Foglesong: A.D. Search Process On Schedule

In just over four months another ‘sports year' will begin for Mississippi State. So will another era for Bulldog athletics with a new boss in the Bryan Building. But well before Larry Templeton's two-decade tenure concludes June 30, MSU president Dr. Robert Foglesong intends to have the next athletic director not only picked and approved but already on the job.

Foglesong took time Tuesday to meet in his office with Bulldog-beat reporters from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, and Dawgs' Bite to discuss the status of the A.D. search, where the process currently stands, and what sort of—if not how many--candidates have reached the secondary stage of interviews. And, what the Mississippi State president expects from whoever is handed the reins to Bulldog athletics some day this spring semester. Perhaps even some day sooner than anticipated.

The interview, transcribed here, began with Dr. Foglesong setting the search-stage.

"We're continuing to evaluate people that have applied for this job. The experience level is very good, all the way from people who have no experience in college sports but did have significant experience, or who felt they were qualified for other reasons, they had managed business; to sitting athletic directors. And then you had kind of everybody in-between. So it really was a good cross-section of candidates. But some of those were self-eliminating.

"My qualifiers were pretty simple. Somebody who could keep us off probation, which automatically implies knowing the rules. Just because you run a business doesn't necessarily mean you come in with the detail to know how to negotiate your way through the NCAA and the SEC and know the rules. Other people that applied didn't have the business background that I wanted, because balancing the books is really important. We have the lowest SEC budget, which comes as no surprise to you all. Balancing the books is an important aspect of being the athletic director. So as you go through these that eliminated some of the people who were qualified in certain areas but not other areas.

"In my view I needed somebody who was knowledge enough about intercollegiate sports, to also be able to network and find coaches, assistant coaches, athletic department staff members; who could also fill in fairly immediately. Because the last thing I want at a SEC school is an ‘air gap' while somebody comes in and has to take a long period of time. A great example of that, the SEC presidents talk almost exclusively it seems like about business opportunities. Especially media opportunities, when contracts come up. It's not millions of dollars, it's tens of millions of dollars. So not only do you have to have a business sense about those things, you also need to understand the ramifications of what you're going to end up with for your particular institution. Since we have the lowest budget it's kind of important we maximize ways to generate revenue.

"So by the time you go through all those, and other attributes, it brought me down to a select number of individuals…which I'm probably never going to tell you!...that I was very interested in pursuing. The next part of that had to do with, frankly, my sense of whether they would fit in to the team that we have here now. I'll give you an example of that. Twice a week, sometimes three times a week but for sure on Tuesdays and Thursdays I meet with our vice presidents. It's kind of the ‘brain trust' around here. And the athletic director is a full voting member of that organization, in my view. As with this morning, I asked questions that I want their opinion which may or may not involve sports. So the athletic director has to have a broad enough feel or vision if you will of where they fit into the institution, to be able to comment on obviously things that impact athletics; but I'm very likely to ask them also what do you think about a policy that has to do with the overall operation of the University. Because these are smart people. It then becomes my sense of whether they have the technical skills of how to run an athletic department, balance a budget, hire and fire people, bring us together, work donors, raise money, those kinds of things. And whether they have a sense of where they fit in overall in the University setting.

"The biggest surprise I've had here frankly is the intensity of the fan base, the alumni base, the friends of the University, over sports programs. And I come from a school that is pretty intense, West Virginia. But I'll tell you right now it doesn't measure up to the intensity level in the SEC. Even my wife, she's always been involved in watching sports but now she can tell you on the weekend who is playing who and who's winning and what does that mean for the SEC standings. So we've all been captured by that. But the biggest surprised has been the intense interest and the energy and enthusiasm over sports programs. So it has a big influence on the day-to-day business of this University.

"So this is a pretty fundamental choice that I'm approaching here. Because this individual not only needs to be able to navigate the sports part of the University, but in the broader sense know where intercollegiate sports fits into the overall construct here. Even down to the tactical details. I'll give you an example, last year we had a graduation the same night as we had a baseball game, you can imagine what it was like over there as thousands of people were showing up for the baseball game and thousands right next door for the graduation. So it's one State, one team, and those kinds of things we need to de-conflict is the best way to describe it.

