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What To Expect From An AD

June 22, 2010

As we inch ever closer to naming State’s new athletic director, I began thinking about what we–as State fans–should expect with this change.

After all, I get the sense that a minority of folks (usually the loudest shouters, by the way) within the fanbase expect that the new AD will be a magic pill of sorts that corrects all the ills that currently befall State sports. With one wave of his hand, a stern look and a few snaps of his fingers, this new AD will suddenly turn losing records to winning ones; the media relations department will suddenly get gutted and replaced by the best in the business; all the coaches will share winning strategies, become best friends and grill hot dogs over at Tom O’Brien’s house on the 4th of July.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. One hire at the top of the athletic department food chain won’t cure all.

But I do think there are things that we CAN reasonably expect from our new AD to improve the overall sports product at State.

  1. Create an environment of accountability: Lee Fowler let volleyball coach Charita Stubbs go at the end of last season. Great. The question is, what took so long? The Pack volleyball team went 0-for-ACC, 0-for-ACC, 3-for-ACC (woo!) and 1-for-ACC prior to her dismissal. I mean, damn. After the second season in a row without a SINGLE ACC win, shouldn’t that have been a clear indication that Stubbs was not the right hire? Yet she remained on for two more years. Laura Kerrigan fielded mediocre-at-best women’s soccer teams for nearly 10 years without so much as some token pressure from her boss to improve. Was she fired? NO! She RESIGNED out of shame in reviewing her own performance! Forgetting the revenue sports for a moment, these two examples show that the standard held to State’s most visible athletic department employees–coaches–was really, really low. Hold the coaches to higher standards, along with the rest of the department, and the performance of all will improve.
  2. Don’t be afraid to spend money: If there was one area where Lee Fowler excelled, it was in his ability to balance a budget. He took a department that brought in very solid revenue (relative to the rest of the BCS) and coupled that with slashed budgets to create a very profitable bottom line. But much like the Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, simply turning a profit at the end of the year is rarely congruent with fielding a winning product. In fact, in the world of sports you often have to run close to or even in the negative at times financially in order to keep pace with the other schools. Take a look at these numbers from this Bloomberg article from January of last year. It’s a detailed look at the athletic budgets of all the public institutions in the BCS. Here’s the ACC’s public school budgets:
    =================  ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE  =================
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
                  Athletic         Yrs at  No. of  Dept. Guaranteed
    School        Director         School  Teams   Budget  Base
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    Georgia Tech  Dan Radakovich      3      17    $56.0M  $560,000
    Clemson       Terry Don Phillips  6      19    $53.2M  $418,000
    Maryland      Deborah Yow        15      27    $61.0M  $382,575
    Florida State Randy Spetman       1      17    $51.0M  $350,000
    Virginia Tech Jim Weaver         12      21    $53.5M  $345,211
    Virginia      Craig Littlepage    8      25    $56.2M  $320,000
    N. Carolina   Dick Baddour       12      28    $61.4M  $295,000
    NC State      Lee Fowler          9      23    $39.0M  $280,000
    ---------------------------------------------------------------
    ACC Average                       8      22    $53.9M  $368,848
    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    The obvious joke in looking at that table, of course, is that State’s gotten exactly what it’s paid for. Lower-tier results from a meager budget and the lowest paid AD in the league. If you do some math, some interesting numbers appear: $1.7 million. That’s how much State spent per-sport, lowest in the league by more than $490,000 per-sport than the next-lowest school (UNC). State’s total budget of $39 million is $12 million less than the next lowest in the league (FSU, supporting six fewer sports than State). To put that in perspective, the difference between FSU (next to last) and UNC (most) in total spending is just $10.4 million. The top per-sport spender in the league (GT) spends nearly DOUBLE what State spends ($3.29 mill vs. $1.7 mill) on each of its sports programs.

