mistakes were made,” a source said. “But we all make mistakes. He tried to engage the alumni. There were fundraising lunches for football, including a brunch at homecoming for former players. What's wrong with that?”
One thing is also clear: a portion of the university that doesn’t support athletics still has a large voice.
"I think it's fair to say, there's a different philosophy that Zeppos laid out for Turner when he hired him than there is now," a source said.