"That's kind of the status of where I am. I'm still on-schedule to make an announcement at some point. Not later than the end of June obviously. And I would also like to make this announcement early enough that there can be some overlap with Larry Templeton, who has a lot of information stored in that brain cavity. I'd like that information transferred to our new athletic director for continuity reasons. I'm a believer in having some continuity; I'm also a believer in not having that period be excessively long. I'll give you the extremes. In the U.S. military we show up on Thursday, Friday we have a change-of-command ceremony, and the old guy is off the base by that night. Now that's the extreme, and you really lose continuity there, you have to totally depend on staff to update you on things. That's too short. On the other hand, and I haven't defined this, I do think there is a period of time where a new athletic director doesn't need an old athletic director looking over his shoulder. That's where I am."

Q: The committee gave you a list of names to interview, and you'd said once they did they were done. But after getting an idea are you going to bounce them back off the committee? "I'm going with my sense of who should be the next athletic director. But I will tell you this, I am going to circle back with the search committee as a professional courtesy to them. Bring them together, thank them for the help in culling-out a group…and they don't know who the final group was. What Vance Watson asked them to do was rate everybody after lots of discussion. Each member did not see how those rankings came out, in fact Vance and I are the only two who have seen that. That's what allowed me to get some very good opinions from some very strong members there. But I do owe back to them at some point to sit down and say this is how we used your data, how the process was established."

Q: Have State's head coaches been told how the process is going? "Only in what I have told you. And I think it's fair to keep them appraised of the timing and how the process is going. I meet with the head coaches each semester and say here's what you can expect from me and here's what I expect from you. It won't come as any surprise to you that the first thing I expect from then is not go back on probation again. I mean that's the biggest thing we can do now, is make sure our character is pristine here and they're not put in a penalty box somehow. But we have an open discussion, and it will get down to technical things like our attendance policy and the SEC did not tell us what it would be. Those kinds of discussions I have with coaches before we finalize that.

"But I do take the opportunity to talk to them. And if I'm at practice and Sly wants to know how the search is going I'll tell him here's kind of where I am. I don't want to surprise them, either."

Q: The probation period ends in October 2009? "Yes."

Q: Do you have finalists? "I'm at a point where I have finalists, yes."

Q: How many are there? "I'm at a point where I have finalists!"

Q: Who are they? "I'm still at a point where I have finalists! I know, I know! I have what I would loosely describe as semi-finalists. I did a lot of research as you might imagine any time you're hiring somebody, you want to check on old Foglesong's background and talk to people you may know mutually. That narrowed the field down somewhat to a group of finalists."

Q: Is there ever a point that group of finalists would be made public? "I don't think so. And the reason is because a number of them have asked their name be protected. I'm doing that more for them. It really wouldn't matter to me to tell you the truth, but for them I'm going to honor their requests."

Q: Can you go as far to say it's less than ten? "It's less than ten."

Q: Less than five? "I knew that was coming next! I will say less than ten, more than five. That's as far as I'll go!"

Q: How many names did the search committee give you? "I'd tell you but I really, truly don't know. I could get the book and count them all…and let me back up, there were a number that didn't make the book, they were people without being too cute about it that applied because they'd played junior high football. Those never came to me. The committee sent me a book that had about twenty names in it. Then I had the ‘rack up' if that's the right way to describe it of the committee's votes. It was a numerical system, and there was kind of a ‘break point.' That's typically what happens. I didn't drive this points system, it was actually Vance Watson's idea to do it. But it reminded me of promotion boards in the U.S. Air Force. We'd rate everybody and sometimes it was 10,000 records and there was almost always a ‘break point' that made some sense. That's kind of what happened when I got this list as well."

Q: Were you surprised, impressed with the number of people that applied, not counting the junior high football stars? "I was not surprised because it is a SEC school and I knew we would attract a significant amount of attention. I was impressed with the experience level that we got."

Q: Do you know who your next A.D. is now? "No. That's a fair question and the answer is no."

Q: Do you wish you knew who it was? "Yeah, I do! I have spent a lot of time on this. And the good thing is it's such a deep field. And the serious news about this is, it's such a fundamental question for the good order and discipline at this University that I really am taking a lot of time. And as recently as last week we got a request from a sitting athletic director who had applied for the job. So we're not going to overlook anybody who comes in until I make a decision. If somebody was to call me up today who was an extraordinary person then they go into the hunt. I was surprised that came because we'd advertised it so long ago, but things change in people's lives. If something happens somewhere that I don't anticipate, there is still a reasonable amount of time for something like that to happen."

