Gary Blair, the current president of the Mississippi State Alumni Association, talked with Gene's Page back in late January about various issues that involve Mississippi State University.

This is part-one of a two-part interview. The second part is about the football coaching search that resulted in Coach Croom being hired. Gary, who was on the advisory committee, details the process from beginning to end."> Gary Blair, the current president of the Mississippi State Alumni Association, talked with Gene's Page back in late January about various issues that involve Mississippi State University.

This is part-one of a two-part interview. The second part is about the football coaching search that resulted in Coach Croom being hired. Gary, who was on the advisory committee, details the process from beginning to end.">

MSU Alumni Association President Gary Blair

<img src="" align="left"> Gary Blair, the current president of the Mississippi State Alumni Association, talked with Gene's Page back in late January about various issues that involve Mississippi State University.<P> This is part-one of a two-part interview. The second part is about the football coaching search that resulted in Coach Croom being hired. Gary, who was on the advisory committee, details the process from beginning to end.

"I have had the pleasure and honor to be on the (MSU) Alumni Association Board for the last eight years. And for the last five years I have served on the Alumni Association Executive Committee. For the past (ten) months, I have served as the president of the Alumni Association of the best university in the United States."

"To find out about Alumni Association events and to update your membership information, you can go to our Alumni Association page. The address is You can update your address, your children's information and many other things. We need to know their names and dates of birth so that we can start recruiting them. If you are interested in getting involved with the Alumni Association, you can let us know through the website."

"(In January) we had our Alumni Banquet and recognized alumni from all different colleges on campus. Sid Salter was recognized as our Alumnus of the Year. I was fortunate to be at Mississippi State when Sid was there and consider him a friend. I think he is a great advocate of Mississippi State when he writes his articles and does what he does for The Clarion-Ledger. The Clarion-Ledger made an effort about a year ago to find a Mississippi State graduate when they hired Sid to come onboard. They hadn't had a Mississippi State graduate on their editorial board. And they made a concerted effort to have a voice for Mississippi State on their editorial board and on their staff. And Sid was who they hired."

"We had our board meeting (in January) and are in the process of getting ready to do some long range planning. One of the things we are trying to do is be more inclusive within the Alumni Association. We want to get some of our younger directors more involved."

"We are going to have 6 to 8 Bulldog Club events that will be tied to current Bulldog Club members. They are basically going to be around the state of Mississippi. Current Bulldog Club members will be invited to come and meet Coach Croom. It will be more of a social type event than a major dinner."

"Coach Croom doesn't have more than 5 days available for alumni meetings due to what he has to do during the period of the meetings. We are going to try and get him to do some of the alumni events. I'm sure there will be a priority as to where he can go. We are going to try and get him in some areas out of state and in-state."

"There are four things that the alumni can do that would help the Alumni Association.

"The first thing is to make a contribution to the university though the Mississippi State University Foundation or the Bulldog Club. It doesn't matter how much you give, just give something to help for the future. If you go to the university website and look at the Campus Master Plan, you will be amazed. There is future plans for a 20,000 seat basketball arena and a state of the art Hall of Fame. Those are things that are planned and on the drawing board.

"Number two is attending alumni events. If you get invited, try to do everything you can to attend.

"If you live in the state of Mississippi buy a Mississippi State car tag. Mississippi State gets $30+ from every car tag sold. Plus, that is also a billboard for the university. I travel a lot and enjoy being in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and seeing more Mississippi State car tags than Southern (Miss) tags.

"The last thing is to be positive about Mississippi State. People are listening to you. People might be listening to you that you don't even know are listening to you. You might even have a prospective student listening to you. If you say something negative about Mississippi State, who knows, that might cause them to go elsewhere."

"I guess more people express more concerns about gameday management. To me, gameday management is everything from how we go about publicizing our events that go on throughout the week before the game, parking at games, jumbotron usage, the band playing, what type music they play, to what goes on during halftime and timeouts, anything that has to do with gameday and leading up to gameday. It's not just football, but basketball and even baseball.

"I've putting together a committee that will, basically, work with three or four people who work in the (MSU) athletic department in regards to gameday management. We'll sit down and study what we are doing and make suggestions. While we are doing some really great things already, we would like to come up with things that could be done to help the gameday management people do even more great things.

"Having visited other universities and having seen what they do when it comes to their jumbotrons and other things they do around campus, we have seen some good ideas. For example, Kentucky's cheerleaders ride all over the parking lots about two hours before the game and throw out towels. Those towels had "Dogs Drool, Cats Rule" on them. They were specific towels for the Mississippi State game. They were sponsored by somebody in Lexington who paid for the towels and had their advertising on them. I'm sure that we can find somebody that will do something similar. The positives of that was, number 1, it got the cheerleaders out among the crowd, and, number 2, it allowed the fans to have something that they could bring into the game and wave. Basically, it was a free souvenir of the game. We will talk about different things like that. Where we go with it, I don't know.

"We also have a Welcome Center that is going to be built on the corner of Malfunction Junction. That is going to be a really nice thing for football games. You will be able to go in there and buy Mississippi State merchandise and other things like ice cream. It will be a place where people can gather prior to the football game. The Stone Hardy apartments will also be torn down, which will, hopefully, allow for more tailgating area."

