By David Rogers. February 27, 2015. BOONE, NC – Of course the jury is still out. The man hasn’t even started his job yet, but at first glance it appears that Appalachian State University has hit a “home run” in hiring the school’s next Director of Athletics in Doug Gillin. Sit down and talk with him and you come away thinking that App State may very well have hit a grand slam.
COVER IMAGE: Chancellor Sheri Everts, left, introduces new Appalachian State Athletic Director, Doug Gillin and presents him with some new, personalized “garb.” (photo by Dave Mayo)
Blowing Rock News coverage of App State Sports is made possible by a sponsorship from Appalachian Regional Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine Center
Chancellor Sheri N. Everts introduced Mr. Gillin at a press conference on Friday, in an Athletics Center-hosted event attended by media, coaches, athletic department staff, student athletes, members of the University’s Board of Trustees, alumni, others from the community, and university guests, including the new AD’s wife and three children — and his most recent boss.
With a nod toward Blowing Rock’s Alice Roess, Vice Chair of Appalachian State University’s Board of Trustees and who chaired the Search Committee for the new AD, Dr. Everts said, “I commend the search committee members for their hard work and welcome Doug to this amazing university. I am confident that he is the athletic director to build our history of athletic success and address the opportunities associated with moving to the Sun Belt Conference, while remaining focused on the core academic experience of our student-athletes. In keeping with the University’s mission, I look forward to working with Doug to insure that Appalachian’s tradition of excellent, education-focused support for our student-athletes remains central to our athletic program.
Gillin has been Deputy Athletics Director at the University of Missouri, a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) since 2012. While at Missouri, Gillin has been responsible for oversight of all facets of day-to-day operations in the athletic director’s absence. He was involved in every aspect of financial planning and budget development, was a member of the department’s strategic plan development team, and was responsible for developing and refining the strategic priorities for external relations units. He also worked with compliance on related issues, had direct oversight of men’s basketball, and was part of a three-person team that oversaw all football operations.
He is a value-based decision-maker.
Gillin was also responsible for external operations for the athletic department, including the Tiger Scholarship Fund, ticketing, strategic communications, Mizzou Sports Properties and game operations. He helped lead Mizzou Athletics’ capital campaign and was involved in a $102 million facility enhancement plan for football, softball, baseball, golf, tennis, and track and field facilities.
Reporting directly to Chancellor Everts, Gillin will oversee all aspects of Appalachian State University’s intercollegiate athletics program, including the hiring and evaluating of staff; overseeing and directing the athletic department’s budget; developing, implementing and managing the expectations and vision for the athletics program; marketing and promoting the athletics program; fundraising in conjunction with University Advancement and Alumni Affairs & Annual Giving.
A native of Binghamton, NY, he earned a B.S. in physical education with an emphasis in sports management from the State University of New York-Cortland, where he is a former NCAA student-athlete, 4-year letter winner, and team captain in ice hockey. After graduating, he earned a Master of Science degree in physical education with an emphasis in athletic administration from Ohio University.
After obtaining his Master’s, Gillin held athletic department posts at Lehigh University, the University of New Mexico, and briefly at Missouri, as well as managerial roles with ISP-Syracuse Sports Properties. In 2002, he joined ISP Sports Winston-Salem, where he was named Executive Vice President- Chief Sales Officer in 2007. After ISP was acquired by IMG towards the end of 2010, Gillin was hired by the University of Missouri as Deputy Athletic Director.
Digging Deeper: Hints at the Perfect Fit
There were several hints on Friday that Appalachian State identified and hired the perfect man for the Athletic Department’s top post, especially at this point in time with the school’s move to the Sun Belt and FBS-level football. Some of the hints were obvious, others more subtle.
After the formal press conference, Blowing Rock News spoke with Gillin’s current boss, Mr. Mike Alden, the Director of Athletics at the University of Missouri, who was on hand on at the App State Athletics Center to lend his support and help celebrate his protégé’s new opportunity.
