"I feel very, very fortunate. I was telling this story to somebody earlier. When I was in the third grade we did a career report. And, obviously, when you are in the third grade you understand what you want to do with the rest of your life. Most kids were doing stories on being a police officer, doctor, veterinarian. I wrote my report on being an athletic director. So, I can honestly say I feel very humbled and very blessed. (chokes up for a few seconds). And I appreciate the opportunity."
Can you take us through the timeline - when you were first approached, interviewed and then when you were offered the job?
"I probably should have written things down as far as dates, because I can't, honestly, remember the exact dates. But it was probably six to eight months ago when Dr. Watson first contacted me and asked me if I would supply my materials. I told him that I had not asked anybody to nominate me. I had thought about it and had one person who I was going to have nominate me if the time came up. But he said no, you don't have to do that - you have been nominated a number of times. So, I sent him my materials and it was pretty quiet for quite a long while. It was probably a month to a month and a half ago that I sat down with Doctor Foglesong and it kind of went from there."
Then you were offered the job?
"It was kind of over a serious conversation. I don't know if there was a specific time."
Did you think about it?
"No, I was very excited right from the get-go."
What is the biggest challenge that you face? And how far ahead have you thought about what you are going to have to do?
"I have spent a lot of time thinking about that, planning for that. I think there are a few things. And we will talk about our defining principles in a little bit that we are going to base our decisions off of.
"But as Doctor Foglesong has talked about, we are going to stay off probation. That is critical for us because we have seen the crippling effects of what happens when you take shortcuts.
"We have to continue balancing the budget. That is critical.
"And we also have to maximize our revenue streams. And there is a lot of work ahead for that.
"We have to spend time talking about what our expectation are for our coaches, our student-athletes, and for our staff. And to take it another step further, even our fanbase.
"We are going to spend time bringing everybody together, continue to grow relationships. I think that is absolutely critical. People don't give money to people - people give money to the university, but they give money when there are some relationships. Obviously, we can't get to every single person individually, but we are going to do our best to communicate and reach out and spend time with people."
Is there a timeline when you are going to be totally in charge of the athletic department?
"I know by July 1st. And I think the rest of the details will be worked out between now and then."
Have you told your dad? If so, what was his reaction?
"He is very proud. My dad gets a lot of the attention, but my mom (Marilyn Byrne) is first class. She's done a lot of great things professionally in her career. I think she was about 50 when she went back to get her PHD. So, I was very proud to tell both of them. And very proud to tell my wife Regina, and my oldest son Nick, who is back there."
Are there any on-going projects that you deal with in the Bulldog Club that you will have to step back from or give others that responsibility?
"The Volunteer Fund Drive is a big one. And I can't stress the importance of a grassroots efforts to continue to grow our base membership. We added 969 new Bulldog Club members last year. And that wasn't anything that I did. That was us, as a team. That was our volunteers and out staff in the Bulldog Club.
"We have to grow our membership base from the 5,000 to 6,000 range to the 10,000 to 12,000 range over the next five years. And we are taking the steps to do that. We want to get 1,200 new members this year. And I don't think that is unreasonable with the success that we have had in the past year."
How will your past experience at Kentucky and Oregon State help you in your role as Mississippi State's athletic director?
"I think at Kentucky getting the opportunity to build relationships in the SEC was very helpful. I'll be able to go to SEC meetings and have existing relationships right off the bat, which I think is important.
"If there is a mirror image institution of Mississippi State, it has to be Oregon State. The two couldn't be any more alike. The difference is the foundation in everything that Larry (Templeton) and everybody else has done here for all these years - financially, we are solvent here, we are competitive in many of our sports.
"Mitch (Barnhart) became the athletic director at Oregon State and hired me to go with him as an Associate AD. I was 26 years old at the time. When we went to Oregon State we inherited 28 years of losing football. And I'm not talking about 5 and 6s, I'm talking about 0 and 11s and 1 and 10s. And we inherited $12.5 million of operationally debt with no debt service plan. It was so bad our first year. And we were young and didn't know any better. But Mitch said hard work and persistence lead to luck. We both always remember when we beat Cal for our sixth win in our second year there which guaranteed us a winning season. We were coming down from the pressbox to go down to the field because everybody was coming down. And grown men are sitting there crying. That is such a special part of intercollegiate athletics. It's not a perfect industry, but there are so many great things about it and there is such passion for it. That's why it's fun and why we want to be in it in whatever our roles are.
"With that said, the people at Oregon State and the people at Mississippi State are very similar. It's a land grant institution. People want to be proud of their university and they are proud of their university. And they are real people. There is no stuffiness here There are good people here. That's what makes this place a lot of fun."
You are 36 years old inheriting a $28 million budget. What do you say to those that say you are too young to handle such a large corporation?
"I think I have a lifetime of experience. And I think it's something that I feel very prepared and ready to do. I feel very good about a lot of the people around here. And I think we are going to have an opportunity to really do some special things."
What is a realistic budget for this university and what is a realistic timeframe to go about achieving it?
"I don't want to set an exact figure, but your main revenue streams are your season ticket base. And it's not about the size of your stadium, although that is important, but it's about maximizing the revenue of the seats you have. And continuing to enhance the stadium which allows you to generate the potential revenues that are there. You also have the fundraising, which we are working really hard on the annual side. Fundraising is sequential - the $100 guy becomes your $500 guy, and, hopefully, your $5,000 person. Then they become a major gift prospect, so you try to identify them through the process. You also have your conference revenue, which is very important. You also have the revenue from corporate sponsorships from the radio and television sides.
