How has your tenure as Athletic Director gone?
June will be my two year mark. It has been everything I hoped plus more. The opportunity to be at the U and be part of its excellence and traditions of championships is something that is inspiring each and every day. To be at a program that aspires to win championships and that is the expectation that is motivating for me. When you play at this level you expect to win and be the best. That is our student athletes’ goal. They come to the University of Miami to be the best in the country at their sport or even the best in the world at their sport. I truly believe we are on the cusp of returning this athletics program to the pinnacle of intercollegiate athletics. And I recognize that some of our sports are there right now. Women’s tennis is one of the best programs in the country. Our baseball program is one of the best in the country and has been and will continue to be. Our diving program is one of the best in the country and has been and will continue to be. To be a part of the resurgence of the sport of football. To be a part of building these basketball programs. To be a part of this and lead other programs is really fortunate for me to be a part of.
Any surprises, what’s the toughest part of your job?
Every position and every job has opportunity. We are an athletics program that has been through considerable change in just the last five years. When you look at going from the Big East to the ACC. That is considerable change because you are building new rivalries, meeting new peers across the country. On top of that we have had a change in the athletic director position. We have had a change in the football head coaching position. We have had a change in football stadiums. All are significant changes in a short period of time. With that presents opportunity. Being a part of the ACC, there is no better fit for the University of Miami. I believe the ACC is the prototype conference for the balance of academics and athletics. When you look at graduation success numbers or academic progress reports, the ACC institutions are at the top of all of those lists. At the same time, you look at the competitive environment in the ACC; it’s as competitive as any conference in the country. The move to the new football stadium presents major opportunity for [UM]. The move from the Orange Bowl to Sun Life Stadium was tough for many people. There are a lot of good memories and traditions at the Orange Bowl and we have to try and carry as many of those over to Sun Life as we can. But at the same time, the revenue opportunities that are available to us at the new stadium are tremendous. One of the things we have done recently is lowered the price of the East End Zone. We are at a price point that mirrors what the price was the last year of the Orange Bowl. There has been tremendous response to that. We have already doubled our sales in that end zone and it’s not even May yet. We need to continue to capitalize on the new stadium. I am firm believer on continuous improvement and building things the right way. Our student athletes here are students first and athletes second. Our student athletes here received the American Coaches Trophy for the highest graduation success rate in the country in February for our football program. Our football program was ranked seventh in the country in terms of Academic Progress Score. Our women’s student athletes have a cumuliative 3.1 grade point average. We have a great story to tell at the University of Miami. We need to continue to be proactive. We want our fans to come out six times a year to attend football games, 32 times a year to attend basketball games and 40 times a year to attend baseball games. That is the biggest challenge in front of us. Increasing attendance is direct correlation to revenue.
How can UM increase student attendance at games other that football?
I had a chance last week to sit down with [all the leaders of Category 5]. Students create the environment; they create the home court advantage. Creating that environment will increase attendance to other events. It’s critical that we continue to reach out and engage the student body. I was very pleased with the numbers we had in football this year. I thought our football attendance was tremendous. I thought our support at men’s basketball was solid until the middle part of January. I don’t have all the answers. I know my impression and my understanding is that this campus is supportive of intercollegiate athletics. I know that working together with Category 5, our student athletes and our coaches, we can develop strategy and tactics to increase attendance as we move forward. I know the best ambassadors we have as an athletic department are our very own student athletes. Every sport is a little different. I did see support at some of our volleyball matches. That same type of support for women’s basketball could have a tremendous affect on that program. With men’s basketball we have seen that support; we just have to reengage and continue to see that support throughout the course of a season.
Does support from fans lead to winning or does winning lead to fan support? Is this the chicken and the egg situation?
They go hand in hand. I could not be more confident about the directions of our programs. When you look at our head coaches, we have some of the most talented educators in the business. I say educators because I believe we are in the business of higher education. The lessons our men and women learn on the practice field and in competition only compliments what they learn in the classroom for life. When you have the kind of educators we have here, we are going to win. We are on the right track. We are going to go back to the top. We are in this to win. But it goes hand in hand. We have to build an exciting environment but at the same time as our programs build and win, it could be a very special time. We want these two things to come together.
Is there any kind of project you are working on right now?
