KZ: We just went through a year-long probation followed by seeing the guy in charge of leading us out of that probation get hired and quit in about a year’s time. What are you going to do to rebuild that trust?
AD/RK: I think that anytime you go through a probationary period where there are rules infractions that a community as a whole maybe needs to do some healing – maybe from the institution’s perspective. Maybe there are some audits that need to take place. I think we’re taking the steps to heal. Like one of the things that I saw when the football team won the (2019) Red Grange Bowl, which I was at, was that it was a big step in the right direction, to kind of turn the page, and to say, ‘Yep! We paid our penalty. We did our time, and now we’re really moving forward in a good direction, where everything’s on the up and up.’ The group here has really established some best practices to watch compliance. The compliance has really been taken out of our office and really kind of resides in the registrar’s office now. We have some skin in the game, but ultimately they are the ones who are responsible in helping us drive the eligibility factor for student athletes.
KZ: Is this a new thing? That switch to the registrar’s office checking player eligibility?
AD/RK: The NJCAA asked us to basically renew our policies and procedures. They provided some best practices that we have grabbed a hold of and have put in place to really just protect the institution from getting itself into situations. Basically, it’s just multiple reviewers both in the athletic department and outside of the athletic department that is reviewing this information. They meet daily. It’s not just the athletic people that have to get this right. It’s other people. It’s records, which is who we deal with most on the eligibility piece to make sure that we are competing in a fair environment.
KZ: What are your short term and long term goals?
AD/RK: Short term, is, I am kind of in the listening tour. I’m really meeting with all facets of the university, from the people that clean our offices, to the people that help us make decisions that are in the best interest of the people of the athletic department. I’m really just trying to drill down and do a lot of listening to what’s working (and) what’s not working. I’m drilling down with each one of our coaches. I meet with them individually. I’ve asked them to do a year-end review of their sport. I’ve also done what is called a SWOT and a GAP analysis. It’s them looking and taking a snapshot of what their team is right now – the strengths, weaknesses, opportunity and threats – to say this is who we are, this is where we are at. If you had to take a snapshot at this particular time, this is what we do well, this is what we don’t do well. And then, if this is the snapshot, what do we want it to look like? If you had the opportunity to build a program, and you said if I had all the bells and whistles on, and we were hitting them on all cylinders and winning national championships and cleaning everybody’s clock, what would that look like, and how do we figure out how we get there? How do we fund the advances?
It’s also an opportunity for them and me to build a relationship. Athletics is such a relationship-driven business that is kind of intensive, skin on skin. You come in. You air out all the dirty laundry. Then we lock arms when we walk out of this office, and we are moving together in the right direction. They’re seeing me having an invested interest in them as an individual and then also them as a whole.
That’s what I like the most about being a college athletic director. This is my 17th year in athletics as director of athletics. You gotta meet the program where they’re at. They are not all winning national championships, and some of our programs have definite room for improvement, but it’s meeting them where they are, figuring out if we’ve got the right people in place.
I was telling my staff last night, there are four types of people: Are you willing? Are you able? Can you do the job functions of the position to be successful? Some people are willing and not able. Some people are able and not willing. Then there are the people who are unable and unwilling, and, hopefully, we don’t have any of those people.
KZ: And that will all take time.
AD/RK: You don’t want to rush that process. We’re going to spend maybe two or three meetings to figure out the honeymoon. The expectations here are excellence in everything that we do – courts, fields and fairways, in the classrooms, be able to help these kids springboard, whatever we do, whether it’s on to a four-year university where they want to get a degree in engineering, or if they want to become a welder or a car mechanic. How do we work with them? How do we provide excellent customer service to help the kids?
The cool part is that they’re all different. I just met with a young man who comes from a single-parent family. His dad passed away, and it’s him and his younger brother. And he’s thinking about taking a semester off because he may need to go and help mom out in the home, because she is working hard, and he recognizes that. But it’s also life. If I am not able to have a diligent conversation and provide some words of wisdom on both, because ultimately it’s his decision on what he thinks needs to be best.
I told him, ‘Look, don’t miss out on that time with mom.’ My mom just passed away two years ago, and it’s one of those things that I said, ‘You are never gonna regret spending that time with mom to get her or your family on your feet. You will never regret that.’ Look, I am not going to stand up here and pat on my chest and say we’re gonna be great and win national championships next year, but…
KZ: Why not?
AD/RK: What I am going to tell them is we are going instill four key attributes. I told all our kids this last night. We are going to tell them the truth. That may mean you are not going to get a Division I scholarship. It may mean that I see you at the Division III type of level. We’re going to tell the truth about where they fit into this game. We’re going to love them, and sometimes that might look like tough love, size 10 in the backside. You got under a 2.0 (grade point average), and now you’re in my office to talk about it, and each one of them has a different story. You listen to them. You talk through it with them about it a little bit. You tell them, ‘At the end of the day, if you want to be here, and if this is your choice to be here, then you’re accountable to me. It’s squaring somebody up, looking them in the eye and telling them, ‘I love you enough to tell you that this isn’t good enough, and I am going to hold you to a higher standard, maybe even a higher standard than what you think is possible for you.