"So, it is understanding what your market value is from the corporate side, and making sure that you are giving yourself and the department the opportunity to maximize those different revenue streams."
Do you think there are a lot of untapped resources out there?
"I think we will continue to maximize every revenue area."
How will the vacancy in the Bulldog Club that you leave be handled as far as all the forward momentum that you guys have from the past year?
"I think we have a great staff in place - Strat, Mike Richey, Bart Gregory, Natalie and Judy. They are the ones getting their hands dirty going after it everyday. I think we need to be smart how we structure our staff. For instance, there is a transfer of wealth that is taking place with a lot of women right now. We need to be able to, as a staff, target certain markets that we maybe haven't been able to spend as much time on."
Do you want to expand the Bulldog Club staff or expand your Bulldog Club volunteers?
"Yes, to both."
Do you know how many employees you will add to the Bulldog Club?
"I think, as we look to see what the expectations levels are for all the different areas, that will be addressed."
Doc was impressed with the great strategic plan that you presented to him. Did you bring a 3" binder to the interview, or what did you present to him?
"I presented to him a 12-page document. It had a little background on me and it put together goals and objectives as a department. And it dealt with a wide variety of issues from the budget to the student-athlete experience, to facilities, corporate sponsorships, to coaches. You name it and it was addressed.
"But the next step is it's not my plan, it's our plan. It's what we do as a department. As we progress, we will have opportunities for our staff, our coaches, our student-athletes and our fanbase to have input."
For the next few months, you will be working alongside Larry Templeton while making the transition. What do you hope to gain from that transition while working with him?
"I would like to say this - Larry Templeton has been very good to me and been very good to Mississippi State. I'm excited to work with him through the transition - work with him on the budget, work with him on the facilities that are already on-going such as the academic center."
Communication is very important to the fanbase. You've already done that with the Road Dawgs Tour and the 16,000 emails that are sent out monthly. Is there anything else that you've thought about that you would like to start?
"You are right, communication is the key. And with the technology today, you can get to so many people so efficiently. To see my phone buzz and buzz throughout the day just goes to show you that y'all got it out there quick. And we need to take advantage of that. It's inexpensive and it can help tell your story. And there is a lot of interest in it. As we move forward, we will continue to communicate by email regularly. And have it scheduled so people will know when to expect it to come. We will talk about our teams, our coaches, about compliance, about finances, and we will share our visions, ideas and thoughts. And we will get feedback, too, at the same time. The technology is here to stay and we need to make sure we do our part to take advantage of it."
You think of Oregon State as being the mirror image of Mississippi State. What is their current budget?
"Now, I'm guessing, I think it's around 40 million. And we grew it considerably when we were there."
What was their budget when you got there?
"About $1.50. And that might be generous. Really, it was nothing. It was just absolutely nothing."
So, realistically, Mississippi State, since it's a mirror image, it's possible for Mississippi State to get to a $40 million with its budget?
"I think at some point in the not so distance future we will have to grow by those numbers."
In your plan to Doc did you include ways to reach even more people to see if you can get them to become Bulldog Club members?
"I think that is one thing we are doing halfway decently right now. But we are going to improve it. However, our grassroots effort with our volunteers is so critical. While we can't contact individually 10,000 to 12,000 donors a year, if we have 150 to 250 volunteers to reach out in the areas they are in, then we can reach them."
What will you do the first day you walk into the office as the athletic director?
"I want to spend time with our staff, with out coaches. I want to spend time with Larry. And continue to spend time with the president. And I'm going to spend some time out around the state seeing some more folks. And continue to listen to them to see what their pulse is."
What are the five defining principles that you were referring to earlier?
"First, we are going to graduate our kids. If we don't have that as the center of what we are doing, then we are in this for the wrong reasons.
"The second thing is we are going to follow the rules. That is going to be very important to us. And the compliance office is doing a nice job with that.
"We are going to be financially solvent and we are also going to maximize the revenue streams.
"We are going to be first class in how we represent the university, how we represent Mississippi, how our student-athletes represent us. And we will do things the right way.
"The fifth thing is we are going to compete for championships. A young man or young woman that puts on a Mississippi State jersey should feel like they will have the opportunity, during their time here, to compete for a Southeastern Conference championship. If they don't feel like they have that opportunity, then we are providing a disservice to those kids."
Are you going to have one-on-one meetings with all of your coaches?
"Some athletic directors do and some don't. Some ADs won't make any comment about the program during the season, period. That's because there is so much emotion involved when you lose a ballgame. It is important to be patient and to have perspective when you are evaluating a program. So, I think at the end of every season it's important to sit down with your head coach in that sport and talk about what are our next steps, what went well, what didn't go well, and where do we go from here."
What is the most important thing that you have learned from your dad, the AD at Texas A&M?
"My dad doesn't make emotional decisions. And another thing he does, which I have watched from an early age, is he does a very good job of communicating with anybody who buys a season ticket or donates to the equivalent of our Bulldog Club. Another thing he will do is get his hands dirty.
"I have a story about that.
"When I was in the 6th grade he became the athletic director at Oregon. He was very young at the time. Oregon's budget didn't have Nike at that time. So, they didn't have any money. They were going to play their football opener. He came home one day and he was sunburned, his hair was standing up all over the place, and he had paint all over him. I asked him what was wrong. He said the guy who was to paint the parking spots with the numbers for the donors didn't show up. So, here was the AD out there painting the spots himself. I remember he woke us up in the morning and we would have to get our painting clothes on. We did what we had to do to get by. By all means I don't think we will be out painting the hallways tomorrow morning, but, at the same time, you do what you have to do."