“What Doug brings to Appalachian State,” Alden noted to Blowing Rock News, “is that he is a value-based decision-maker. He is a value-based leader. He has great core values, a great moral compass.
He raised more money than we have probably ever raised, and we’re actually pretty good at that…
“In our business,” continued Alden, “that (moral compass) is critical in what we try to do as athletic directors, whether it is me at Mizzou or him at Appalachian State. You take that great moral compass and combine it with the things he was able to do at Missouri….well, certainly he raised more money than we have probably ever raised before and we’ve actually done a pretty good job in doing that over the years. He also developed teams of folks who have really enhanced our marketing and sales efforts, our fundraising opportunities, and our facilities growth.
“You take that,” Alden added, “and what he had done previously with ISP…he brought an enhanced level of leadership for all of us in our department. As Deputy AD, he represents me in many ways when I can’t be there. He has a broad experience that will really contribute highly here toward Appalachian State’s continued growth and success.”
In a separate conversation, Blowing Rock News asked Mr. Gillin when was the first time he knew he wanted to be a university athletic director. Gillin didn’t hesitate in saying, “Really, since I played college hockey at (Cortland) I knew that someday I wanted to be an athletic director. After college I went to Lehigh, went to New Mexico, went to Missouri – all jobs in university athletic departments. Then this guy Ben Sutton comes along and says he is starting a company, ISP, and invited me to come along and help with it. For 10 years, it was the most fun I ever had and I still felt like I was raising revenue for college student-athletes. As long as I stayed close to college athletics, at some point in time I knew I wanted to be an athletic director.”
After ISP was acquired by IMG, Gillin felt he was ready to get firmly on a career path towards an athletic director post. “I had some entry level experience in college athletics,” Gillin admitted, “but I talked to Mike Alden about the possibility of going back to Missouri because I knew that I needed to go back and get more on-campus experience. I had the entry-level experience, then some management and marketing experience with ISP, but I knew that I had to get back in the school environment and get more on-campus experience.
“When I went back to Mizzou in 2012,” the new App State AD acknowledged, “I told Mike (Alden) that I thought it would be three to five years before I thought I would be ready for an athletic director job. Well, it has been three years. The timing worked out.”
I knew that I needed more on-campus experience.
Gillin replaces Charlie Cobb, who was hired as Athletic Director in 2005 and left last August to become Athletic Director at Sun Belt Conference rival, Georgia State. Senior Associate Athletic Director Rick Beasley served as interim director for the seven months since Mr. Cobb’s departure. Gillin’s first official day on the job in Boone will be April 6th.
“I spoke with Rick last night,” Gillin disclosed. “We met again this morning and I am really looking forward to working with him. I am going back to Missouri, so Rick is going to be my point person here, on the ground. Things will continue to evolve as we go forward, but Rick and I have had some really good conversations so far. I love his passion and he has so much history here at Appalachian State. He has done some really great things here, so I really look forward to working with him.”
One of the obvious attractions about bringing Mr. Gillin into the App State fold is his high-level experience in helping lead Missouri’s transition into a so-called “power conference”, the SEC.
Mr. Alden reinforced that view when he admitted to Blowing Rock News, “At Missouri, we are three years into moving to the SEC. If anyone thinks that after three years you are fully assimilated into the new conference — absolutely not. It is a long process. For Appalachian State to be able to recruit somebody like Doug Gillin, who has been through all of that process, it is tremendous. After Year 1, where App State is now after a year in the Sun Belt, you are not done. There is a lot of work yet. It is great to have someone at the helm who has had Doug’s experiences. with issues resulting from our joining the SEC — and they are very similar to what App State is encountering in its move to the Sun Belt.”
Alden knows Gillin very well, having worked with him twice. “I worked with Doug for a short time at the University of New Mexico, before he joined ISP Sports, then I recruited him back as Deputy Athletic Director at Missouri. I had just lost my top #2 guy, who took the Athletic Director job at Virginia Tech.
