Opinion By Doug Ireland, Journal Sports
Remember what you were doing in August 1996, while Al Gore was inventing the internet? Was your favorite singer even born 25 ½ years ago, when Greg Burke was hired as Northwestern State’s director of athletics?
In a few weeks, Burke will nobly depart that role, becoming a fundraiser for the NSU Foundation, which supports academic endeavors at the university.
Who’s replacing him? That could be settled perhaps as fast as in a week or so, although it may take 3-4 more weeks before the new AD is actually on campus, moving into the office Burke has been slowly clearing out as he continues to run the department.
Who are the leading candidates? Almost certainly, nobody we know (very well, if at all).
Indications are that Northwestern’s new president, Marcus Jones, is really, truly overseeing a national search. Unlike prominent hires in athletics in the last quarter century, there’s a tight lid on this one. Unlike any previous athletic search at NSU, it’s spearheaded by an outside consultant.
Kyle Bowlsby, whose father Bob is one of the more powerful people in college sports as the commissioner of the Big XII Conference, is nearing his mid-30s as the main man for Bowlsby Sports Advisors, a Dallas-based search firm that’s done work for some blue-blood colleges (Clemson, Cal, Pitt, and the Big Ten’s Northwestern). Also on the client list: Tulane, Army, Rice, the Ivy League, Indiana State, Colorado State, and USA Triathlon.
His work, and discussions with an alumni-based advisory committee appointed by Jones several weeks ago, involved conversations with dozens of NSU stakeholders as Bowlsby searched the collegiate athletic landscape for potential fits with the Demons. But the cards are being held very, very close to his vest.
The field, recently trimmed to a dozen or so, is being whittled down to a handful. Presumably 2-4 will visit Natchitoches in the coming days, which will involve making some travel arrangements on short notice. Jones will rely on feedback from the committee and Bowlsby as he considers who gets the job offer, then it’s all on NSU’s new leader to seal the deal.
The new AD’s most vital task: to help Demon football get better, fast.
Demon coach Brad Laird officially took a quantum leap in that direction Monday as NSU announced hires of new coordinators with impressive credentials at the FCS level. Running the Demons’ offense will be Cody Crill, who has been the OC at Incarnate Word in the last four seasons as the Cardinals have lit up scoreboards and made two playoff appearances. Directing the defense: Weston Glaser, DC in the last three seasons for the Campbell (N.C.) Camels, who stacked up some impressive NCAA statistical rankings.
Northwestern’s players will run through a wall for their head coach. Getting them to run where the new coordinators want them to go on the field ought to produce improved results for NSU’s 2022 team.
Giving those coaches and the Demon football program resources it desperately needs is Job One for the next AD and his, or her, boss. Improved financial support is a big part of the puzzle, but not the sole solution. In less than a decade, Nicholls, Southeastern and UL Lafayette have gone from cellar-dwellers to championship winners, and their university brands have soared. How’d that happen?
It wasn’t simply cranking up the cash flow. It was paradigm shifts in how leadership, both on campus and in the community, advantaged those football programs.
That’s what the competition has done. That’s what Northwestern desperately needs. Jones, unlike his recent predecessors, wasn’t deeply engaged with athletics, but he has shrewdly recognized the need to get up to speed and he’s worked extensively at it since taking over as the heir apparent in July. He’s watched, he’s listened, and he’s sought outside help, banking on Bowlsby, who he met at a conference in New Orleans this fall.
Can the new year be the beginning of a big bounce-back by Demon football, and NSU Athletics? Last time a new president (Dr. Randy Webb) hired a new AD (Burke), Bill Clinton was campaigning a second term in the White House. Unrelated to the man from Hope, hope abounded in Demonland.
Things soon began to percolate. NSU Athletics has never been better than it was in the ensuring decade. Northwestern supporters relished Southland Conference championships and NCAA postseason appearances in football, both basketball programs, baseball, softball, track and field, and soccer.
Anything seemed possible. To rekindle that feeling, the next AD has to curtail understandable pessimism, overcome reluctance to embrace systemic change, and harness potential with new approaches, supported by NSU’s new president.
That’s all. Anything less, and not even a magic wand will help.