Search is on for a new director

Colorado Mesa looking for perfect fit in next A.D.

It’s not uncommon for a new college athletic director to face an overwhelming task as soon as they take over — a major facilities upgrade.

That won’t be an issue for the new athletic director at Colorado Mesa University. From football to swimming, baseball to soccer, basketball to lacrosse — and the 17 sports in between — CMU’s facilities are among the best in the RMAC, if not Division II athletics. The recent renovation project at the Maverick Center means the new boss won’t have to come up with millions of dollars to have a top-notch venue for any sport.

The other overwhelming task for every A.D., though, is fundraising. That’s No. 1 on the list when it comes to what not only the top administrator at the university, but the coaching staff, wants in Butch Miller’s replacement.

“I can make this quick and easy,” said baseball coach Chris Hanks, who is on the search committee. “We need a fundraiser, a facilitator and somebody with impeccable character. I think we can boil it down to those three things.”

CMU President Tim Foster said the university needs someone who understands Division II athletics.

“We’re looking for a complete A.D.,” Foster said. “Someone who has that whole skill set of understanding intercollegiate athletics, Division II intercollegiate athletics, which is who we are, and has a passion for that.”

Foster ticked off a laundry list of attributes for the next person who will oversee 23 sports and more than 650 student-athletes: fundraising, management skills, mentoring, as well as the intangibles of being able to interact not only with the athletes and coaches, but alumni, fans, boosters, businessmen and women, donors and potential donors.

“You know it when you see it; that guy’s got it,” Foster said of the X factor.

The university posted the opening Nov. 20, a little more than one week after Miller resigned for health and family reasons.

In mid-January, the search committee will start sifting through resumes. Applications close 
Jan. 10.

They’ll cull the stack and conduct phone interviews in late January and early February, and from there will decide who — and how many — candidates will come in for formal interviews.

July 1 is the target date for the new A.D. to be on board, although if whoever is hired can and wants to begin earlier, that’s an option, Foster said.

Even before the opening was posted, Foster was getting inquiries.

“Oh, gosh, just the story in (The Daily Sentinel about Miller’s resignation), I probably got 10 emails,” he said. “I got PowerPoints, and I got them from senior folks at Division I schools, existing A.D.s at Division II, NAIA and Division III.”

With money from the state of Colorado dwindling every year, Foster estimated the athletic director is responsible for raising $100,000 each year just to meet the budget. Coaches also have to raise money to augment their budgets.

But that just pays the bills. It doesn’t move the department forward, especially in the scholarship department.

Ask any coach at any school whose program isn’t at the NCAA-allowed max for scholarship dollars, and their No. 1 wish is to be at that maximum.

“I think if you ask any coach what a perfect A.D. was, it’s one who lets you run your program and gives you every nickel you need to do it,” volleyball coach Dave Fleming said. “I don’t know if that idea exists in this economy, but that’s the perfect A.D.”

Wrestling coach Chuck Pipher, who raises money for his program through a popular steak and crab feast, sponsoring a high school dual tournament and his own open tournament, said boosting scholarship dollars is the next step.

“For us to get where we’re going,” he said, “to compete with the Nebraska-Kearneys and the Newberrys in wrestling, that’s what we’ve got to do, get to a higher level of scholarships, no doubt.”

Foster said CMU is in the upper range of the RMAC when it comes to scholarship dollars, but it is under what the NCAA allows in Division II.

That’s where endowments come in, to fund full scholarships and pay for “extras,” Foster said, “to take the pressure off the future or for an unusual thing, we need to buy this or travel there.”

How much above the $100,000 would it take to build an athletic endowment fund?

“Twenty times that,” Foster said. “Can we build an endowment of 2 million, 3 million?”

The key is to have an athletic director in charge of a successful department, not only in wins and losses, but people, Foster said. That makes people more willing to give, if they know their money will be well-spent.

The coaches are quick to say they don’t need a total revamp in their new boss, but someone who will help them reach the next level.

“I’ve really liked the A.D.s that I’ve had here, Nick (Adams), Butch and Jamie (Hamilton),” said Fleming, who now reports to one of Mesa’s two associate athletic directors, Bryan Rooks.

Rooks and Kris Mort have been running the department this semester and will continue until a new athletic director is in place.

“I like that they help you when you need help, but they let you run your program the way you think it should be run,” Fleming said.

Hanks agreed with the need for endowments and scholarship dollars, for all sports to be fully funded at the NCAA maximum.

“We need a higher level of thinking,” Hanks said. “We need somebody who can instill a higher level of thinking into this athletic department, on a lot of levels. I think there are people out there who can do that, a professional athletic director, somebody who’s been there, done that.

“I believe that Colorado Mesa University should be one of the premier Division II programs in the country. I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t.”

Pipher said he hadn’t put a lot of thought into an A.D. wish list, but he hopes the department can keep moving forward.

“Somebody who understands athletics, no doubt, and comes in with the right mind-set of where we’re at as far as an athletic department and a university,” he said. “We’re growing. Keep developing our sports and raising money. That’s where I would be at on it. Keep doing the things we have done and keep moving forward.”

Some fresh eyes might generate new ideas and ways to achieve the department’s common goal of winning championships and graduating student-athletes.

“That’s the higher level of thinking, that ‘Let’s get this done. Let’s set some standards and goals.’ I think you need a point person, an athletic director, to help that movement,” Hanks said. “That would be exciting for me as a coach who’s been here a long time.

“I think we live in the right community, the right size community, to accomplish that all across the board in all sports. We can be a model that Division II schools across the country can emulate, want to follow. We can be a leader in that area.”

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