FREE: Q&A With Lee Fowler

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Last week Pack Pride met with NC State Athletic Director Lee Fowler and asked him questions submitted by our premium subscribers. Here is the complete interview with the Wolfpack's AD!

Pack Pride got the opportunity to sit down with NC State athletics director Lee Fowler and discuss a number of issues surrounding Wolfpack sports.

NOTE: The questions asked were submitted by our premium subscribers.

Is it possible to have our football and basketball games not picked up by the ACC's television partners to be shown on local stations? That would be huge for NC State fans to see every game possible and most importantly it would increase our fanbase. I also want to thank you for hiring Sidney Lowe and Tom O'Brien. They are first-class people and great coaches.
The rights to all our games in basketball and football are owned by Raycom. Those are then distributed to Fox, ESPN, ABC, CBS... all of the affiliates. From time-to-time you will see Raycom sell the games to Jim Goodman over here at WRAL. With that being said, this year they are looking at putting some games on the Internet. What that means is this year if a game is not on television, you should be able to watch it online on ACC Select.

Can you give insight into your evaluation process of each sport at the end of their respective season? Do you speak with both the players and the coaches? What criteria do you use to measure progress or success within a program? I assume that will vary for each program.
I think it's different for each program. It depends on how long a coach has been here, what type of shape the program was in when he or she arrived here... scenarios such as those. I'm a big believer that it normally takes four-to-five years to turn a program around, depending upon the state of the program when a coach is hired.

"I think it's
different for each program."

Volleyball is one that has been really confusing because we have had two different coaches who were successful where they arrived from, but they have had trouble turning around this program. It is one of those situations where you have to be patient and give it time. I do believe that we are improving in volleyball, but unfortunately we haven't shown it with wins. We are are much more competitive than we had been in past years.

In terms of evaluating the programs, what I do is I will sit down with an administrator and the head coach, and we discuss what went on within the program over the course of the year. We have assistant athletic directors and associate athletic directors who are actually assigned to each specific sport. They attend the games and practices so they know what is going on and are able to track the program much more closer than I can. The administrator is my eyes and ears. Now, any issues that arise with the student athletes are brought to me and I deal with them, but the evaluation process is mainly between me, an administrator, and the head coach.

I know when Herb Sendek was under .500 at 13-16 several years back, everyone wanted to get rid of him, but I could see the recruiting class coming in was real strong. I believe you have to consider all factors of the situation. You just can't say, "we lost nine games so somebody has to go." You have to know all of the ins-and-outs.

We mainly will talk with the coaches, but we do discuss the program with the graduating seniors. Now, if we have a program that we feel is really struggling, for instance two or three years ago we had swimming, we will bring all of the student-athletes in and go from there. Since I have been here, we've met with probably five teams where we individually met with each player so we could try and get to the core of the problem. Generally, we will interview seniors because they are much more likely to give you information you need to hear because they won't be affected by playing in the future... that sort of thing.

Another thing we might do is talk with trainers and managers because they are also really close to the team. If there are issues I have questions about, I can sometimes go to them and see if it is really an issue or if just one student-athlete feels a certain way.

With all of that being said, we do an in-depth evaluation each year with each sport.

"We do an in-depth evaluation
each year with each sport."

Do you feel there is a huge disconnect between the Athletic Department and the NC State fanbase? If so, why do you believe that is the case? What can you do, and what can we do, to fix the it?
I don't feel like there is. When I go on these Wolfpack Club Caravans, people really close to the program who attend those events seem very upbeat and positive. Now, I'm not crazy enough to believe that after eight years on a job there won't be any detractors. You are going to have people who really like what you do and you will have some detractors. That is one of the tough parts of having a public job... everything you do is judged by the public and some people will dislike you and some will like your approach.

I feel like my approach has always been customer-friendly. We are very interested in the customer being happy and keeping the customer happy. Unfortunately, we have to raise prices like everybody else. We have to stay in the mainstream to be competitive.