Facilities are important. When a recruit comes to campus, they want to know where they are going to spend the next four or five years of their life. We have made tremendous investment into our athletic facilities the past three or four years. Just look at Alex Rodriguez Park, the BankUnited Center, the Field House, modest enhancements to the Neil Schiff Tennis Center have been made, modest enhancements with the resurfacing of our field at Cobb Stadium have been made. All has had a significant impact. We play in a state of the art football stadium. We now have to look here at the Hecht Athletic Center, a place where our student athletes spend 85 percent of their time. We have got significant upgrades that need to be made that will have a profound impact on this department for the next decade. Those being athletic training facility, which is not adequate. It needs to be improved. Our academic support facility needs to be updated. Our football team facility needs to be upgraded. Particularly the entrance into our football facility. It’s nonexistent right now. Our student athletes deserve better. We have plans that are in its final stages of being developed to address those initiatives. We are quietly visiting with select individuals with possible investments into the facility. It is not going to be easy. I anticipate it being a 15 million dollar project. That is significant and not easy but it is achievable. We will work hard the next eight to ten months on making it a reality. Also each program has various needs. Our baseball team needs indoor batting cages. You take a day like today [it was raining]and they are limited of what they can do. You look at Cobb Stadium for track and soccer programs, we need additional seating. We had standing room only. We need expanded seating capabilities. We need greater fan amenities. We need public restrooms and concessions.
Let’s talk about a couple of sports in specific….
What is the latest on head coach Randy Shannon’s contract as he enters the final year of his four year deal?
We are working on that. Coach Shannon has done a tremendous job in the resurgence of this football program. It’s exciting to see the talent that is being assembled here. The life blood of any program is recruiting. The success that Coach Shannon and his staff have done is tremendous. I’m excited from what I saw this spring in spring football. We are working hard and diligent on a contract extension. Everything that Coach Shannon has done has been exceptional at the University of Miami. He is building this program for sustainable success. There are various ways to build a program. You can build it for a two or three year good run or you can start from the foundation and build it up from within that it will be sustainable for a 12 or 15 year run and that is what Coach Shannon has done. He’s going to continue to be our football coach for a long long time. I am confident we will be able to continue to work on the extension and continue to get it done.
Is there a time table when you would like to have the extension finalized by? Do you want it to linger on in the season and maybe be a distraction?
It is our goal to get it resolved a little before the summer time. So it’s a priority and we are closer than we have ever been. We don’t want to go into the summer or next year.
What will be a successful football season to you next year?
National Championship number six. We expect to win every game. We have the talent when we line up to play. Anything short of winning that sixth national championship trophy would not meet our expectations. But that being said, this is a gradual process with continuous improvement. For us to win an ACC Championship game and go to the BCS, that is the next step for this program. It’s to win the ACC Championship and get into the BCS. What transpires and happens from that point is any bodies guess. We are on the right track. We need to focus and worry about getting better each and every day.
Is the football team ready this year now that the core of the team is all juniors?
To build a championship program, you have to build an environment from within. It has to be a positive environment. One that is conducive to teamwork and winning and working hard. I sense that. The upper classmen that we have in the program right now are the right ones to get us to the level we aspire to be at. When you see the pride that they take from everything they do from academics, to representing us in the community, to the way they are working out, there is a sense of pride and determination that is special. The components are in place to continue our success.
Do you like the way the football schedule is lined up this year? It’s very similar to last year in that Miami is playing the toughest teams in the first month.
The past two years when I have been part of this program, we have played our best football early in the season. This team knows that we can line up and play with anybody in this country. You have to take it week by week. Any given Saturday we can beat any team in this country. Just take it one at a time.
How about women’s basketball, a remarkable year this year reaching the WNIT Finals. Is Coach Katie Meier going to receive a contract extension?
We are working on a contract extension for Coach Meier. We’re excited about the success that that program had. I have said to select people that I have never seen significant improvement from one year to the next with a team as I saw in our women’s basketball program this year. The teamwork, tenacity, which I saw on the court, was great to see. That is a reflection of Coach Meier and her positive attitude. We did it with a young team. We had [Riquna Williams] and [Shenise Johnson]. Morgan [Stroman] and Stephanie [Yderstrom] are freshmen. I am excited about the direction of the program and Coach Meier will be at the helm of our women’s basketball program for a long long time. She is doing all the right things.
How do you look at youth? Is it a valid excuse for a team and having veterans a necessity or can youth be a positive?