“I don’t know know enough about the culture and environment at Appalachian State,” Alden shared, “but I know that you have a national brand here. It is a high level national brand. People know about this program nationally, and not just because of the 2007 win at Michigan and the three FCS national championships. They know it is transitioning into Division I and they know it is part of the Sun Belt Conference. With Doug Gillin, App State got the perfect hire.”
With Doug Gillin, Appalachian State got the perfect hire.
For his part, Gillin conceded that the move to FBS and a new conference may have played a role in his getting the job. Acknowledging Alden’s earlier comments and asked what skills he might be bringing that will help App State complete its transition to the Sun Belt, Gillin said, “One of the things that I have talked about is ‘patience.’ You can’t just flip a switch and go into a new conference, whether it is the Sun Belt or the SEC.
“When we moved Missouri from the Big 12 to the SEC, we were really proactive in telling all of our constituents that we think it is about a 30-month process to be fully integrated into the new conference. Now that I look back, it has been about that long. There are still little things here and there, but how do you define ‘fully integrated?’
“It take some time to learn to where you are travelling. To learn where you are staying in each town. To learn where you are eating. How do you get there? What type of athletes do those other teams have?
“We noticed in moving to the SEC, for instance, that there was a different type of athlete than there had been in the Big 12. In making the transition from an FCS school to an FBS school and to a different conference, there will also be a different kind of athlete, too, and maybe the differences will be even more profound. Our coaches are astute enough to know (that in order to compete) they have to change recruiting and maybe get to some other recruiting areas.”
More Sound Bites Reveal the Man
Listening to the new AD, you get the impression that this is a methodical “humanist” at the top of his game.
- Regarding the comfort level of working with coaches that you didn’t hire: “Absolutely, and you can say the same thing for the staff, too. We have a field hockey coach opening right now that I’m actually going to dive into tomorrow…but this working with coaches I didn’t hire is not unique. It may be unique to Appalachian State TODAY, but it is not unique to college athletics as a whole because new ADs come in and new Chancellors come into schools all around the nation, every year. All of us have new bosses at some point in time. From everything I have seen, heard or read, our coaches at App State operate at a very high level and I am anxious to come in and be as helpful to them as I can and evaluate along the way.”
- Looking at basketball as a priority revenues source. “Absolutely. There is both an opportunity cost and opportunity lost there if we can’t put some more folks in some seats. We need to continually be competitive. We have two really great coaches. I was very impressed in meeting both Jim Fox and Angel Elderkin today. So yes, it is not only a priority, but a real opportunity. In fact, it is a LOT of opportunity and one of the truly exciting parts of this job.”
- What do you think you were hired to do? “I think I was hired to keep this athletic department on an upward trajectory. It is going (up) and we want to keep it going (up). I was hired to help fulfill the greater educational mission of the university. We want to be collaborative with all of our university constituents. Certainly the fact that I have had some experience raising revenue at different stops is appealing because we are going to have to raise revenue here. We have to raise the level of fan and financial support even further . Some of the ways you do that is just go and talk to people and build relationships. As I said in the interview process, I believe that nothing great happens without great relationships. That’s the business we are in and I think I have been pretty successful in doing that.”
There is both opportunity cost and opportunity lost if we can’t put some more folks in some seats.
- On trends toward permitting student athletes to receive compensation beyond academic tuition, toward “the full cost of attendance.”: “The full cost of attendance is going to be a big challenge for everybody. It’s just relevant. I don’t think we can say today that we are all in. All In is substantial at this school. Of course it is all according to federal guidelines what that full cost of attendance is, but from all the numbers I saw it is about $6400 (at App State). So you start multiplying that vs. a budget in the $20-$21-$22-million range and it gets expensive. So we have to be good stewards with our resources and not try to get out ahead of ourselves, and live within our means.”
