Part one of Warhawk Nation's exclusive interview with new athletics director Brian Wickstrom
WN: From the outside looking in, what do you find marketable or unique about ULM? Brian Wickstrom: ULM has a lot of things similar to schools I've been at. When I was at the University of Missouri, the athletic budget was $13.4 million. They were at the bottom of the Big 12. When I left two years later, they were at $22 million and we were at the middle of the Big 12 Conference. ULM with all the success it could have with football and men's basketball, there's a lot of opportunity to grow. With the changes in the Sun Belt Conference, people going to Conference USA and picking up new schools, it's a pretty critical time to really grow the program and move up in the Sun Belt Conference to compete annually for championships. To me, that's what made this job really appealing, besides the people I met and Dr. Bruno's leadership. Those are the three things – potential to move the program up, the people I met through the process and Dr. Bruno. We share a lot of the same philosophies.
WN: You'll be arriving on campus in the middle of July. What are your top priorities your first few days on the job? Brian Wickstrom: We've got to come up with a marketing plan for football season tickets and football season game tickets. I've already started having conversations about that. I want to get out and meet our great supporters right away and I want to look at how the department is structured to make sure it's set up to be efficient. With a small staff, you have to have people in the right place and have an externally focused department. That's going to be my first week to try to figure that out. But I want to also hear back from everybody on staff and key people in the university, along with key donors and people in the community to find out what they think the program needs so we can put a plan in place for the next three months, then a strategic plan and get a priority list for some facilities. I've got to get on the ticket situation and fill some openings on my staff. There's a lot of stuff that has to be done right away because football is almost here. The first soccer game is like 30 days away. It's coming.
WN: What are your plans for structuring your athletics administration staff? Changing duties or roles or adding numbers? Brian Wickstrom: When I meet with the staff, I want to make sure that people are in the positions that they are happy with and they can be effective in. Sometimes people take a job to get into college athletics and it's not really what they want to do or it's not their strong suit. I want to make sure people are in the place where they can be most effective. With everybody together, we can really be an effective department. I may move some things around, and I want to give everybody a more external focus. The marketing person to Phil (Shaw), from everybody in the department, I'm going to try to give them some type of external focus because that's how we're going to build the department. I'm going to try to assess everyone in the department right away and try to put them in a position where they feel good and they prove they can be effective to start moving the program forward.
WN: Will you be active on social media and encourage staffers to use it? Brian Wickstrom: Oh yeah. I'm going to be really active on Twitter. I'm going to make sure our marketing staff is social media staff and using Facebook. That's the technology that everybody is using now. To reach our audience, whether it's in Memphis or Tallulah, that's our best chance to get to people. It's inexpensive but it's effective and that's how you get people on the go. We're going to put a pretty heavy social media plan in place. I'm going to be a lot more active on Twitter to try and get the word out and hopefully increase our followers for the department. That's going to be a critical part of our communication plan for the campus and the community.
WN: What do you know about the name change and mascot change at ULM? Brian Wickstrom: I know in 2006 it changed from Indians to the Warhawks and in 1999 it changed from Northeast Louisiana to ULM. Those are two groups of people that I'm going to reach out to because I know there's been some distance and some separation. I want them to understand that what we're doing, they need to take part and take pride in it. I'm going to see what I can do to re-energize that group. It's the same institution and the same department as when they were part of it. Times have changed and we need to get everybody on board to really move this program forward.
WN: Assuming all of the coaches will start with "a clean slate" under the new athletic administration, how short is the leash for some of the programs with long periods of underperformance and without any recent significant on-field/court accomplishments? Brian Wickstrom: I'll talk with coaches when I get there. I'll look at their track record and ask them what their plan is for the short term and long term. I want to see progress. I want to see progress to make the program better. I want to know what their plan is. Everybody gets at least one season, then we'll see if the progress comes and if they have a plan in place that I can see is working. If I don't see any of that stuff, then it's probably time to make a change. From my standpoint, it's easy to get the community engaged when you're winning, but a lot of things go into that. Are the student-athletes having a good experience, do they come back to support the program after they graduate, do they have support and do people in the community come out to watch them play? The biggest thing to me though is progress. I want to see a plan.