"Dr. Lee has some plans when it comes to fund raising. We've heard that there are people out there that are willing to give money to athletics but they want to know what the plans for the future are. Is there a plan for the athletic budget to go from 22 million to 30 million over a period of time? There are a lot of people who have started asking questions like how can I get involved, how can I give, but they want to know where their money is going. They want to know if they give $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000 what it is going to be used for. That's not only on the athletics side but the academic side."

"(Mississippi State) is currently involved in a capital campaign. We are in what is called the Silent Phase. The university has already raised within a million dollars of what we raised in the last campaign. In the Silent Phase the Foundation is raising money by seeking donations. Our goal (during that period of the campaign) is to raise at least half of what your ultimate goal is going to be. Over the last 2 to 2.5 years, the university has raised close to 147 million dollars. We don't actually have 147 million dollars in the bank, but we either have the money or pledges and commitments that total that amount. We are planning a kickoff of the campaign during the upcoming football season. Our plans and hopes are by that time we will be close to 170 to 175 million dollars, with an ultimate goal in the 300 million dollar range within the next 2 to 2.5 years. This is all private money that comes into the university. It doesn't include government money."

"Dr. Lee is really pushing the fact that we need to do a better job of marketing our university. He wants people to know more about what is going on at Mississippi State and the things that Mississippi State does. As an example, he would like for people to know how much money Mississippi State puts back into the economy of the state of Mississippi. There is a lot more money put into the state of Mississippi than Mississippi State actually receives in university support from the state. We are currently in a campaign that will do that. Plus, it will dovetail into a new initiative that the recruiting department is working on for overall university recruiting.

"There was a reality about three years ago where the university basically said we only wanted the students that met a certain ACT test score. That was put out and the word starting getting around that Mississippi State didn't care about the students that may make good grades but didn't do good on standardized tests. The word got out that Mississippi State only wanted to have 15,000 students on campus and not try to grow.

"Dr. Lee's philosophy is totally different from that. He is more of a people's university type person who wants the university to be an inclusive university. We are going to do everything that we can to make sure every student who wants to come to Mississippi State will have the opportunity to come here.

"We are working very hard on getting additional scholarship monies. Mississippi State does not receive monies from several foundation groups that the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi receive. Basically, Ole Miss and Southern uses those monies to supplement their scholarship programs. If there are students that want to go to Ole Miss and they have already given them all they can give them based on the state's ACT test score criteria, then they can supplement it even more with some of the foundation scholarships. For whatever the reason - and I don't know the reason - Mississippi State has not been receiving those foundation dollars. We are pursuing those aggressively. We have been told that we are going to be receiving them soon. Mississippi State is already planning on awarding scholarships of $1,500, whereas before we were only able to give some students that made between 22 and 26 on the ACT. We are doing as much as we can to make sure Mississippi State is on an equal playing field.

"The Enrollment Department and Admissions are trying to do a better job so that student that want the opportunity to come to State have that opportunity. They want to do a better job of making sure the children of alumni start receiving information about Mississippi State at an early age. They even sent out Christmas cards this past Christmas to all children of alumni that were between the ages of 12 and 18.

"Mississippi State kind of lost its focus a few years ago. It wasn't the (departments) fault. The leadership of the university at that time felt like we needed to back off of some of the students and only go after a certain segment of the student population. We've now changed our focus. We not only want those students that may fall into the 30+ ACT score range, but we also want those with ACT scores that are less than that but have a lot of leadership ability.

"We also need to attract more students not only from Mississippi but also from Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. We are going to target those students on the border states and Texas to come to Mississippi State."

"(In the past) we had a situation where we had an (Alumni Association) Executive Committee that would meet, go over a lot of things and make a lot of decisions. The Alumni Association Board was never included. We have tried to do a better job the last year or so to make sure the board was kept up to date. I tried to do a good job of keeping the board informed during the (football) coaching search by email."

"The Alumni Association started an email news letter that is sent out to alumni. It is called E-Bark and can be accessed through the Alumni Association website. It went to over 30,000 alumni. The Bulldog Club also has an email newsletter. The university has a weekly newsletter as well."

"While some good things have been done for higher education over the last year, it has continued to suffer. I'm talking about the four-year institutions when I say higher education. We have to make sure that the higher education is there for the young people of the state. The Inter-Alumni Council, which I am involved in, involves all of the institutions across the state and meets on a regular basis. We are working on getting 8th graders to start thinking about what courses they need to take in high school so that they can be ready for college. We have a program that is just coming out that is called "Mississippi Scholars" and is sponsored by BellSouth. We are going to start recognizing 8th grade students that commit to taking college prep type courses so that they will be prepared to go to universities when they graduate. We are working on some things to try and get young people to take the ACT test at an earlier age such as in the 9th or 10th grades. My son, who was in the 7th grade last year, took the ACT test last year. The earlier they take the test, the better they can understand it."

"There is a projection of a 70 million dollar shortfall for higher education in the state this year. 20 million of it is just for Mississippi State."

"If you can't say something good about Mississippi State, then don't say anything at all. I have seen and heard too many Mississippi State people say things negative about our own university and spread rumors about our own university. We are our own worst enemy in many cases when it comes to how we do things. We don't have to worry about what the people in Oxford and Hattiesburg say because we talk bad about ourselves too much."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher/owner of Gene's Page, the source for Mississippi State sports on sports network. You can contact him by email at

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