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Some free advice for UNO’s new athletic director

by J.W. Miller on 05/26/19

I  am convinced that once our maturity evolves to the lofty perch of  “old and in the way” all we have left of value is advice that comes with experience. The advantages of advice are that it was earned over many years, as much through failure as through success, and it's free. All of which is a bit of foreplay for this message of free advice to the incoming athletic director at the University of New Orleans. 

Tim Duncan, deputy AD for external affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, will take over the UNO job next week. As a past holder of his seat, I recall the first piece of advice I was given when I took the job: “A successful manager must do three things to show he or she is a leader of action," said my well-intentioned advisor. "You must fire some people you inherit. You must hire new people to fill their place. And third? You must paint the lobby.” 

Looking back at my seven years on the Lakefront, I can affirm that I tried to follow that plan for success. I fired people. I hired people. And, regretfully, I learned that the morass of mid-level administration at UNO did not give me authorization to paint the lobby. But I did pick up some knowledge that might be helpful, and I have reduced that experience to a Top Ten list of advice for new AD Duncan. 

1. Embrace the diversity of the campus. As UNO’s first African-American athletic director, you might know that UNO was among the first public institutions in the South, and the first in Louisiana, to integrate its student body. The opportunity that has presented so many individuals and families has always been part of the fabric of the institution. Don’t forget it.

2. Hire an enthusiastic young sales person. I know this was your focus at Northeastern, but you can’t be everywhere you need to be. You need at least one grinder – or more if you can afford it - whose sole purpose is to push tickets and sponsorships that will create the outside revenue you need for your program to compete.

3. Trust your coaches. You are fortunate that you inherit coaches who have battled financial adversity to make their programs competitive in the Southland Conference. Trust them when they come to you with requests that might be difficult to achieve. They know the advantages that most other schools in the conference have, and they are working tirelessly to lift or keep their programs in the upper echelon.

4. Engage your student-athletes. Not all the young men and women who come to UNO to compete in intercollegiate athletics are there because they want to be. Some were ignored by bigger schools, and they have a desire to disprove the doubters. Still, UNO student-athletes are prepping less for professional careers than they are training for the rest of their lives. Return the favor by assuring them you will do everything in your power to help them reach their goals.

5. Work hard to foster alumni pride. UNO does not have a medical school or a law school that produces well-paying and grateful alumni. What UNO has is the biggest alumni base in the city, but engaging them will be the toughest part of your job. Most probably did not attend athletic events when they were going to school part-time, but it’s not too late to start. And “friend-raising” enhances fund raising.

6. Know your campus. A faculty is usually split into three camps. They either love athletics, tolerate athletics or believe athletics is not relevant. Engage the faculty. Go to their meetings and listen. Be seen. The same goes for UNO’s mid-level administrators who can help you or bury you in red tape. Get to know them. There are points to be made.

7. Be proactive in the community. Solicit speaking engagements and you will find a large UNO presence that wants to know about you and your ideas. Do not accept that New Orleans is only big enough for LSU and Tulane. The Times-Picayune has operated that way for years, although its pending sale to the Advocate should be a positive for UNO.

8. Find the business leaders who want his or her name on something. Speaking of the Advocate, its owner John Georges gave us $1 million in the name of his executive and former UNO basketball star Gabe Corchiani. There is money in this town, and much of it is controlled by people with UNO ties. Find them and name something after them!

9. Bring back Football! The sporting reality of New Orleans is that nothing moves fans like football, and UNO can take advantage. When UNO brought back its club team a few years ago, more than 3,000 fans attended the games. The most fans to attend any other UNO athletic event, in which LSU was not the opponent, was closer to 1,000. You will never have the resources to sponsor an intercollegiate team, but a club team attracts paying students who still want to play, and that enhances institutional recruitment. 

10. Stay close to your boss. This might be the most important piece of advice I can give. You appear to have a president in John Nicklow who sees the benefits of a strong athletic presence. If club football is a minimal expense and helps recruit students, pitch its value to him. Call him with new ideas, news about coaches or student-athletes or questions where you already know the answer. Above all, make sure your vision has full support of the administration. 

The only certainty about advice is that it is either accepted or rejected. That will be up to the recipient. But whether it’s helpful or ignored, my wishes are nothing but great success for Tim Duncan. Even free advice can have value.

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