That is a challenging question to answer because every team and program is at a different phase. The transition from high school to college sports is extreme. The speed and size is different. It takes a special person to handle that make that transition right away. But we have had significant individuals at the University of Miami make that transition and perform well. Lane Carico in volleyball, you look at our baseball program and how many true freshmen are starting this year, you look at our football team and how many of the upper classmen made a strong impact as a freshmen, Durand Scott in basketball had a significant impact. It think it is hard to say for a team to have success you have to have X number of upper classmen. You need a balance. You need experience. You need players that have been in the line of battle and faced challenging situations in ACC conference play.
Where does Miami’s basketball facilities rank in the ACC compared to other prestigious schools?
We have as nice a basketball facility as you will find anywhere. We can stand beside any program in the country and look at our practice facility, our playing venue, our locker rooms, our weight room at the BankUnited Center, our coaches’ offices and be satisfied with what we have. We have the right size facilities for the University of Miami’s basketball programs. We have what we need to continue to move up spots in the Atlantic Coast Conference and become an annual NCAA Tournament team in men’s and women’s basketball. That will continue to be our goal.
Tell me about your thoughts of Coach Haith. Consistently he has to compete with ACC powerhouses in Duke and North Carolina and has revived this program.
Frank [Haith] has done an outstanding job. I had people call me across the country and told me when I came to Miami that I’ve got a gem in Frank Haith. You will enjoy working with him. He is one of the young up and coming basketball coaches in the country. Coach Haith is a winner as all our coaches are. He is a strong family man. He has values and the way he leads this program is admirable. He goes up against some of the top basketball programs in country. I believe the ACC has won five of the last 10 National Championships. I could not be prouder to work with anybody else. The future of our men’s basketball program is bright. We saw in the ACC Tournament a glimpse of what we will see this year. You saw a team come together with the absence of Dwayne Collins and really have a great run into the [quarterfinals]. Frank has done an exceptional job.
Your thoughts on the NCAA Tournament expanding to 68 teams instead of the 96 teams that were previously discussed?
It landed where it needed to land. The conversation of going to 96 teams was going too fast. What would that do to the regular season of college basketball? It’s strong right now. With a 96 team Tournament, that would have diminished it. With a 96 team Tournament, what would it do to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and basketball tournaments across the country? There is excitement. Teams are playing for that berth into March Madness. There were concerns with going to 96. I was pleased to learn that a 68 team Tournament is going to be recommended to the NCAA Board of Directors in the coming weeks. We have landed in the right place.
What makes Jim Morris so successful? Can you put into words of what going to Omaha 11 of the past 16 years is like?
We talk about Omaha in this program like it’s a given every year. The tradition that was started here by Coach [Ron] Fraser then Coach [Jim] Morris has continued is exceptional. To think 16 years ago that Miami got the number one head coach from the number one team in the country and make him come to Miami is a tremendous statement for this program. As Coach Morris has said, he left the number one team in the country to come to the number one program in the country. That is what the University of Miami is.
The University of Miami has such a strong base of alumni and fans all over the world, has the U thought of having a TV contract or an internet streaming contract?
The ACC is currently in negotiations for our next television partner. Right now, the ACC’s television agreement is with ESPN and ABC. That expires after one more season. That is for football. The ACC basketball rights fall with Raycom sports and they syndicate to all the major networks. That expires at the end of next year as well. So for the first time ever in the marketplace, ACC football and ACC basketball is being bid on. We are hopeful that by the end of the summer a new television rights partner or an extension from our current rights partners deal could be reached and announced. As part of that, you will see more exposure opportunities for our sports. Unfortunately ACC Select went away this year. I am excited about the conversations that I have had with Dean Grogg [dean of the school of communication]. I think there are partnership opportunities between the department of intercollegiate athletics and school of communications that can be explored and expand our online capabilities to stream games. How can athletics and communications partner is something that I am excited about. I think there is tremendous opportunity.
What is the hiccup?
There are always financial hurdles and the production is the cost. Hopefully through new ACC relationships or expanded ACC relationships and partnership with the School of Communications we can get back to streaming athletic events.
Any thoughts of having a contract with CSTV? I know FSU and UCF have it for their sports.
CSTV is a partner with us as well. It’s production cost. But it’s important. One to build our fan base, two for recruiting purposes, three fan development purposes to make future Cane fans. The expense is the production cost and how we designate the dollars to make that happen is something we will continue to talk about.
What is next for you after students graduate?
I am going to spend time working on our facilities. I am very confident that will have the most profound impact here for the next decade. I am going to work towards making those plans a reality.
Justin Antweil is the sports editor of The Miami Hurricane and the sports director for WVUM radio. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.