I'd like to hear back from you sometime on what the issues are that the fans believe we aren't connecting with. I'd really love to see a list of those things, and maybe we could work on addressing them.

What are the success metrics for the men's soccer program? What have been the facility upgrades for the men's soccer program?
You know I'm not going to talk much about individuals, but George [Tarantini] has been here a long time, and he's gone up and down... he's been in the tournament and he's been out of the tournament.

We're just now about to play our first game on the new field out here. We will now be able to play games at night. Our soccer program has never played at night because the Method Road complex has an ordinance in that neighborhood... they didn't want lights over there. That put a huge disadvantage on our program in-terms of recruiting... high school players couldn't come watch us play because they were practicing and playing games in the afternoon. Our women played their last game of the year, an exhibition game against Greensboro, on the new field and they loved the facility. They raved about it.

With the expectations, in the ACC all of our sports are at the top in the country. We have to demand our coaches to now win at a high level because we have the facilities. I'm not saying win just every so often and go to the NCAAs every so often. We need to be going to the NCAA Tournaments on a regular basis and then have a chance to win it in those sports too.

What are the metrics of success for a major university athletic director? I assume those are what the university wants you to achieve.
The university wants me to graduate players, not have any characters where we are downtown dealing with issues, mesh academics and athletics... they want high integrity and successful kids that can and will graduate, and of course they want us to win. That is what we all want. The main thing is winning... being successful. However, when you're talking about a university, academics are first. Sure, winning is important to me, the chancellor, and the fans, but on our campus and with the university, academics matter.

"I care about every sport."
At their last meeting, the Faculty Senate gave me a resolution. They stated it's the best it's ever been here at NC State between the faculty, students, and athletics department. That was from their last meeting, which was three or four weeks ago.

It's all important. Winning is No. 1. That is first. Being an integral part of the university and doing it the right way... and winning. I know winning is the main thing to the fans and it is to me too. It's the main thing to me.

You can check my record. As a college player, I won a SEC Championship, there had only been one won at Vanderbilt before that. In high school, I played on a team that went to the state tournament for the first time in 20 years. At Memphis State, I was a member of a coaching staff that went to the Final Four and they had only been twice before this year.

I've always won and winning is very important to me. It's the most important thing as long as we do it with character and integrity. I care more about that. My wife will tell you that I'm up watching baseball down at Florida State at 10 o'clock at night on Gametracker because we couldn't pick it up. I care about every sport. My coaches will tell you if you interview them that I know about every sport, how they are doing, who's doing well, who's performing well in school. Those are things that are really important to me... the integrity and of course winning is what I know I have to do.

Mr. Fowler, when you were hired at NC State you did a radio interview with WPTF in which you stated that your goals were, "for the football and basketball teams to consistently be in the top 20 and all the other sports to compete for the conference championship on a regular basis." What is your feeling about those stated goals now in light of your tenure here?
Those are still my goals. With our facilities in place now, and our athletes improving... with the coaches we have in place, those are my goals. I think we are moving towards them. A few sports have taken a step or two back, but I believe most of our programs are moving in that direction. Those remain my goals. They are attainable.

Was NC State aware of the North Carolina State Fair opening on the same day as this year's home NC State-Florida State football game? Did NC State have any input in this decision?
We told them that we would stay off the two Saturdays. We put that game on Thursday because that is a game that we believed we could play on Thursday. They are now telling us that in the future they may start opening up on that first Thursday, so in the future we may stay off that Thursday also.

When we scheduled it for Thursday they hadn't talked about having that day as a soft opening... the fair doesn't open until Friday that next morning. It shouldn't be an issue but they are having a soft opening so I assume they are trying to get some of our crowd to spill over for their soft opening.

It should not be a huge issue. We'll stay off the Saturday's for the fair. It's a happy marriage between us and them. In the future, they would like us to stay off Thursdays, and we didn't know they were going to have that soft opening this year when we scheduled the game. We hadn't been told of that.

