Jack Lengyel Interview

<b>Jack Lengyel</b> hit the ground running when he was hired as interim athletic director December 1. Rather than merely manage a department in crisis, most close observers say Lengyel proved a greatly needed strong and positive force in the Dal Ward Center and beyond. Inside, an interview with Lengyel about some of things he's accomplished in the past four months.

Lengyel's contract is through May. When a search committee was formed to fill the vacant AD job, it originally though one would be hired the first part of April. That search process is still ongoing.

Lengyel said all along he's not interested in the permanent job. This interview was conducted March 30th.

Buffalo Sports News: Have any of the challenges you've faced over the past four months been different than what you expected?
JL: I think they've been different only in the sense that I was not fully briefed on all those particular issues, so as those issues came up, obviously, they became different colors, different shapes. But nothing of the magnitude that's disconcerting. We have moved through all those particular areas. I have not been an interim athletic director.

I am the director of athletics and have been moving forward aggressively on fundraising, on reorganizing the department, hiring people, and adding to our staff. We're in the middle of a major search for a women's basketball coach. We hired two assistant football coaches; we hired a new equipment manager. We're moving along in all areas.

What I am trying to do is reconstitute the department so that it is a director's job, not a manager's job.

Balancing the budget is my primary concern so that we can have a seamless turnover, and when the new athletic director comes in he or she can hit the ground running. They'll be briefed on everything we've been doing so they can move forward.

I'm reorganizing and restructuring and creating more cost-effectiveness within the department, and adding new elements where necessary and creating better communication within the department.

We're holding weekly staff meetings instead of semi-monthly ones. Holding monthly coaches' meetings. We have a newsletter going out (among staff). We have a new marketing campaign: 2005 The Year of the Buffaloes. "The sun always rises over the Buffaloes."

The implication is that it's a new day. We need to move on and be positive and start to do all the things we need to do to let people know we are a great academic institution, we're a great athletic institution. There've been some bumps in the road, but that's hopefully behind us.

BSN: You mentioned director instead of manager. Can you explain that further?
JL: By the time Dick Tharp left, a lot of the responsibilities were farmed out to various departments. Like, the SID (Sports Information Department) reported to (University) Public Relations. We'll have to re-calibrate that, bring it back so the SID reports to the athletic director with a dotted line back to the Public Relations.

The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing and it needs to be integrated within the department. We need to reconstitute it so that when the new director comes in, the director is held responsible for all the various aspects of the athletic department.

BSN: Last year, the administrative move was made so that the athletic director began reporting to the Provost, rather than the Chancellor. Will that chain of command stay that way?
JL: Currently now I'm working with the Chancellor. It remains to be seen as we move forward. My personal opinion is that they should report to the Chancellor. But I'll be gone by the time that decision rolls around.

BSN: One of the goals you mentioned when you started was to create a better department morale. Do you sense that's happened? JL: I think we've increased and improved communication by bringing the staff meetings to a weekly time. We have a monthly newsletter for communication purposes, and we also have a monthly birthday party where we have 30 or 40 people show up, we announce (that month's birthdays) and sing ‘Happy Birthday.' It's kind of corny, but it gives us good face time.

And then we've got a Speakers Bureau. We're sending that out to the Denver area and Boulder area.

(The 2005 Golden Buffalo Speakers Bureau includes all the CU coaches and several assistants and staff personnel. "They are available to speak at service organizations, schools, luncheons, receptions and virtually any special function," reads the department brochure on the Bureau. Speakers can be scheduled through the Athletic Media Relations office, 303-492-5626.)

Then I created this card when I heard some people feel that we're arrogant and the customer service is not what it should be. It's a "Buffalo Hugs' card that I've given them to everybody and I've asked them to read that to themselves every morning when they come to work.

(Buffalo Hugs: The laminated business card reads "We are an Athletic Department staff that is totally committed to daily thanking all of our customers, fans and each other with a ‘Buffalo Hug' for their loyal and unwavering support of the CU Buffaloes" on one side. It reads "We are an Athletic Department staff that is totally committed to the mutual respect and trust of our loyal customers, fans and of each other" on the other.)

The other one is mutual trust and respect and trying to bring back the integrated teamwork within our structure. I think we're making some progress in all of those areas.

BSN: That's another one of those goals you had set – the department needs to reach out to the community and embrace it.
JL: And say, ‘Thank you.' And give ‘em Buffalo Hugs. As I tell my staff – and some of them get a little upset because they say they're doing a pretty good job. And they probably are in many areas. Let's say they're doing a good job with 85 percent. But it's the 15 percent that is the vocal minority, but they become the perception and perception becomes reality. We've got to strive for 100 percent.

That's our goal. We just have to recognize that when we hear these issues, we need to address them, hug the people, thank them and move forward.

You're never going to be perfect, but you need to be as close to perfect as you possibly can to create customer satisfaction, customer concern.

For those people that write me letters that are negative or show concern, I call them up directly. I call personally and ask them to stay in the boat and continue to row because we need our loyal supporters through the tough times. Tough times don't last, but tough people do. And I need to have the tough people stay with us as we turn this program back to its original luster.

BSN: Men's basketball. Can that draw a bigger fan base?
JL: It needs to draw a bigger fan base. We're committed to doing a major marketing program for football and basketball and women's basketball. That's a critical area and we're going to add some staff to support that and we're going to expand our marketing budget to meet the challenge there.

BSN: You've been in a lot of different athletic departments. Tell me your impression of the CU student-athletes. Are they getting a good education here?
JL: I don't think there's any question about it. We just put all new furniture in (the student-athlete academic center) in there, all new computers, all new modules in there. We have an array of mentoring programs. They are receiving an outstanding education.

We have put the academic learning center under the Vice-Chancellor Ron Stump so that there's a total oversight of the academic areas with a dotted line reporting back to the director of athletics.

I think we're doing an outstanding job with our Life Skills programs. I have recommended to the Chancellor that we create a mandatory class for all freshmen that would be called a Life Skills class. What it would do would teach all freshmen when they come here: What is date rape, what is sexual harassment, what is alcohol and drug abuse? All those particular issues so that a student coming in here understands where they need to be, what we're about and where they can go for concerns.

We're working on our relationship with Coors with moderation as the theme. So we're starting to change the culture here by explaining to students where we're at.


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