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Carroll Changes Ties and Moves to Irvine : College sports: He leaves stressful six-year tenure at Fullerton, saying move was best for his family, life and career.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ed Carroll wore a familiar blue jacket Friday, but he had traded his Titan tie for a yellow-and-blue one, and he had pinned an Anteater to his lapel.

“It’s a little easier to wear than orange,” said Carroll, who has resigned after what he described as a stressful six-year tenure as Cal State Fullerton’s athletic director to become assistant athletic director for financial affairs at rival UC Irvine.

Carroll spoke of the difficulty of leaving Fullerton after spending all but three months of his life there since arriving as an undergraduate in 1970. But he described his move to Irvine as “best for my family, my life and my career, and fortunately, also in the best interests of Cal State Fullerton.”

Carroll was head of the department during a tumultuous period in which four teams were discontinued, budgets of numerous others were severely trimmed and the school’s Division I-A football program nearly died. A fund drive is under way to save the Titan football program, which was close to discontinuation last month.

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But Carroll said his departure was not a result of recent events and that he had approached Irvine Athletic Director Tom Ford more than two months ago about the position, vacant more than 8 1/2 months.

“I was not enjoying the job and had not been enjoying it for some time,” Carroll said.

He described long hours or work and longer hours of worrying.

“I invested my life and soul in that program,” Carroll said. “I’ll continue to be a fan of the Titans and support them, whenever appropriate.

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“But at some point in time, you look at your own health and well-being and put that ahead of the institution you work for.”

Carroll, a fitness buff who says he will miss his occasional impromptu matches against some of the members of the Fullerton wrestling team, said he has been sick more and more in recent months, even contracting pneumonia last fall in addition to cases of cold and flu.

“You don’t have to be a doctor or a rocket scientist to know there are stress-related illnesses,” he said.

Carroll expressed regret at the impact his budget decisions had on the people around him, calling them painful.

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Coincidentally, one of his first tasks when he begins his post at Irvine on March 1 will be evaluating whether any of the school’s 19 sports should be cut. Ford said that issue is a result of the University of California’s Board of Regents’ decision Thursday to approve a 40% fee increase, dramatically raising scholarship costs.

Ford welcomed Carroll as an “in-house consultant,” more than a simple “bean-counter.”

“With the increase in fees, we’ll have to take a real hard look and consider whether we want to continue to support 19 sports,” Ford said, emphasizing he does not want to reduce the program.

Carroll said he is proud of progress he saw in Fullerton athletes’ academic performances during his tenure and of the program’s advancement as a Division I competitor.

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But he was unhappy with the ongoing financial struggle and particularly with the state of Fullerton’s public image.

“Probably one of the greatest concerns that I had was the inability to posture ourselves properly in the media,” Carroll said. “I’m not going to go through the list of negative PR. Maybe it’s beyond the control of anybody, but it’s frustrating. There have been definite image problems.”

He declined to include the recent football situation among them, saying that, ironically, publicity about the program’s demise brought support the school had not seen before.

Carroll praised Fullerton President Milton A. Gordon for his handling of the crisis, and said Coach Gene Murphy had been “unfairly criticized.”

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"(Murphy) did what any feeling human being would do,” said Carroll, who “accepted responsibility” for a miscommunication that resulted in damage to the program. Carroll said he told Murphy that the program was in danger of being dropped and that at the least, there would be no money for new scholarships next year.

He said he felt confident Fullerton would find an able successor, particularly with Gordon heading the search, and said the department needed “new blood, a cleansing process and new ideas.”

He said he did not know if he would ever seek another athletic director’s position.

“If I wanted to be an AD right now, I wouldn’t be leaving Cal State Fullerton,” he said. “Five, 10, 15 years down the road, I might feel different. Definitely at this point in time, I have no interest in being an athletic director.”

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