How do you prioritize investments in individual sports programs to ensure sustained success, beyond basic necessities?
Within our department of intercollegiate athletics and as a new member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), we have placed a strong emphasis on equity, competitive excellence and competing for WAC Championships in each sport. While recognizing that basketball is our main revenue sport for the department, we hold all of our programs to this high standard without regard to the amount of revenue they may (or may not) generate. From a financial perspective, it is important that the necessary resources are provided to all of our programs to allow the student-athletes, and by default our coaches, to be successful both in the classroom and on the field of play.
As part of our strategic initiative on finances, our department has partnered with the WAC office to annually benchmark overall budgeted expenses, revenues and salaries along with the other WAC institutions to address critical needs. Some of the key success items captured as part of this project are sport recruiting and operating budgets as these have been identified as critical to each program’s mission.
Recently, we unveiled our 2013 – 2018 UNC Asheville Athletics Strategic Plan – “More Wins, More Friends, More Resources.” Our Athletics Strategic Planning Group that included internal and external constituents conducted a thorough review and evaluation of our department and developed a strategic plan that guides our day-to-day decision making and work. We have goals, objectives, strategies, and metrics that assist us with our decision making for resource development and financial investments. The strategic plan helps us prioritize investments within our Department and focus on what is not only important now but for the future.
Our primary sports are: men’s/women’s basketball, men’s/women’s soccer and men’s/women’s lacrosse. Our goal is to be in the top third of the Conference in all budget areas and metrics. We prioritize by student-athlete experience and welfare first and foremost.
The key for me is to work closely with each individual head coach to make sure we are both in agreement as to what investments are absolutely necessary for us to compete at the top of our conference. Each sport and head coach will have different needs and necessities to reach this level so it is imperative that we are all on the same page when it comes to prioritizing our investments in each individual sport. We might have one head coach that wants to increase one part of their budget but decrease another while another coach wants the opposite. Of course there is a constant reminder for our coaches to realize that money doesn’t grow on trees at our level and that we are limited in what we can and cannot do from a financial standpoint.
Given the media attention paid to programs with football, what is a success story from your program that deserves more appreciation?
In December 2012, UTPA reached a milestone in its history, as we successfully completed a bid to secure membership for the athletic department into the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). For the first time in 15 years, our student-athletes will be able to compete for automatic bids into NCAA championship events for all of our programs. As part of our gender equity plan and part of WAC membership, the department will also be launching both men’s and women’s soccer programs. Soccer is a sport that is very popular in South Texas and the expectations mentioned above will also be in place for these programs. It has been a distinct honor for me to lead the department of intercollegiate athletics during these program changing events.
Our success story centers around the concept that even with limited financial resources (having what we need and not always what we want), our Bulldog Student-Athletes, Coaches, and Staff have won Big South Conference Championships (women’s cross country, baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s tennis, and men’s tennis), competed in the NCAA’s (baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and women’s soccer), been recognized nationally for Academic Success, and contributed as Leaders on our Campus and in our Community. In fact we recently got recognized by the CostofCollegeSports.com for our financial and performance efficiency as one of the three most efficient comprehensive athletic programs in the Big South Conference. Funding is one component of winning Championships but not necessarily the most important. Having student-athletes, coaches, and staff who work hard, demonstrate integrity, are servant-leaders, foster a culture of respect, and are seriously creative are our core values and make the Bulldogs “Champions in Athletics and Leaders for Life.”
Our men’s soccer program has a long-standing history of success.In 2013, UMBC won its first America East regular season crown since 2003 after completing an undefeated (5-0-2) conference season, then captured its third tournament title and NCAA automatic bid in the last four years. The Retrievers received a first round bye and played UConn in the Second Round of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Soccer College Cup at Retriever Soccer Park. It was the first time in school history that UMBC competed in and hosted an NCAA Division I Tournament contest. The two teams played to a 2-2 double overtime draw; but UConn advanced in a penalty kick shootout.
During the season, UMBC placed in the top ten in all media polls. At its highest point, UMBC reached the No. 5 slot in Top Drawer Soccer, College Soccer News and the Continental Tire NSCAA Poll and climbed to a position of No. 10 in Soccer America. The program finished at No. 8 in the final NCAA RPI rankings.
UMBC finished the 2013 campaign with the top winning percentage in the nation (16-1-5, 84.1%).
Without a doubt it is our men’s tennis program. Up until two years ago we did not have a tennis facility. Our men’s & women’s teams had to either borrow courts around town or practice on condemned courts a few miles from campus. In addition, our men’s team was held to only 3 scholarships per year for three years (NCAA max limit is 4.5) during this time. Even with all of these negative factors placed on them they still have managed to win the Southland Conference Men’s Tennis Championship six years in a row while maintaining a national ranking within the NCAA Division I top 75.
What are your thoughts on the format of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA basketball tournaments—do you feel that it’s the right size or worth expanding?
Being an AD at an I-AAA institution, I fully understand that a majority of I-AAA basketball programs with records that feature 20-plus wins are left out of the NCAA tournament unless the program wins its conference tournament. However, I am a traditionalist and believe that expanding the field dilutes the tournament quality. Expanding the tournament will benefit the big-money conferences as they would probably secure more spots while further marginalizing the I-AAA basketball programs. The NCAA tournament is a great success because of the popularity of the Butlers, Davidsons, VCUs, and the Florida Gulf Coasts. As a member of the WAC and I-AAA, we are excited that the UTPA Broncs have the opportunity every March to be the next Cinderella darlings of the college basketball world.
