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Tomlinson’s gold HOF jacket might even be more valuable than a Ph.D. Courtesy Dirk DBQ via Wikimedia Commons

Early voting has begun in Tarrant County. There’s a candidate you’ve not thought of but who should be on your radar this election season.

In the first change in top leadership since 2003, TCU is searching for a president. Here’s some free advice for Korn Ferry, the bougey headhunting firm the school has retained: Hire LaDainian Tomlinson. TCU probably won’t, but they should think seriously about it.

Chancellor Victor Boschini, the foremost face of TCU this millennium, is giving up most everything besides fundraising as he works toward not-too-distant retirement.

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LT doesn’t technically meet the job description. He doesn’t have a “terminal degree” in his field of study, as the Ivory Tower types call it. No Ph.D., however, is as elite as the gold blazer Tomlinson donned as a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

Fewer than 400 former players have ever been enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Tomlinson is only the third from TCU in 150 years. By comparison, doctorate degrees are granted like Halloween candy in this country. If TCU’s preferred candidate is to have reached the apex of their professional specialty, LT fits the bill.

In his profound 30-minute-plus Hall of Fame speech, Tomlinson recounted that his great-great-great-grandfather was brought to America as a slave.

“The family legacy that began in such a cruel way has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons,” he said. “I firmly believe that God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson.”

Do you think he could handle contentious discussions on campus about diversity, equity, and inclusion?

LT’s life thus far has been remarkable. He retired as one of the best to ever play football, has enjoyed a long stint as an analyst for the NFL Network since, and has been a trustee at TCU since 2018. His early years, however, were a challenge that few TCU stakeholders can relate to.

Tomlinson spent most of his childhood in a single-parent home in Marlin (population 5,462), 30 miles outside Waco. Today’s median annual family income in Marlin is less than one semester of tuition at TCU.

Universities are profoundly heterogeneous and often siloed to a fault. TCU is better than most and wins awards for a culture of connection and engagement across campus. Even still, you’ll never get employees of theater, athletics, biology, and housing to see issues the same. Their objectives are too dissimilar.

No candidate is available who could perfectly balance and understand each function that reports to them. Such a person doesn’t exist.

In the public square, the cost, value, and inherent worth of a bachelor’s degree in America has never been more in question. Tomlinson’s journey at TCU was exceptionally unlikely. Let’s just say there isn’t a TCU alumni chapter in Marlin. However, what LT made of his TCU experience and afterward is a perfect example of the intrinsic value of a traditional college education.

Tomlinson moved from humble beginnings to a mansion in San Diego in less than a decade. He can relate to the haves and have-nots because he’s been both. His experience making his own luck as a football player speaks to right-of-center TCU alumni, of which there are many.

At the same time, being a Black man who’s seen the whole spectrum of socioeconomics throughout life gives Tomlinson an authoritative view on the contentious social justice issues that permeate the dialogue in the modern academics.

An unexpected hire like Tomlinson is not without precedent. University of Texas Chancellor and former Navy Admiral William McRaven is a notable example. McRaven, widely credited as the mastermind of the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden in 2011, delivered a now-viral commencement address in Austin in May 2014 in his military uniform. He retired from the Navy four months later and was named UT System Chancellor in January 2015.

The safe choice for TCU’s opening is a seasoned but boring academician. A tenured Ph.D. former professor and/or administrator. Someone who is charismatic but also lives for mundane things like the registrar’s course numbering system. Tomlinson is not that.

When asked about the president job last December, Boschini said, “I’m looking for somebody who fits the culture of TCU — other skills can be learned.”

If he means it, the hiring committee should be interviewing Tomlinson. After all, Boschini isn’t going anywhere. The future president will do most of the chancellor’s current job while also working with him. Tomlinson-Boschini would be a powerful duo.

LT is arguably TCU’s most recognizable living alum. Hiring him would be met with excitement and energy by the TCU community. He’s earned their respect and admiration in his lifetime of achievement. TCU has been transformed for the better by Boschini’s astute leadership. He should tap fellow trustee LaDainian Tomlinson to perpetuate his legacy.

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