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Tim Duncan: Way Down Yonder In New Orleans

By Tim Duncan, University of New Orleans

The French have a saying – C’est toujours le bon moment – which in English translates to, “It’s always the right moment.”


In many ways, these words define the city of New Orleans. A forgotten jewel on the end of a golden river that runs through the heart of our country, often overlooked and underestimated, but never outshined.


There is a quiet energy that courses through the city, one of great optimism and hope. You can hear its whisper as you walk down St. Charles and Esplanade, like the soft rumble of the trumpet growing ever so louder until you become enveloped in the jubilee of the revelers on Bourbon. The tides rise and fall, but the citizens of the Big Easy always remain even keeled as they navigate whatever obstacles come their way. To them, opportunity is not some nostalgia of the past or a dream of the future. Opportunity is right now.


That is why there is no better institution positioned to seize the moment and start something great than the University of New Orleans. Like the city whose name it carries, the university is filled with people who carry that same energy and enthusiasm, and all who are eager to share it with the rest of the world. And it’s the Privateers that have the opportunity – or perhaps better yet the responsibility – of carrying the iconic fleurs-de-lis flag across college athletics.


From the moment I stepped on to the campus of UNO and the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, I knew there was simply no other place like it. The Southland Conference is full of great institutions, but none can come close to offering what UNO does –the beauty of the campus and the magical spirit of a great American city – can be seen and felt everywhere. Even more exciting is the great potential of the university to sync even further with the people of New Orleans. Much like I experienced as a student-athlete at the University of Memphis, I know what great pride a university in the heart of a city can bring its populous.


For an organization to have an opportunity to build and sustain a culture of success, there must be strong vision and leadership from the top, and Dr. John Nicklow is exactly the type of President that an athletics director dreams of working for. A former Division I student-athlete himself, Dr. Nicklow has a tremendous appreciation for what a strong sports program can do for a university, both within the local community as well as nationally. At New Orleans, athletics will no longer just be a small part of the larger campus portfolio, it will become a cornerstone of the university and a fundamental part of its long-term strategic mission.


To properly execute on this strategy, I have to stay true to my own core values, ones which I have built around my own initials – Teamwork, Accessibility, Discernment and Service (TAD’S):


Teamwork: As a basketball player at Memphis playing alongside the likes of Penny Hardaway, my job was to play good defense, grab rebounds, set picks, and make sure my teammates looked good. My role as athletic director at New Orleans will be no different. I have to remove obstacles from the paths of our student athletes and coaches so that they can shine.


Accessibility: My greatest responsibility as an athletics director is to ensure that each of our student-athletes is maximizing their athletic and academic experience to help propel them to success after they graduate. That means developing a relationship with each of them, being present in their lives, and creating an inclusive environment in which their opinion matters as much as mine.


Discernment: Decisions are based on judgement, and your judgement is based on you experience. If the Privateers are to reach our full potential, it will require the collective experience and wisdom of everyone in our organization. It’s my job to channel all of that intellectual capital into processes that help us move closer to achieving our goals.


Service: There is no place in our great country that rallies behind its own like New Orleans; service to others is an inexorable part of being a citizen of the Crescent City. The Privateers will embrace their brothers and sisters in the community, roll up their sleeves, and give back in ways that will serve as a shining example for athletic programs everywhere.


When I arrive on campus this summer, I will have to hit the ground running. With the help of Dr. Nicklow, his cabinet, the coaches and administrators within Athletics, I plan on having 100 meetings in 100 days (#100meetings100days) with the people in the greater New Orleans community who we identify as most critical to the success of our athletics program. It is our goal to make the Privateers athletics department the most intertwined program in the country when it comes to its hometown. That starts with ensuring that everyone in the university and greater NOLA community has an opportunity to contribute to and have ownership of our vision.


Of course, that vision starts with the great administrators and coaches who are already part of the UNO athletics program. I plan to meet with each and everyone of them too, and the first thing I will ask is: (1) What are the top 5 things you want to see changed, and (2) What are the top 5 things you’re afraid of being changed? The answer to these questions and more, will help me build a road-map for strengthening the culture of our athletics department. I have no expectation that everyone will embrace my core values, which is why it will be critical that we as a department define our own operating principles based on what is important to UNO Athletics.


Above all, I’m incredibly excited to meet and begin working with the hundreds of students and athletes who carry with them the hopes and dreams of the university community and its local populous. As I have learned from my current boss and mentor Jeff Konya, this new generation of student-athletes – Gen Z – wants their voices to be heard and their influence felt. That is why they will see me early and often, whether it be on campus, on the sidelines during practices and games, and perhaps even taking in a few classes with them. To the same end, I hope to see them in my office regularly, and look forward to hosting them on leadership retreats and town hall events around campus.


While there is little question that the we will face great challenges in our mission to transform the Privateers into a truly national athletics program. But the challenge to create something great and beautiful is one that the city and the people of New Orleans have been faced with before, and just like they have done in the past, will prove yet again that they have the resolve and resilience to do whatever it takes to see things through.


Laissez les bons temps rouler!