That’s our goal as educators, right? To try to get the most out of them, and to have a kid see that they can get the most out of themselves. The other things that we do is we teach them about respect. We are going to respect everybody, including our community. We are going to respect that people are different. We all come from all walks of life. Doesn’t matter race, color or creed, transgender, queer. It doesn’t matter. If we are all in this pot together, we’re all going to respect each other.
KZ: I can see you have a lot of energy about your ideas.
AD/RK: I drink a lot of coffee. The last one is that they have a responsibility that, if they have a good experience here, that when they go back and the kids look up to them and they were able to go on that they go back and they tell them about this experience, tell them about the things that we said we were gonna do, and then that we followed through. I have a family. I am responsible to them. I am respectful. I am respectful of the people I work with, and that’s not just in life or in my workplace, but in general life. We’ve gotta love, because if you don’t love somebody or something, it ain’t worth living as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s always right to tell the truth. That’s what Mom and Dad always say.
KZ: How will you ensure women’s sports are on the same level as the men’s?
AD/RK: That’s actually what I am getting my doctorate in is gender equality. Higher education, specifically college athletics, has some built-in nuances that have, until recently, created glass ceilings, barriers, that have made it difficult to break through. The fact that we have now women that coach in Major League Baseball and the NFL, and maybe we are just getting to a point where the world is more accepting of that, but at the end of the day they probably could have done that 25 years ago, too.
So, it’s being able to look at and provide opportunities. I just was in a meeting with somebody about potentially adding a women’s sport, kind of dance. It could potentially be guys and gals. I am really focused in on that.
Another thing we need to do the deep dive with is, are we proportional? Are we providing opportunities that are proportional? If we’re not, then what are the steps that we’re going to put into place to make sure that we are doing our due diligence and researching that and coming up with maybe a one, three, five-year plan of what that may look like.
KZ: There have been repeated, failed attempts to have a cheerleading team at COD. What are your views about having a cheer team, and what will you do to help it succeed where other attempts have failed?
AD/RK: It’s a little bit of a tough nut to crack. I say that because, when you start to talk about college athletics, they keep score on the scoreboards. When they do that, sometimes maybe at the level we’re at, you don’t get the commitment level that you would at a Division I because they are paying for your scholarship to attend there because of your athletic ability. So, we might have people that may see a sport, whether it’s basketball, baseball, football, and cheerleading might be seen more of as a hobby rather than their true passion.
You get kind of all walks of life here, and kids have varying degrees of commitment level. There are the ones that want to springboard, get that A.A. and springboard get a Division I, Division II, Division III-type of scholarship. Then there are the ones that might still just come here, and they want to kind of give college athletics a try. They really like a sport like baseball, but when it comes down to getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning and lifting weights they might fall off a bit.
I’d say that with any sport, take cheerleading for example, what are the dreams and aspirations of those cheerleaders, and why are they doing it? Are they doing it because they did it in high school, and they like doing that? Is it a leadership type of position, or are they doing it to pay for school? Since we don’t give athletic scholarships at this point, they are doing it to continue to do the things that they enjoy.
KZ: It’s fun.
AD/RK: It’s fun, exactly. But, you know, at the community college level, it’s a little bit different because everybody else has a side hustle, right? Going to school full time. They might have to work. They might have a car payment. They might have some insurance they have to take care of. They might have a family that they have to provide for. They might have to go back to mom’s house and help out there. So, trying to get a cohesive group of people who can all commit at the same level I think has probably been a little challenging.
Most people want a carrot in life, and to being able to dangle that carrot out in front and say, ‘Hey, there’s competitions in Daytona Beach, and there’s competitions in Las Vegas.’ Maybe at some point the institution can help provide an opportunity for us as a cheerleading squad to compete in a competition like that. Then everybody kind of has, ‘Look, if we’re gonna do this, there’s all these other teams that are gonna compete down there. So are we all in? Because if we are not all in, then maybe we shouldn’t spend all this money to be able to go down to Daytona and do that sort of thing. Most cheerleaders that have been to say, Daytona, or Las Vegas, they’ve competed at a very high level, and they are probably used to that. A lot of kids will join a program if that carrot they are dangling is saying, ‘Hey, you’re gonna come here and be a spirit squad for football and basketball, but in April we are going down to Daytona to compete with like institutions, with like squads, and that’s something to look forward to. I am not sure if we have that or not, but I think that has something to do with commitment level.
KZ: The biggest carrot for a cheerleader would be to come here to utilize what COD has to offer and springboard onto a four-year school.
AD/RK: I have never been at a two-year institution. This is my first time. We didn’t get a whole lot of transfers in from two-year colleges. If there is that level of interest what I would suggest is maybe we haven’t always been that intentional. It’s all about that recruiting pitch, right? And if hey, you can come to COD, you can live at home and save all this money, but what other things could we also be selling to them? Like, ‘Hey, if you come here we’re going to have to do some fundraising, but you can plan on at least four days in Daytona Beach, with like cheerleading squads competing for a national championship. When you put that bug in their ear about competition, everybody likes to compete. Everybody likes to win. It could be a driver.