"We are in the process of trying to pay off what all we've built now."

Have you and Tom O'Brien talked about possibly adding more seats to Carter-Finley Stadium or any other expansions in the near future? What is in store for the East side of the stadium? Has there been anything new on an indoor practice facility?
There hasn't been a lot on the indoor practice facility. We are in the process of trying to pay off what all we've built now. I think the Murphy Center has two or three years remaining before it is paid off.

I think a lot of people missed it, but we spent about five million dollars on the entire stadium, and that includes the east side. We put rails in and we renovated the concrete, that is supposed to now last us another 30 years. That is why it now looks like it was all built about the same time. We did those concrete renovations and the rails, and I think fans probably didn't notice because they went to every other stadium and they had rails... we just never had them. I know we need to do some restrooms on the East side... the renovations on the West side and put in new restrooms. We'll look at that in the future, but at this point, there is nothing on the drawing board.

It's safe to say that we all feel the facilities are heading in the right direction in most, if not all, of the programs. Do you think it is time now for programs to be measured more on a win/loss scenario given the facilities across the board appear to be on a more level-playing field?
I said when I came here that we needed to get our facilities up to par. We've done that now. We have competitive facilities. Now I am going to take a different approach with coaches and how long they have given how long they've been here. We are going to set some minimum standards, and we are going to notify each coach of what we expect of them individually. Therefore, they will be put on a shorter timeline.

I think there is no question about that. With my administrators, we are already starting the process of letting each coach know what their respective expectations are. We've always done that, but now that we feel like we are on a more level-playing field when it comes to facilities, we ought to be more specific about the bottom-end of what we expect. We are always playing for championships. We are always playing for top three in the conference. Those types of things the coaches are already aware of.

I am encouraged by a lot of our sports because we are starting to see individual athletes make it... the tennis players, the golf players. We rarely had that happen... either the team went or nobody did. We are starting to see better athletes, All-American type athletes, coming here into our programs. I think that has a lot to do with building programs that can compete overall on a national level.

"It's about winning."

To answer your question, yes, coaches realize now they are going to have to produce because that is what it is all about. It's about winning. That is what is important to me and also important to the Wolfpackers donating the money.

Why does is seem like the Athletic Department is so reluctant to answer in a swift and decisive manner when attacked or poorly portrayed by the media (the latest example is the hack job by the N&O on the Collge Inn)? UNC's SID somehow manages to deflect any such criticisms even when they are more than warranted.
It's tough to attack the papers. They have big barrells of ink. All we ask is to be fair. We have a good relationship with Orage Quarles, the paper's publisher. He manages the paper, but he doesn't do the editoring. Actually, on May 28th, the coaches, me, and Annabelle are going down to meet with the editors. We've done it twice before, but on May 28th, Tom, Sidney, and I are going down to meet with the editors for lunch. That's going to create even more of a working relationship with them.

I think with that article you mentioned, we were very involved with giving them information, but the information they wanted wasn't there. We kept telling them that... that it wasn't really a story. They stood by their story that the tax exempt was the main part, even though that was in a seperate story, not the one about the College Inn.

What is your long-term vision for the athletics program at NC State? Do the athletics programs have specific benchmarks they need to meet?
Yes. Some teams that didn't have facilities hadn't been placed on those requirements, but now all programs are on those requirements and have benchmarks. You've got to do this, this, and this, but I'm not going to tell everybody publicly what they are. The coaches will know it. They are on notice if they don't do these things in a couple of years after the facilities have set in. It will be a lot more, on paper, of here is what you have to do. We've always had goals, but it was a little difficult without those facilities to hold them accountable completely with that. That is no longer the case.

"Adidas has been very good for us."

My goals have always been to be in the top three in the conference. If you're in the top three you always have a chance to win the championship. That's an obvious goal as well. Minimum goals, we don't want to be in the bottom-half of anything.. the bottom-half in any sport. We want to be above that in all sports, and that's what we want all our coaches to realize. It will be more different now than it was. It already is in some sports because coaches have been told you have to do this and you have to do that.

