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I Want Your Job: Southern Miss’ Jeremy McClain

Guest Jeremy McClain (Southern Miss)
40:06 min listen
Photo: The Student Printz
Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain joins INFLCR Founder & CEO Jim Cavale on the latest episode of ‘I Want Your Job.’ McClain discusses how his small town roots and baseball background shaped who he has become as a leader and Athletic Director. He then takes Cavale through his career moving from a corporate job to development at his alma mater, Delta State, and his jump from Delta State to Southern Miss and back to Hattiesburg.

 

1:02 – Jeremy talks about his small town roots, and shares how valuable of a decision it was to play Div II baseball at Delta State under Coach Marchant.
7:10 – Jeremy shares the core values and the mental shift that he went through when competing for a spot on the Boston Red Sox, and credits his coaches for helping to build those values and support him as he grew personally and professionally.
8:56 – Jeremy shares a Mike Kinnison coaching story from when the Delta State team was competing in the World Series, and an occasion where Jeremy needed to be pushed to succeed, but also received heartfelt encouragement from his coach.
11:20 – Jeremy discusses the shift from playing at the college level to professional baseball in the minor leagues, and describes the increase in intensity along with the importance of taking care of yourself throughout the process.
12:43 – Jeremy talks about the path that took him from baseball back to working in college sports, and from getting married to earning an MBA, to deciding that he was unhappy in his corporate job and making the decision to work in development for Delta State University.
18:57 – Jeremy shares his thought process in realizing that it was time for the next step in his career after 6 years at Delta State, and the transition from working in Div II to Div I. His career journey would take him from AD at Delta State, to Deputy AD at Southern Miss, to AD at Troy, until he would come full circle back as Athletic Director at Southern Miss.
22:20 – Jeremy talks about the tough decisions and tough conversations that need to be made by athletic leadership, and how his personal process for those situations is driven by faith and by colleagues who can have valuable and candid discussions.
28:00 – “For me, it’s always been about being creative on the revenue side. How can we get more resources to our student-athletes and our coaches, where they can get their needs list met?”
37:16 – Jeremy shares his number one piece of advice for professionals moving up in their careers in college sports, and his vision for Southern Miss athletics

 

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Full Transcript

 

Jim Cavale: So we’re here in beautiful Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I just got a chance to speak to the Southern Miss football program. We’re at the stadium and the AD’s office looking over the field and I’m with Jeremy McClain. And, Jeremy, we’ve been friends for a while but it’s pretty surreal to see you sit in the seat. I know you’re excited.

 

Jeremy McClain: I, oh, man, it’s a, you know, I’ve had a trip through Hattiesburg earlier in my career and to get a chance to come back and be back in the home state, and, and sit in the seat is, you know, you kind of wake up every day, pinch yourself a little bit and just be really excited about what you get the opportunity to do.

 

Well, we’re going to get to what you’re doing here, but the opportunity to impact student athletes is something that you’ve really been a part of for most of your life, including being a student athlete. And so, I want you to start with growing up with big baseball dreams, ending up at Delta State playing for a legendary coach, and just kind of take us through the journey you had as an athlete.

 

Yeah. So, I guess, I’ll start, I grew up in a really small town in North Mississippi, Houlka Mississippi, which is a town of about 800 people. And so, I went to a small high school. And so, when you’re trying to get recruited and you have aspirations to play college baseball, it’s a tough place to be. And I didn’t get a lot of exposure. And really kind of, you know, hope… I grew up an hour from Oxford, an hour from Starkville, Mississippi. And so, you know, you know, in the back as a kid, you’re thinking, “Well, I want to play in the SEC for one of these schools.” But really, the opportunity and the way it developed for me is I got this great opportunity to play at Delta State. And, you know, I wouldn’t, looking back, it was a perfect fit for me. And it was the right step for me to take that opportunity at the Division II level in one of the best programs at the Division II level. Delta State has a strong history. And so I had an opportunity to go to Cleveland and to jump right into that. Got redshirted my first year, which was another great step; didn’t love it at the time but it just allowed me to grow and mature and, you know, I think was the best thing that ever happened to me.

 

But, but played for, initially, came in to play for Coach Marchant, who was there and then Coach Kinnison and took over after I’ve been there a short period of time. Coach Kinnison is, you know, people don’t know him or been around him or know his story. He’s a guy who was a junior college baseball player, got cut from Delta State’s team when he tried out as a junior, worked as a manager, and came back the next year, tried out again, made the team and became an All-American. And so, that’s all you need… really need to know about him and his vision and focus and, and refuse, you know, refusal to accept anything less, less than the best.