    It smacks of missing the forest for the trees. With such a narrow focus on balancing the budget and turning a profit, we’ve allowed the rest of the league–and the college world–to distance themselves from us in terms of what they can offer to their student athletes and prospective coaching candidates. Great, you convinced the teams to travel by bus versus charter in all but the longest trips. But does that benefit the student athletes? Do recruits see us riding Greyhound and see other schools flying first class and decide to head elsewhere? Most importantly: Are we hamstringing our coaches’ abilities to recruit and market our programs? Being fiscally responsible–especially with the facility improvements we’re on the hook for in the near term–is a very noble pursuit, but now that it’s clear the rest of the league and country are outspending us by leaps and bounds, it’s time to reevaluate things. From the fans’ perspective, if I’m a supporter ponying up thousands of dollars every year only to see it wind up sitting idle in the coffers, I get a little upset by that. That money was given at great amounts under the auspices that it would be spent to better State athletically in any way that it can. Those funds clearly aren’t at the moment. And as an addendum, it’s time for the school to step up and offer its new AD a salary that will attract a prime candidate and keep him or her satisfied for the long term.

  3. Understand the environment and EMBRACE it: I don’t think I will ever, ever understand those outside of the Triangle who look at the 919 area code and say, “Man, y’all will NEVER be able to attract a top-notch (fill in the blank) with Duke and Carolina in your backyard!” Really? It certainly didn’t play out this year in basketball recruiting. I think people who aren’t in the field of college athletics (folks who aren’t coaches and prospects) tend to look at Duke and Carolina like two towering giants that block out all the sun in Wake County. While it’s true that they are two of the standard-bearers in college basketball, they no more hinder State’s ability to succeed in that arena than they do a Syracuse, a Clemson, a Texas or a UCLA. Duke and Carolina are the two schools ESPN has chosen to promote as the face of college basketball, and their recruiting soars because of that, but recruiting is such a broader endeavor now than it was 30 years ago. State has turned to its Georgia connections recently to boost its talent pool…hundreds of miles AWAY from UNC and Duke. Their presence up the road from us certainly didn’t prevent the coaching staff from landing those prospects.
    All of that is to say that Duke and Carolina will be a hinderance IF YOU LET THEM. If the new AD refuses to look at the Blue Bloods up the road as a roadblock to success, they’ll find that State can go toe-to-toe with ANY program in the country when it comes to history, resources, finances and support from its fanbase. THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO SUCCEED. In fact, many programs get much more from their athletics programs with less than what’s at State’s disposal. The new AD has to realize that from Day One and make it crystal clear: State will take a back seat to NO ONE in terms of expectations, because as the Cincinnati’s in football and the Butlers in basketball have shown, it just takes the right combination of coaching, talent and support to take ANY program to the forefront. Sustaining that success is another challenge, but the new AD will embrace that challenge when that day comes. Fowler failed in his understanding of all of this.
An effective AD is not a miracle worker. They won’t turn a losing coach into a winning one overnight. But a lousy AD certainly can hinder a school’s ability to field competitive teams and can allow a program to spiral into mediocrity. That’s when a school needs a strong, competent AD to step in, hold folks accountable, invest in the programs in the right way and embrace the challenge that comes with succeeding in the ultra-high competitive world of college athletics.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010 4:39 pm

    He/she (I’m assuming a “he”) also needs a red blazer.

  2. June 23, 2010 3:12 pm

    I would certainly agree with point #1, #2 I really couldn’t care less about, but #3 is an issue that I have been Screaming from the Mountaintop since before Sendek wallowed & reveled in mediocrity, using the “neighborhood” as his biggest excuse! Does ANYONE remember when Duke SUCKED for two decades (mid-60’s – mid-80’s) and Everett Case, Norm Sloan & Jim Valvano didn’t take any crap from coaches in blue that were more revered than the ones who are there now!?! And the most bitter rivalry in the ACC sure as hell wasn’t Duke/UNC, it was State/Carolina and we Won just as many (or more) than we lost!?! I know Sidney remembers those days and we should bring in (i.e. Relocate Offices on Campus for Bobby Purcell), someone who also remembers those days and WILL embrace those ideals and clean house of anyone who doesn’t! I will never accept taking a back seat to those jacka$$es in blue and refuse to accept anyone in the AD’s office who will or god-forbid use them as a crutch!

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