Now with all of them having the facilities in place, they will understand even more our goals and how much we want to win and they will be held accountable for it.

How much longer is the contract with Adidas? When can we expect a department-wide contract with a shoe company? Can you talk about the decision to leave the CLC for a smaller organization that generally handles licensing for smaller schools?
We've talked and continue to talk with Adidas about [a department-wide contract]. They are giving us more and more equipment for all our other sports. Anybody that is already with Adidas equipment... they are giving us all of that. Financially, we are in a much better situation with Adidas than we were with Nike. The Adidas [deal] is probably worth over a million dollars more a year than what we were receiving from Nike four years ago so financially we are much better off as an athletics department being with Adidas.

I don't know the complete issue with NC State and Nike under Jimmy V, of course the other two [programs] have Nike, but there was some sort of falling out. Adidas has been very good for us and every year they do a great job of replacing stuff and giving us equipment. It's been a great situation for us.

Regarding CLC, I don't make that final decision, Cindy Sears and the university makes that decision, but we felt like we were basically not getting attention from [the CLC]. It appeared like whatever sold... it just sold. These folks, (LRG), sold us on the idea that they were going to get out and really push our product. They've done a great job of bringing in more revenue than we've had in the past and have sold more products. Yes, they may generally handle licensing for smaller schools but it's like we're their bell cow... we are the ones they are out there pushing to the public. They are out there pushing NC State. We're not in Los Angeles and we're not in New York, but we're much more in our state, in our airports... more than we ever were before.

The other guys just sort of took their check each year, and we never felt they were really pushing our product. That was the reason for the change. These guys are out there leading the charge for NC State. It has been very positive for us.

How do you really feel about the Internet, message boards, and blogs? Could you develop with a discussion component where people use their real names along with their real thoughts?
We need to talk about [developing with a discussion component]... that would be great.

I don't take any notice to anonymous letters. You don't know who they are or where they are from. There is no background there. I don't think the police or anyone else gives much credence to those. I think I would have a lot more interest in a forum where I know they know, have, and present all the facts. I think sometimes on the Internet information is stated where there are enough facts there that it may seem like it's true, but all of it may not be true.

I know you can't answer every question all the time, but I think at times there is information out there that may not be true where it's spread so much that people take it as the truth and it's not even true.

"Those sort of things are what kind of destroys you and breaks your soul."

For instance, I don't know which blog it was on but it's been stated out there that I'm one of the highest-paid ADs in the country. I think it was stated on one of those blogs that I was fourth in the country and the highest-paid in the ACC. Here is a copy of the ACC's salary survey. My base salary is 12th in the ACC. My overall salary is 11th in the ACC. That's the kind of "facts" that are out there being spread around on those sort of blogs and such. Then someone will see them and state that I am the highest-paid AD in the ACC, which as this document proves, is no where near the truth. Those sort of things are what kind of destroys you and breaks your soul. People are able to say things and spread things on these blogs that aren't factual. Those sort of things make it tough.

Have you heard of any of your coaches ever experiencing negative recruiting based on Internet comments?
When Herb left, and we were in the coaching search, the parents of the kids who didn't come here commented to me how what the fans were saying about coach Sendek was ridiculous. They went on to say they didn't know if they wanted their kids to play here with fans like that. Now, it's like I said, it may not even be our true fans. It could be fans of anyone, that goes back to what I was referring to when I mentioned anonymous people.

I remember that situation and there is the kid from here locally who made the comment in the N&O saying that if he didn't come here Sidney [Lowe] might lose his job or whatever. There's nothing there you can fight. It's part of our environment and you just have to live with it and do the best that you can with it.