 

And so, what I really learned from him during that time at Delta State was a couple things. Number one was attention to detail. And that’s something that I still use today, you know, the little things that you have to do, the people around you need to do for an organization to be successful. But with him the attention to detail, I mean, our practices were scripted by the minute. And, and we had a place to be and we had a responsibility and we knew what we were doing. And so, though, that’s the thing, you know, I carry with me today. And then the work ethic piece. You know, just, just his ability to work and ability to lead is something that I, you know, I use those lessons today and what I do and, you know, I don’t think you can ever ask someone who works for you to do something that you’re not willing to do, and that was, that was the lesson I kind of took from him. He was always in the middle of it and, you know, just providing that leadership from out front. And so there’s no doubt that being recruited to it and playing at a Division II school at Delta State and, and learning, you know, that work ethic and kind of what it takes to be successful as a student athlete, especially when you don’t have all the resources that are available to you. You know, we’re not talking about playing in, you know, huge stadiums and having all the, you know, all the things and equipment.

 

It’s a nice, pretty nice complex for a Division II though.

 

It is. it is. And it definitely is a great… it’s a great place to play. But, you know, you just learn that some things are, are not necessary to be successful. And, you know, so for me those lessons are things I still, you know, I still carry with me today for certain.

 

So perseverance is a big part of that as well. Right? I mean, his story, but also the perseverance it takes to have Division I dreams and go play Division II baseball, and the ongoing perseverance of when we play a three-game series in Division II, and I say that because I played Division II baseball as well, we don’t play Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Right.

 

We play Saturday, Sunday with a doubleheader on Saturday, and a 15-hour day at that because you got to go pull the tarp off the field and take BPs then the other team takes BP, then we take infield and they take infield. There’s meals mixed in. And then we play nine hours of baseball. It’s a real gritty job.

 

It is. And…

 

But you love it enough, right?

 

No doubt. And I, and I think you really don’t know any different, right? And so, I always, I’ll share this with you, I think when I’m hiring people, whether its own staff, or whether it’s as coaches, I love…if they’ve been at either the high school level, or the Division II level or NAIA or junior college at some point in their career, that’s a bonus for me, because I know they’ve seen it and I know they understand what it takes to, to wear many hats, to, to not, not worry about getting your hands dirty, to do all the things that, you know, and just be willing to jump in and be part of a team. And so, not to knock anybody who hasn’t done those things, I just think it’s a, it’s a plus for people.

 

It is.

 

You know, and you talk about perseverance, to tell you a quick, kind of ending of my story from a baseball perspective is, I think, when I got to Delta State I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to play there or not, to be honest with you. I think every kid probably goes through that. But I got passed over to, you know, by a lot of Division I schools, I got zero offers from any Division I schools. But by the time I left Delta State, then I’ve had an opportunity to play professionally, because of what was instilled in me in that program, the ability to work, the perseverance, kind of the, the attitude of, “Hey, I’m just not going to accept not being the best or not being as good as I can be.” And so, for me, there was a lot of validation and really realized a childhood dream of being able to play professionally after college. And, you know, and I wouldn’t, I’m a firm believer had I gone somewhere else and not had that instilled in me, that would have never happened for me.

 

Now, the Red Sox drafted you…

 

Correct.

 

…which is tough for me to say, because I’m a Yankees fan. But, no, I mean, that’s an amazing story. What do you think was the biggest reason your mindset clicked and maybe your arm and other things physically clicked to get you from not knowing if you’d make the Delta State team to becoming a standout and a draft pick?

 

You know, I think there was a mental… I don’t know when it happened or, or because I can’t point to a specific time. But there was a point there where I think just mentally as much as anything else, I just became a sponge. I mean, I was, I was willing to learn and listen and do whatever it took to be successful. I mean, not, and not just as an individual, but, you know, as, as part of our program and part of our team. And, and again, I’ll point back to the coaches who were there, I think, who helped me get to that point. But there’s this mental toughness that comes along with, with doing that, that perseverance and that, that fight and that work ethic. And so, for me, at some point along the way, early on, there was a shift mentally, you know, that I was, I was, I was willing to do whatever it took to be successful. And that, you know, I knew other people were working too, so I had to make sure that I was out working.

 

And so, for me, and again, a lot of those things apply today and it’s what we tell our student athletes, anytime I get a chance to talk to them about what they’re learning as student athletes, you know, you talk about lessons you’ll use for the rest of your life.

 

Okay, so I played for a baseball coach at the University of Montevallo, who also played for Coach Kinnison. So I’ve got a few Kinnison stories, but those would be indirectly told so I’ll keep those to myself. Coach Goff, you know some of those stories. He’s now… Coach Goff is now the head coach at Purdue and coached us in Montevallo.

 

And he was actually my pitching coach in college.

 

And coach and was your pitching coach in college before he went to Kentucky…

 

That’s right.

 

…to be the pitching coach. So, give me a clean, wholesome, impactful Mike Kinnison story.

