A Q&A With MSU AD Scott Stricklin

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin sat down with Gene's Page Tuesday morning and did a one-on-one interview. He discussed, among other things, the future of football stadium expansion, the football-only building, expanding the MSU fanbase that supports Bulldog athletics, and MSU head football coach Dan Mullen.

Where do you currently stand with the football stadium expansion?
"Populouis, an architecture firm located in Kansas City, was here the week of the Georgia game with their latest rounds of designs. That was the first time they had actually come to a game and they were able to see the third largest crowd (in MSU history). And they could get an idea where the energy in the stadium is coming from. They are scheduled to come back here in two or three weeks with another round of designs and proposals. And, also, we are getting closer to what the cost estimates might be. We don't have any hard costs yet, and that is, obviously, an important part of it, because you will get an idea what certain components cost. Once we have those in-hand we will have a better idea what our next steps are in finding funding."

Once you have the costs in-hand what do you think can be done within a three to five year timeframe?
"There are demands for more seats and there are going to be more demands for seats, general seats and premium seats. But while we are expanding I think it is very important that we take care of the parts of the stadium that need improvements. And, as we move along in the process, we have an opportunity to affect the esthetics of the exterior of the stadium, which is also critical. I think your facilities say a lot about what is important to you.

"While we want to add some seats, as we mentioned in our email last week we will probably add 5,000 to 7,000 seats in this next phase. But that's not an end point. There is also a plan for the next five to seven (thousand) after that and the next five to seven after that and the next five to seven thousand after that. But we need to be smart about it.

"I think the last few years have shown everybody that when you have a packed stadium - it doesn't matter how big it is - there is a different energy level than when you have some empty seats. So, we always want to make sure we are growing in a measured way, which allows us to continue to fill the stadium and keep the sellout streak going.

"My hope and my goal is that we continue our sellout streak that we have right now and we keep it going until the day we expand and open up new seats. And when that day happens, we want to continue the sellout streak. We want to fill up whatever we build."

What is the actual timeframe for adding those first 5,000 to 7,000 seats?
"Until we get those cost estimates it's hard to say. I would love see it happen sooner rather than later but I don't know want to get nailed down to a time window until we get the cost estimates in our hand."

Not only are their plans for expanding the stadium but there are also plans in the works for a football-only building.
"The stadium is an important part but we also need a football-specific building next to the practice fields to take the football program to the next step."

What do you think a building like that will cost - $10 million, $15 million, $20 million?
"It is probably a $20 million project. It is a critical piece. And we have to go out and find private support for that."

Do you plan on trying to do both the stadium and the football building at the same time?
"That is our hope."

Because you don't have seats you can sell to build the football building, you are going to have to build that facility with donations, is that correct?
"We have to find private support for both. We have to find people who are willing and able to invest in the overall health of our football program."

This is not you saying it but my guess is your hope is to have those two things completed within the next five years.
"We are working with Populouis right now on the stadium and we are working with another group called HNTB on the design for the football building. And we are moving as quickly as we can on both of them, but at the same time we are going to make sure we do them right."

MSU fans have purchased seasons tickets in record numbers. How important has that been to MSU's recent success?
"While the fans at most schools wait for the on-the-field-results to be positive before they decide what their commitment level is, what is exciting about the last two years is Mississippi State people have decided that they are committed and are going to sell the stadium out, buy all the season tickets and are going to create an unbelievable atmosphere by coming to the games and by supporting the Bulldog Club. They are almost pulling the team along with them. And that is exciting and very special. When the fanbase and alumni decide they are serious about it, that is how you build a program long-term.

"Our goal is not to simply have a winning football season, our goal is to have long-term success with our football program, which means multiple consecutive years of bowl games. We have never played in more than three consecutive bowl games. I want us to have a class of football players come through here who only know of going to bowl games four straight years. Then, once we do that, the next group has something to uphold.

"Virginia Tech is a great model because it is a program that struggled for years but now they go to bowl games every year. And they've done that for over a decade. That can happen at Mississippi State, and I think will happen here."

Why do you think it can happen here?
"We have a state that produces great high school talent. We have a great fanbase."

I agree about the talent level. Mississippi State just defeated a team, Florida, that had top five recruiting classes for the past five years and State did it with mostly Mississippi kids?
"I think that goes to show that (our coaches) know this state better than anyone. (They) know the talent better than anybody because we spend the most time recruiting the state of Mississippi. When you do that I think you make better evaluations.

"I think we have an opportunity to be the place where young men in this state want to come and play football. 80% of our student body is Mississippians. We have the largest enrollment in the state and we have the most Mississippians on our campus of any school in the state. And I think that gives us tremendous advantages because it gives those kids a place to come and a place where their families can come see them play close to home, play in the SEC, play in packed stadiums, become bowl eligible, get a great education and be prepared for life after college.

"Because of all those advantages, if we can manage our jobs the right way and everybody do their part, there is no reason why we can't have that kind of long-term success."

What kind of things are you doing to try and get more folks to attend Mississippi State football games?
"Since 2005 we have added 11,000 season tickets to our total and we have had one winning season during that period. I think there are a number of reasons for that. One is The Junction has created a really special atmosphere on campus that people want to come be a part of. And I think when they come to campus they are treated unbelievably well by our staff and the people who work the games. And our marketing promotion people, Chad Thomas and his crew, do a wonderful job of entertaining people during the game using the video board, the music and everything else that goes along with it. And then we have a coaching staff and a group of young men who work really hard and compete, which makes the game a fun thing to be a part of.

"Because of those things, we have a great product and are creating a great experience and everyone is finding out about that across the state.