What are your thoughts on the landscape of college basketball and how it now appears like coaches are being asked to win right away whereas coaches used to be allowed more time to build their programs?
It's the landscape of all sports. What have you done for me lately? It takes four or five years to get all your players in place. You've got to get juniors and seniors in place and building that winning program doesn't happen over night. With that being said, you may have a great year on the way if things go right or break well for you. I know there are examples of this school or that school who have done it quicker, but if you look at the overall landscape, that's not what normally happens to solidify exactly where you want to end up. But, like I said, people want it today and not tomorrow.

"We want to be about winning championships."

In basketball, the first year of success, reaching the ACC finals, making a run late in the year... all those things led to the anticipation of the second year. Add to that the signing of J.J. [Hickson] and the expectations probably got ahead of where they should have been.

But, that's okay too. It's what we want to be about. We want to be about winning championships. We want to be expected to be in the top three of this league in basketball. You can't say that is a negative.

It's funny because if the media picks you 12th and you finish 3rd, there is not a lot written about how dumb the media is or was when it came to predictions. When they pick you 3rd and you end up 12th, you hear how the media is real smart because you should have been 3rd but you ended up 12th. It's all about where you put the credibility on it.

With this program, Sidney is doing to do a fine job. He will do great. It takes a little time to build your own program, especially in this conference.

Do you use the Director's Cup as a measuring stick for success? If so, can you explain the downward trend that State has been on over the past few years? Have you talked to fellow land grant university ADs, such as Ohio State and Florida, about how their programs are always ranked near the top spot in the Director's Cup?
First of all our budget is no where near the budgets of those schools even though we've done a great job ourselves because our budget was really low. The top 25 teams in the Director's Cup, their average budget was over 60 million dollars. That's the average between the top 25 schools. Ours was 33 million, and that doesn't include scholarships. We're spending and have to spend half of what, on average, those teams have to spend. Teams like Ohio State can spend over 100 million a year because their stadium sits over 100,000. Financially, they have a lot more [power] to buy homes games... I'm not trying to tell you we shouldn't be in the top 25, I'm just saying there is a difference when it comes to the programs you asked me about. It's not just about being land grant universities. There are a lot of other factors involved.

The Director's Cup is really about having well-rounded programs based on NCAA Tournament participation. It started in 1993, and we were 59th that first year. We've been 37th,34th,57th,43rd,63rd, and 40th before I arrived here. I started in October of my first year and we finished 56th that year followed by 46th, 43rd, 39th, 51st, 34th, and 44th. I know this year we are currently ranked 66th, but that was before our spring sports and we've always done well in the spring.

"Our spring sports have had good years."

I know people on the message boards are probably using that to say I'm not doing very well, but let's just wait until the year is over and see where we end up. I don't know where we'll be, but I do know our spring sports have had good years so I assume that we will improve and not go down. Since I've been here the worst was 56th, and that was my first year when I arrived after the school year had started. Outside of that our worst was 51st, so we've been, for the most part, consistently in the 30s and 40s when it comes to the Director's Cup.

Also, we are in the best conference academically and the best conference overall athletically. I believe it's the best conference in the country. I know the expectations of our fans are to be #1 in the conference in every sport, but we are also competing against some of the best programs in this country. I believe at this point in time, Virginia has won the most conference championships this year with five. [North] Carolina has won four. Somebody else has won three, and then it goes to two. Everybody else has one or none. Eight of the schools have one championship or none in all the sports this year.

On a recent radio show you were asked about how NC State's sports information department seemed to not be on the level of other local universities. The host of the show said it would be unfair to compare NC State's to those at Duke and UNC because those people at those schools are "the best in the business" and it would be like comparing "the Yankees" (the other schools) to "the Royals" (NC State). Is that an acceptable status quo for our sports information and marketing departments to say that NC State is not at their level nor should it be expected to provide the quality that those schools provide?
Actually, one of the guys he mentioned isn't even the SID over there anymore. He doesn't even have that job. He's not even there.

All I know is what we have. Annabelle [Meyers] is very well respected among the people I know in the media, both nationally and locally. The national people constantly are calling and telling me how great of a job she does.

I don't worry about who they have or what they have. We've just got to do the best we can do.

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