- On App State facilities: “We need to evaluate all of the facilities and come up with a strategic facilities plan. That is something on which I will work with our staff to create. What is that? Does that mean changes or enhancements to this (Athletic Center)? Does it mean enhancements to any of our other facilities? If you ask our coaches, they probably wouldn’t say ‘we’re good’, but that is part of the feedback I want to get from them. What do you see? What do you need? When I mentioned the SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), I really want to get feedback. For a while here, I will just step back and listen to our folks. That will help us design not only a strategic plan for athletics, but a strategic facilities plan that is part of the whole school. You can only learn a little bit in a short period of time, so I think it is important to just come here and listen.
- On the interview process: “I actually did the ‘airport interview’ at the Charlotte airport on Super Bowl Sunday. After we were done, I flew back to St. Louis, drove two hours back to my house and NEVER looked at the score of the Super Bowl game. That way, I was able to watch the whole thing on tape (and enjoy it as if it was real time). Knock out the commercials and it is about an hour and 15 minutes. However, I did watch Katy Perry’s halftime show!” Gillin added that there was another interview, the final one, last Thursday (Feb. 19) on campus in Boone.
- On the possibility of playing Missouri: “Absolutely, we would love to do that, but you have to ask: Does it make sense for an App State team to travel to mid-Missouri to play a guarantee game? Or, with all of the great schools in this area of the country, would it make more sense to go play a school closer to home, that we can get to quicker, easier, with less travel stress and less expensive for the athletic department and for our fans?”
Nothing great happens without first establishing great relationships.
- On the travel demands on student athletes this year in the Sun Belt: “I am anxious to get with the other athletic director in the Sun Belt Conference. I know some of them personally and I know the Commissioner, Karl Benson. I know that travel has been a concern for all of us. When you talk about a student-athlete’s well-being as a primary focus, the travelling schedule is a big part of that. We all have the same interest in mind: How do we do it and how do we keep our kids going to school and safe in their traveling?”
- On whether there is anything he might have to cut back on: “I hope not. Nothing that I saw. The last thing you want to do is save your way to prosperity. Instead, we want to be good financial stewards with our resources, try to grow our resources, and try to be really strategic (in leveraging) those resources.”
- On differences in the AD job at App State vs. a power conference school: “A lot of the responsibilities of an athletic director at whatever school in whichever conference are the same. The major difference is budget. You still have responsibilities for student athletes. You have to take care of them and make sure they are students first and athletes second. You have to make sure they are trained properly, oversee their travel, and that they are safe. The budgets are the biggest difference. The facilities might be bigger (at a power conference), but other than that we are a Division I-A program. We are an FBS football school. We are competing in Division I with elite athletes. With my experience in the SEC, it all comes back to budget. We’ll be looking at things here at App State to see what we are funding, how we are funding, etc., and prioritizing. Some of the schools in the bigger leagues will have more flexibility than what we will have here.
- On Mike Alden leaving the Missouri AD post in August and would he want that job: “You know, I have been so focused on this opportunity at Appalachian State. We were already pretty far down the road by the time he had announced he was leaving. I think I had already been here once and getting ready to come here a second time. With my family, we want to get back to the state of North Carolina and this, Appalachian State, is a really cool place. So we didn’t really give any opportunity at Missouri a lot of thought. I have been really focused in trying to get THIS job…. While living in Winston-Salem, every Saturday morning I would see my neighbor across the street getting ready to go tailgating. So one day I asked where he was going and he said ‘I’m going up to Appalachian State.’ And in those 10 years I was in Winston-Salem, App was rolling. Won three national championships in football. Beat Michigan. So I had heard a lot about Appalachian State and had always admired the school and this area. I had been here before with our ISP staff. So I knew what a great, great place it was — never thinking that we would be here one day with this open opportunity and that I would have the skill set to match.”
Granted, it is only a first impression, but one of Gillin’s greatest assets being brought to this job was reflected in Mr. Alden’s earlier observations to Blowing Rock News: his core values — and especially the humility to listen.