Q: Is it a diverse group by race, age, gender? "It is. The diversity I thought was very good. Now remember, I'm 62 years old so my idea of ‘young' is changing by the year! But there were people who I consider to be young and experienced; and there were people who have been in the business a significant number of years as well."

Q: Have you interviewed at least half the finalists? "Yes, over half of what I would consider the finalists, the five-to-ten."

Q: Is this then the second round? "It depends on your definition of interview. There were circumstances where I needed to clarify things after I talked to the original crowd. I guess you could term that a ‘second' interview. And some of it was more detailed than others. And a lot of the things I wanted to clarify had to do with the broader scope of fitting into a University. And I've actually been contacted by some of these individuals, because the way I do interviews is not really me interviewing the individual; it's kind of a mutual thing. Because I don't want anybody coming in here and having any surprises. I don't want anybody coming here expecting to see daffodils!"

Q: Have any of the interviews been on-campus? "No comment."

Q: At which point would you bring in a finalist to take them around? "That's a consideration that I haven't decided yet. Because once you bring whoever it is on campus I better have announced all this. Because as you know it will be a matter of seconds before you get an e-mail that Mary Foglesong is on campus interviewing for the job, or something."

Q: Is she a candidate? "No comment!"

Q: Have you talked to and and said, no? "There were candidates that I initially screened that I don't feel would fit into the vision I have for the University. And I think they would probably tell you the same thing after our discussion."

Q: While the committee was working were you talking with peers and contacts about what to look for? "Yeah, I did. You know, I'm really good at hiring fighter pilots; so far we haven't needed to have any around here. But I did the same thing, and continue to do the same thing with the athletic director's job that I did when I was hiring vice presidents. When you hire a vice-president for research and development you want to talk to people in the research and development community and assess their credibility and how they're viewed. And I've done that, and continue to do that. It's a ‘living document' in my view. I get the opportunity to expand my horizons on something like that.

"I benefited greatly though from having done some of that early, in defining in my mind the components this individual had to bring to the fight. I actually wrote that down months ago on a blue piece of paper, then the first meeting I had with the search committee I said these are the components of an athletic director that I think are really important. Now some of those were self-understood. Character has to predominate but we didn't get into that because they understood the last thing I wanted to worry about was when I wake up in the morning what an athletic director has said or done that is off the reservation. They understood that. But the other sub-set were the things we talked about earlier; somebody that can balance the books, raise money, bring us together, somebody who can make the little Dogs feel as important as the big Dogs. I'm not telling you guys anything you don't know."

Q: Is there anything new on Sylvester Croom's contract? "No, we agreed in principle to extend him. And my view of that is the next athletic director probably ought to be deeply engaged in that extension."

Q: Will the salary be based on experience, ranking, whatever? "As a fairness there will be some experience base on that. But for the most part, it's a little unfair to take say we're only going to pay you this much for this particular job based on your age or your experience. And I bring a little bit of prejudice with that. As arrogant as this sounds, I was the earliest guy in the Air Force promoted to colonel for some number of years. And I got put in a damn penalty box over that; they couldn't figure out what to do with me so they sent me off to school and sent me to other places. And I carry that ‘freight' with me, because when I get an athletic director in here what I expect him to do is make good decisions the day they get here; and I shouldn't pay them for making those good decisions the day they get here."

Q: What is the range? "Larry's original contract, I've lost track because we had two 5% raises, for this year was $175,000 and the Foundation pays him a supplement. In his case the athletic department kind of adjudicated what the pay raises were going to be based on their income over there. It won't be one of the highest-paid athletic directors in the SEC, no question, this school can't afford that. But the fair comment is it will be negotiated with the individual."

Q: Have you had people ask about the money? "No. And I believe it's a good sign when they don't ask about it. I believe there is a good-faith part of this also, where if we reach and agreement and they take a job they ought to be paid a fair salary. I'm not going to low-ball somebody, say we're a SEC school and I want to low-ball you because I know you'll take the job. That's not my style. It's a good-faith thing. I feel we need to pay them what we feel is a fair salary here."

Q: Has the college board asked for updates on the search? "They haven't asked since I announced I was going to do this. Now you know the process, anybody who gets paid more than $75,000 a year the college board has to approve. So at some point I've got to go to the college board and present to them my candidate; they'll have to vote yes or no on that.

"Are you sure you don't want to ask me about the 22 turnovers at Auburn?"

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