Over the break, I had the chance to set down with the MWC Commissioner for a rare and revealing interview. We got off to a rocky start, but by the time we were finished he was ready to buy be a steak dinner.
When I called the commissioner I posed as the assistant to an ESPN analyst who wanted to write an article on the rising strength of the Mountain West Conference and what it takes to be such a great commissioner. Well, just as planned, Hair could not resist a chance to talk about his conference. We decided on a mutually beneficial location. I claimed I was in Los Angeles, and he of course was in the conference headquarters at Colorado Springs, CO. I convinced him that a meeting in Salt Lake City, UT was best. We met at the Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Salt Lake, and from there was where we met for an hour long lunch. He said he preferred a "20 questions" style of interview because, "that tells people that most about me in the fewest words possible. Then, I can use more words to describe myself."
Hatemay: So first things first. I have to ask, how did you get the nickname, 'Hair'?
Hair: I hate that nickname. That is not the nickname that I prefer. I wish people would stop calling me that.
Hatemay: When was the first time someone called you 'Hair'?
Hair: It was when I was in elementary school. I was the first person known to have the hairstyle which we now call "Helmet Hair." And since we didn't know what to call it, they would tease me and call me 'Hair.'
Hatemay: At what time did you realize you wanted to be a commissioner?
Hair: Well, I originally wanted to be a professional hair stylist, but while attending a hairstylist convention in Las Vegas in the late 80's I met Paul Mitchell. I told him of my desires to be like him and he took one look at my hair and said "My dear boy, you have enough gel in the hair to hold together a cement driveway." I was devastated. My hopes, my dreams. All tumbled in an instant. It was at the point I knew I wanted to be someone who wanted to call the shots. I wanted power. I wanted to be the one in charge, no matter what cost. I didn't care if people didn't like me, in fact I didn't want them to like me.
Hatemay: So, you wanted to be the man in charge?
Hair: Oh yeah. I love it. It makes me feel like I'm in charge.
Hatemay: How did you come up with the idea of the Mountain West Conference?
Hair: Well, what is taller than a mountain? Who says, "I'm gonna climb the Sears Tower, or this building or that building. No, they want to climb a mountain. And eventually my conference will be the conference everyone wants to climb. So I got the vision.
Hatemay: And what was that vision?
Hair: I wanted to get some good up and coming teams in the Rocky Mountain area into one conference. That was BYU, Utah on the football field, and San Diego St, UNLV, New Mexico on the basketball court. I knew basketball would be our bread and butter, but knew that BYU and Utah would ruffle some feathers.
Hatemay: Once the conference was up and running what did you learn?
Hair: Exactly what I forecasted. I am never wrong. The basketball schools were carrying our conference, and BYU and Utah were putting together some good teams. But something was missing.
Hatemay: What was missing?
Hair: We needed more football teams. Colorado State and UNLV football weren't exactly what people in the SEC like to watch. I think their football teams are great, very competitive, and very strong, even though their records don't show it. But I knew we needed another marquee team.
Hatemay: What 'marquee' teams did you have in mind?
Hair: Well, even though the media never reported on it, all the big schools wanted into the Mountain West. Texas, Texas A& M, Oklahoma, Cal, USC, basically every major team west of the Mississippi wanted in.
Hatemay: Really? I never heard any of those reports. Or any any postulations about such talks...
Hair: Oh yeah, they won't come out and say it, but they wanted in. I knew it. They were jealous of the Mountain that I had built. They wanted to conquer the Mountain.
Hatemay: So, you must have felt really good about all these teams "wanting into" the Mountain. So, if all those teams wanted in, why settle for TCU? I mean, they have a great coach, he knows how to put together a number one defense, but why not USC, or Texas, or Cal?
Hair: Well, at the end of the day, TCU fit the landscape of the Mountain better, and they were more committed to making our conference the best conference in football.
Hatemay: TCU joined in 2005, that is about the time that Boise State had established themselves as an up and coming program. Why not add them?
Hair: Well, I get final say. I am in charge. I did not like their "Blue on Blue on Blue." I knew it gave them an un-fair advantage. Thats why.
Hatemay: So their winning had nothing to Coach Hawkins' staff, or the way they prepared for their opponents and how they developed talent?
Hair: Nothing what so ever.
Hatemay: So instead of adding to the strength of your rising conference you decide to spit in the champagne of potential suitors?
Hair: Yep. That's the way I do things.
Hatemay: So when BYU, Utah, and TCU left I bet it killed you to ask Boise State into your crumbling Mountain?
Hair: Well, it looked like a good move. The other schools still wanted in, Texas, Oklahoma, USC, but we decided that geographically Boise was a good fit.. We just couldn't let them have any un-fair advantages. So that's why I wouldn't let them wear all blue.
Hatemay: Why not let SMU, Houston, maybe UTEP into the conference? That makes sense geographically....
Hair: That was too easy. I don't really have anything that they have to kiss my butt over. I knew BYU didn't want to play on Sunday, I knew Utah wanted to have a stepping stone, and I knew that TCU wasn't comfortable where they were. But if I invite Houston and SMU in, I can't control them the way I want to control all my teams.
Hatemay: So at the end of the day you are a 45 year old child who gets mad and takes the ball home because he is mad he lost....?
Hair: Yeah, in a way.
Hatemay: What about the Mountain Network? What happened there?
Hair: The Mountain Network was a great group of very professional broadcasters. The ratings were higher than ESPN, CBS Sports, and Versus. But at the end of the day, it was in the best interest of the Mountain to close it down. I was tired of receiving harassing phone calls late at night from ESPN. They were so jealous of what I built.
Hatemay: So what is the future direction of the conference?
Hair: Well, I project that we will have 5 teams in the top 10 by the end of last year. We have the best conference in the land. The SEC is good, but they don't have the Mountain that we have.
Hatemay: Will the Mountain expand in the future?
Hatemay: Well, we have our conference. It is set pretty well. We get daily phone calls from the University of Idaho, but they are the only group of people who are more egotistical than I am. And that says a lot.
That concludes the interview with Hair Thompson. There we have it. From the horses mouth on the status of the Mountain West Conference.