“I say we’re now at halftime,” new KSU athletic director Vaughn Williams told the Marietta Rotary Club on Wednesday. “I’ve spent the last six months looking at our organization. Now we want to start really communicating with the community. We want to make sure that those who said they might be interested in buying tickets and be involved to have an opportunity to tell us so we can keep them informed.”
KSU’s football exploratory committee delivered its report this spring. Kickoff was predicted for 2014. A head coach was to have been hired this spring, but has not been. The student body voted in favor of assessing a fee on itself to help pay for football and other sports. And a business plan is now being put together for an athletic association to support the team.
Another sticking point is money. It’s expected to cost at least $7 million to $10 million to get the program up and running. That’s a lot of money with the economy the way it is.
If and when the association is set up, the athletic department would become separate, business-wise, from the school. That would let KSU offer its coaches multi-year contracts for the first time ever. And according to MDJ Sports Editor John Bednarowski, that is a crucial point. Not many coaches are going to risk their careers on a start-up program without substantial job security.
“We hope we’ll have enough information in the spring to go to the Board of Regents and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do. This is how much money we have. This is a possibility. Are we OK?’ And then we’ll move forward. And we’re at half-time right now.”
The exploratory effort was headed by legendary retired University of Georgia football coach and former athletic director Vince Dooley.
“I’m lucky,” Williams said. “I get to work with Vince Dooley. And I get to see him every two weeks and get to talk about football, let alone athletics and life. I am delighted to be representing KSU. And I believe in every aspect of what we’re doing. ”
Williams was hired in April to succeed the retired Dave Waples, who had held the job since 1987. Williams, who went to work May 2, spent the previous six years as associate athletic director at the University of Connecticut, preceded by athletic department jobs at other schools. He played football at the University of Massachusetts.
“After six months on the job, I can say that this county and this institution is an unbelievable place. I am fortunate and humbled to be part of something that is furthering excellence now and in the future,” he told the club.
“We are the third-largest school in the state and will soon be the second,” he said. “We are climbing after the so-called ‘big dogs,’ the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.”
“We are the underdogs. We do it for less. Our faculty is committed to excellence. We are growing, but we still have the mentality of a small college. So where does athletics fit in this model? Athletics is a mission of the university. Education through sport. It’s a way to bring people to your campus to create community and pride. Black and gold are the colors we want this community to wear.”
“We want to make sure we are not a secret to be kept. If you have children, they are probably being taught by a Kennesaw state student. If you’re in the hospital, the nurse taking care of you is probably a graduate of our program. If you’re in the business community, you’ve probably hired somebody from the Coles College of Business at KSU.”
The school, which was founded in 1962 after an effort led by the Marietta Kiwanis Club, boasts around 20,000 students and 60,000 alumni in the area. It also has some brand new dormitories.
“These new dorms are not dorms like you and I know,” he told the club. “This is luxury living. We were voted as having the best residential living on campus in America. As (KSU President Dr. Dan Papp’s) wife said, ‘We need to move in there.’”
KSU is Cobb County’s university, Williams declared.
“We can service the state’s northwest corridor. So I don’t care where you went to school, we welcome you. We welcome you to campus to see a pure product.”
KSU’s graduation rate for its athletes, 55 percent last year, was higher than that for the student body as a whole.
“We want to be champions in the classroom, classrooms in the community and champions in competition, and we do that by having outstanding people surround our program.”
“Dave Waples won six national championships at the Division II level and now we’re going to take it to Division I and do the best we can,” Williams said. “We will graduate and we will do things the right way and we won’t be in the newspaper for things that are not appropriate. We will hold integrity and character at the forefront of what we do.”
That’s good to hear.
“I have the job of furthering the success created in only 30 years of having athletics,” he said. “I’m not going away. I’m going to be here knocking on doors engaging the community. We want to let people know what we are and what we’re about. We no longer want to be the best-kept secret in the state of Georgia.”
Bill Kinney is associate editor of The Marietta Daily Journal.