"We are also doing things to bring a group of Mississippians that may not have been here before such as playing Jackson State last year and Alcorn this year. We have a series with Southern Miss coming up. We have a game with Mississippi Valley coming up. Those are great opportunities to reach out to Mississippians who may not have come to a game at Davis Wade Stadium. They may not come back on their own or they may even send a kid to college here because they had a great experience here. The feedback from the Jackson State and Alcorn games have been tremendous.

"I spoke with a group of African-American Mississippi State alums the morning of the Alcorn State game. I told them, 'I don't see a group of black alums here when I'm talking to you, I see a group of Mississippians who want to come back to a place that is special to them and celebrate what it means to be a Mississippian and to share with one another this college football weekend.'

"As I said, 80% of our enrollment comes from the state of Mississippi. I think we are uniquely positioned to grow our market share and become the place this state rallies around."

What input did you receive from the African-American alumni group?
"Every group has been positive. But I think they have a lot of pride in Mississippi State. You may not know this but Mississippi State has the largest African-American enrollment percentage-wise of any SEC school. 20% of our student body is African-American. That is a source of pride and we are proud of that and promote it.

"Mississippi State has always been the school that is in the forefront of breaking down barriers such as the 1963 (men's basketball) team sneaking out to go play in the basketball tournament. We were one of the first schools in the SEC to integrate our football team. Obviously, Coach (Sylvester) Croom's hiring was a significant moment in our league's history. Being the first SEC school to play a SWAC school was significant. Mississippi State has never shied away from being a progressive thinking institution and I think we will continue that in the future. "

Don't you need every kind of group to continue to expand your fanbase?
"Absolutely, I believe we are starting to appeal to a much broader audience. And I think we will grow for other reasons. There is population growth and there is enrollment growth - we are almost to 20,000 students. That means the graduates will increase, which in turn means we will have more Mississippi State people with degrees. All of those things will be important parts in helping us to continue to grow and build a program.

"Think about this, twenty-five years ago we had 30,000 seats in our stadium. Twenty-five years later, we are putting 56,000, 57,000, 58,000 people in our stadium."

Then, based on history, there shouldn't be any reason why we can't put 25,000 more people in the stadium in the next twenty-five years, which would mean it would hold 80,000 seats.
"In 25 years I think there is a very good chance of that. The day I was hired I felt there would come a day when we have 75,000 seats on this campus and it may even be more. But you have to take those steps to get there. I threw that number out to get people thinking. Sometimes we get locked into our current view but it's important to have some vision for down the road."

While facilities are a very important aspect of any program, just as important to the success of a program is the head coach. What can you do, as the athletic director, to make sure Dan Mullen is the MSU head football coach for years to come?
"I think to keep a quality staff it is important to be smart and aggressive. Greg (Byrne) followed that model when he hired Dan. And we will continue that. Dan received a contract extensive after last year and I fully expect him to receive a contract extensive after this year. That is my intent. And we are going to do some things that fit his needs going forward to make sure he is taken care of for his future.

"Dan and Megan love Starkville. They have really embraced Mississippi State and the state of Mississippi in a special way, and I think a unique bond has been created. In my conversations with Dan he sees a great opportunity here to do something long-term that we have not done as consistently as we have liked to in the past. Dan is a great coach and what you want in a head coach. And it my hope that with every coach, in every sport at Mississippi State that people say, 'I wish I had Mississippi State's coach as my coach.' You want to have that type program with all your sports's program."

Obviously, many fans think the amount of salary a head coach makes is extremely important to the head coach. What is Dan's situation with his contract?
"He has a four-year agreement, which is what the state of Mississippi allows. And he has a base salary and another major portion of his contact is paid through the Bulldog Foundation, which is not public information and not open records. But we have been pretty aggressive (with Dan) and Dan has a lot of incentives in his contract that rewards him based on his on the field success and off the field success such as classroom (performance). And we will continue to be aggressive, competitive and smart in how we package, create and grow his situation as we go forward."

Is it your opinion that he will receive a contact increase at the end of this season if the team continues playing as well as it has so far this season?
"Contractually, he gets one anyway. It's written in his contract."

Obviously, I have to ask this. How much is that increase?
"We are going to be smart, aggressive and competitive with what his salary is." (Scott smiled at the end of his comment.-Editors Note)

Some people think the Bulldog Club money can be used to pay coaches salaries. That's not the case is it?
"No, but it does go to facilities support (in addition to player scholarships). It helps us grow as a program and show our commitment to what is important to us."

Where does the money come from that pays the coaches salaries, the base salary and any supplements?
"We have some money from the university budget which is generated through ticket sales and SEC money. And the Bulldog Foundation pays the other part. The Bulldog Foundation has a contract with Learfield Sports (which has the MSU media rights). The sponsorships from radio and tv and the ads you see on the video board flow through the Bulldog Foundation and those help us supplement coaches salaries. And we also have some donors who give to the Bulldog Foundation who help us supplement their salaries as well."

What are the financial requirements for a donor who is in the Bulldog Foundation?
"They give a minimum of $10,000 a year (to the Bulldog Foundation) above what they give to the Bulldog Club."

How does someone apply to get into the Bulldog Foundation?
"They can call the Bulldog Club and they will accommodate them."

Does the money a person gives to the Bulldog Foundation count on the person's priority level?
"It does. Let's say you give $25,000 - $10,000 went to the Bulldog Foundation and $15,000 went to the Bulldog Club - you would receive credit for $25,000."

Any last words to MSU fans?
"What is going on now has been a couple of years in the making. So, I'm not surprised of the position that we are in today. And I expect us to continue being in a similar situation going forward and be successful as an athletic program. We are going to keep focused on what the short-term and long-terms goals are and we are not going to overreact or underreact."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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