There will never be another Robert Gates at Texas A&M. But the men and women charged with finding the next president of Texas A&M say they aren't looking to duplicate what Gates has done.
"I believe that the legacy that I would leave at A&M would seem to me to perhaps be more lasting than anything I ever did in Washington," Gates said back in November following his confirmation as Secretary of Defense. "That's partly because I thought the record in Washington was done."
Of course, it was not.
"We will fall on our face if we do not get a leader that believes in moving forward with the past groundwork that was laid by Dr. Gates," said Doug Slack, the speaker of the A&M Faculty Senate, and the chair of the 15-member search advisory committee.
The panel first met just days ago. They were selected by System Chancellor Michael McKinney, who will take their recommendations and provide a finalist for the Board of Regents to review.
"This is a job now that there will be people who will be interested in it that, frankly, before Dr. Gates, they wouldn't have been interested in," McKinney said.
"Anytime A&M has looked for a president, it's a very serious matter," said Gwendolyn Webb-Johnson of A&M's Faculty Senate and the search committee. "I think it's going to be a matter that is probably more highly exposed because of his being here."
The hallmarks of the Gates era at A&M have repeatedly been touted: the millions in construction, the faculty reinvestment program, the increased diversity of students and staff, the continuation of Vision 2020. But like any president coming in, the task is to continue the good of the past while paving new paths in the future. Case in point: Vision 2020 was championed by Gates, but began under Ray Bowen.
"Will it be a different vision and a different plan than Bob Gates? Probably," McKinney said. "Will it be better? It'll just be different."
"Where I see people fail in situations like this is that they come in and try to be the other person, or they try to do things like the other person would do them." said Royce Hickman with the B-CS Chamber of Commerce, and also, the search committee. "I think you have to come in and do the things that made you successful."
"The general feeling on the campus when Dr. Gates was named as president was, 'he doesn't have the right background,'" Slack said. "And he didn't have the 'right' background, but look what kind of a job he did."
Robert Gates reign was nearly five years, and would have been longer had Washington not called. In McKinney's eyes, the successor will be around even longer.
When asked if it's going to be a three- or four-year job by the next president, McKinney said, "Please don't do that. I'm begging, please don't. I hope it's not."
There are always names you can throw out for the A&M presidency. Whoever it is, though, be warned through Gates' words before he left.
"My advice to a successor," he said. "Don't screw up a good thing."
Back in early January when Chancellor McKinney formed the search advisory committee, he believed the process would take six to nine months to complete. The Board of Regents will have the final decision on A&M's next president.