I agree with many of my colleagues across the country in athletics that Men’s Basketball and March Madness should not be changed at this time. However, concerning women’s basketball, I have reviewed Val Ackerman’s “White Paper” and do agree with many of her recommendations about changing certain aspects of the Women’s NCAA Tournament. In addition, the attendees at the recent Women’s Basketball Summit at the NCAA National Office had several worthwhile suggestions such as having two super regionals, the same city hosting the tournament for several years, and a Friday-Sunday format for the Championships all have merit.
I think the current format for both is fine. I believe the Final Four—for the women—needs to change their dates in order to be truly stand-alone and not compete with the Men’s Final Four. Also, I feel it is important to not lose sight of the quality of programs at the I-AAA or “mid-major” level. In many respects, that is what makes the tournament special.
I would like to see an expansion of the tournament for the sole reason that it would provide more exposure to programs like ours and a better opportunity to receive an AQ or at-large bid. If the tournament were to double in size then I think you have to give each conference two automatic qualifiers.
What traits and intangibles do you look for in a coach, and how do you go about trying to retain a successful coach, knowing that coaches sometimes move on to larger programs after attaining success?
The main traits and intangibles I look for in a coaching candidate are the ability to be a CEO of the program and a “fit” for the institution. The candidates I bring on campus must possess and demonstrate a highly ethical framework and must be someone who is well respected in the business. I want a coach that understands the importance of the term “student” in student-athlete and what being part of a larger educational community means. To be a coach at UTPA, one has to be able to represent the institution and serve our student-athletes in the right manner, and have the ability to prepare the student-athlete for excellence in life from recruitment to graduation and beyond.
Retaining successful coaches comes at a price, particularly due to the rapidly rising coaching salaries which are a challenge for the lower-resource institutions. Creating a culture of success within your department leaves a strong impression for head coach retention, but, at the end of the day, if you have a great coach who provides national recognition, an institution is going to have to be willing to pay more to keep him or her or understand that the head coach will inevitably move on to the next “bigger” opportunity. At lower resource institutions, ADs understand that money and prestige are the main reasons for head coaches accepting new opportunities.
When hiring a new employee, I always remind our search committee that we need to make sure that the person we hire must demonstrate our common Athletic Department core values. We are looking for individuals who are hard working, servant-leaders, seriously creative, who demonstrate integrity, and who show a respect for others. Those values are non-negotiable. Retaining our coaches and staff starts during the interview process. We clearly articulate on paper and verbally what they can expect from UNC Asheville and what we expect from them.
Traits that are important to me are: Honesty; trust; integrity; being perceived as a leader within the campus community and beyond; high sports-specific IQ; seeing themselves as an educator first; ability to recruit and retain; accepting of the differences of others; strong budgeting background, ability and willingness to assist in fund development process; strong commitment to rules compliance in all forms; perspective, balance- (ex.) When a coach walks down the hall—by their demeanor—you shouldn’t be able to tell if they won the last three or lost their last three.
At our level, a good deal of the “retaining conversation” centers around the quality of the overall experience (balance of personal & professional). From a compensation perspective, adding years to a contract and enhancing incentive clauses is where we can compete. Certainly we attempt to increase base salary where we can. Also making program—enhancing commitments like: increasing salaries for assistants and/or improving areas like strength and conditioning all aid in the retaining process.
While obtaining a coach with a proven winning record is extremely important, for a program of our size a top priority for me is to obtain a coach that is willing to get out in the community on a regular basis and fundraise. All of our coaches have fundraising goals that they must meet each year to help sustain their budget but at the same time being out in the community also increases our visibility and increases our opportunity to attract new fans/donors.
Retaining a successful coach at our level can be extremely difficult. Within our department we have been able to retain a very successful and highly sought after tennis coach in Steve Moore. While it has helped that he is from the Corpus Christi area and his entire family lives here, you can’t just fall back on that and expect him to stay just for those reasons. We have worked very hard this past year in presenting him a new contract lined with incentives while also providing his program with a new tennis facility that has enticed him to stay for at least four more years. While I think it’s completely understandable that a coach would want to move on to larger programs after sustaining success the key is making sure you hire the right person to replace a successful coach to keep the momentum going.
What advice would you give to a talented young administrator that you wish someone had given you early in your career?
That advice would be that “(1) learning is a life-long journey, and (2) learn to listen”. Young administrators need to continue to seek knowledge and wisdom from experienced administrators and constantly challenge themselves to learn more and then apply it. Young administrators can learn more by keeping an open mind, gathering and processing information and ideas from seasoned, successful individuals than from believing that they have all the answers. I made my mistakes and had a number of mentors who pulled me aside and guided me along my career path. I learned early on to embrace the lessons learned from mistakes and to resolve and treat them as learning opportunities. I think I have learned more from failure throughout my career than I have from success.
To value the importance of partnerships which means – that who one works “with” is more important than who one works “for.” Supervisors, co-workers, and individual employees should be focused on working together to produce organizational and individual success.
Enjoy the journey—as important as the destination. Also, take, read about and learn as much psychology as possible. I wish I had more in terms of formal education—understanding people and what motivates them is so crucial.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. I think we rely too much on e-mail, social media, etc. and don’t do enough face to face interactions with each other. I try to constantly remind our staff that they need to spend more time with our coaches personally and not just rely on e-mails to communicate. By spending more time with a coach or another staff member in a face-to-face setting you can accomplish more and obtain a better understanding of each individual in our department. In addition, misinterpretations and misunderstandings are greatly reduced.