PROVO -- Brigham Young University athletic director Val Hale didn't wait long Tuesday to begin the indoctrination of the school's next president, Dr. Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.
Hale showed up bearing gifts while Samuelson was eating lunch with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley in the Cougar Room of the Marriott Center. Just 30 minutes earlier, President Hinckley had introduced Samuelson as BYU's 12th president.
President Hinckley told the partisan crowd that Samuelson would take off his crimson-red jacket -- he earned bachelor's, master's and medical degrees from the University of Utah and later served the school as a professor, dean and vice president -- and put on one of BYU blue.
And so there was Hale, ready with a Cougar blue jacket and a number of other decidedly non-crimson items in an athletic bag for Samuelson to take home and practice wearing.
It might have been that moment when Samuelson realized his new assignment is very real.
"While I'm glad to be here, honesty dictates that I admit I'm in a serious state of clinical shock," Samuelson said in his first words at his new school. "To say I'm overwhelmed would be akin to describing King Kong as a monkey."
Samuelson, 61, quickly moved to quash any rumors that he would implement major changes when he takes the reins from President Merrill J. Bateman on May 1.
"I have a detailed plan for the university," Samuelson said during a press conference after the announcement, "and that is to find out as much as I can about the university in the next several weeks."
He displayed a sharp, often self-deprecating wit about an assignment that clearly daunts him.
"Today I was just focused on finding the Marriott Center," he quipped.
And his goal as a first-time university president? "To not mess up the university," he said.
A former professor of medicine and dean of the U.'s School of Medicine, Samuelson wrote or co-wrote more than 60 scholarly journal articles and abstracts with titles such as "Familial brachydactyly and chondrocalcinosis."
Between stints at the U., Samuelson fulfilled his residency and held a fellowship in rheumatic and genetic diseases at Duke University Medical Center. But he claimed to know much about his new campus.
"I haven't been a student at BYU, but I have been a student of BYU," he said.
Part of that knowledge comes from a son-in-law and nieces who are studying at the university. Much of it comes from his church leadership roles -- he serves as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy -- and much comes from Bateman.
He also said Bateman promised to provide "intense and regular tutorials" to Samuelson before May 1.
Elder Henry B. Eyring, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and the church's commissioner of education, said Samuelson is singularly trained to replace Bateman.
"I think there are some things coming for this university for which he is uniquely prepared," Elder Eyring said.
Could those things include a medical school at BYU?
"I don't think so," Samuelson said.
"That's a great answer," Elder Eyring said.
Samuelson expects to be released in a few weeks from his assignment in the presidency of the Seventy. "I'm going to go with interest to general conference," he quipped.
Of course, he's been surprised before. He was stunned to learn the purpose of a meeting in President Hinckley's office two weeks ago.
"I left university administration a dozen years ago with the belief that part of my life was in the past," Samuelson said. After leaving the U. in 1990, he served as senior vice president and then president of Intermountain Health Care until he was called to full- time church service in 1994.
As for dealing with his newly divided loyalties when a BYU athletic team faces Utah, Samuelson said he would have little trouble acclimating to life as a Cougar.
"There are lots of us around who have divided loyalties," he said. "I don't think I have to avoid or denigrate my feelings of loyalty for the University of Utah or Duke University to support BYU."
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