 

Mm-hmm, yeah, boy, there’s, there’s a lot to choose from. Let’s see. I’ll tell you this. And I told the story not too long ago to a group. I was a freshman, redshirt freshman. We made it to the World Series. We’ve been really ranked number one in the country all year long, and so had these high expectations of winning a national championship. And we were in the World Series. And, and I will point to this as like, this is what it means to be a coach, right? He… I was pitching that day. I started against Tampa who’s, again, one of the top five teams in the country. Struggled the first couple innings, really got knocked around a little bit and was… walked a couple guys, but was able to, you know, ended up recovering and ended up… we ended up winning the game. But early on in that game, he, he came out to the mound and, and, and no uncertain terms told me to get it together, and maybe some other, some other encouraging words were used, but it really got on me pretty good and was challenging me in a lot of ways. And I was still pretty young. And so, I did, I bounced back and we ended up winning that game. We got back to the hotel and we got off the bus, and he got off the bus and sought me out as I was walking back to the hotel room, walked up to me, put his arm around me and said, “I’m proud of you. I want you to know I love you.” And so, you know, when we talked about how, how you coach people, how you, how you lead people, for me, that was always an example of he understood that I was young and I was still learning. He needed to push me. But he also needed… he knew I needed a pat on the back and to understand that he cared about me. And so that’s probably not a typical Mike Kinnison story, but it is one that’s a little look at into who he is, and, and, you know, why he’s been successful for all these years. And again, I keep saying this, but those are things that I use today with our staff, and with, you know, you have to hold people accountable. You have to push them, but they need to know you care about them. And so, anyway, those are, those are things that I could, I could say it over and over and over, but all those lessons are kind of ingrained in me and I, you know, who I am and they’re who I am and I don’t think I could change them if I wanted to.

 

I love it. You get drafted by the Red Sox. You get a chance to play Minor League ball. Once again, no matter where you came from, could be LSU, could be JuCo, Minor League ball is a grind.

 

It is.

 

Especially in some of those, some of those towns and leagues, like the South Atlantic League, you know, where… what was that like?

 

It was a wonderful experience. It was the shift from college, especially Division II level I’d say to professional baseball is, is this complete, almost 180 really, because you go from, you know, playing three games a weekend and one during the week probably to playing every day. You got an off day, maybe every 10, 10 days or so. And then just the mentality of as, as college teammates, you’re all rooting for each other. You’re trying to win as a team. You’re… well, when you get into professional baseball and it becomes a job, a little bit of shine wears off because, you know, the guy beside you in the bullpen is… he’s trying to take your job and, you know, one of you are going to get called up and have the opportunity, not both of you. And so, it begins to shift a little bit and it’s not… you still enjoy the camaraderie of being teammates, but it is a completely different kind of mental approach.

 

And it is a grind. And you have to learn to take care of yourself and take care of your body and, and it’s, it’s an adjustment. I think, guys who make it through that first year or two, you know, that, that’s kind of the, the key turning point because you got to learn how to handle yourself. 

 

Your career, how would you describe your Minor League career and how would you segue into going back into college athletics? What… did you know you’re going to be in athletic director? Well, how did all that work?

 

Yeah. I ended up playing for about five years. A couple years the Red Sox. I played some independent ball kind at the end of my career. I got married. I was 27. I got my MBA during that time while I was playing. But I got married. It was time for us to, you know, me to take care of my family and contrary to what some people may believe, not a lot of money in Minor League baseball, right. So it was time for me to use my MBA. And so, I took a job… and my Minor League career had been a lot of fun. I had some success. And it was just… it was, I kind of hit the end of the road. And so, I was hired and I took a job with a commercial insurance company. My degree is in business, and like I said, got my MBA, and had a great company, lot of perks, you know, I was probably making more money than my parents had ever made.

 

I was miserable. I was miserable. And I really felt called to get back to a college campus. And, you know, for me, and I really had not thought about being an athletic director up until that point when I needed to do a little, a little kind of internal self-reflection and digging deep inside and trying to figure out where I was headed, but I felt called to get back to a college campus. And the reason I felt called is because college athletics had opened doors for me and kind of brought things out in me as a person that I just don’t think would have happened had I not gone down that path. Had I not been a college baseball player and had that opportunity, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, I wouldn’t be able to do things that, you know… even in my life, either as a father or as a husband, or as a, in my work life, I just firmly believe that I would not have been in the same position.

 

So, I wanted to get back. I wanted to get back to college athletics and be in a position where I could positively affect people, young people, 18 to 22, who were trying to figure it out, and, and really setting themselves up for the rest of their lives. And so, for me, that was kind of the way it all developed. It was, it was not necessarily this, you know, aha moment, but it was more of a… I felt called to, to get back and get back into it. And so, I’ve been trying to do that ever since.

 

So What was your first job back?

 

Yeah, first job back, and you know, and it’s… my path is unusual. I’ll go ahead and say that and I tell people all the time when they want to kind of start talking about career paths. I came back, I was fortunate enough when I was working in the insurance industry, Cleveland and Delta State was in my territory. So I kind of stayed connected with some people in the area. Well, I got an opportunity to come back in development for the university. So I came back.

 

So Brad Teague was there.

 

Brad Teague was the athletic director. I was, I came back on the university side raising money for the university. I’ve, actually, when I got back to campus and started working, I went and sat down in Brad’s office and said, “Hey, talk to me a little bit about what you’ve been doing, how you got here,” because it was… started to click for me. This is where this was headed for me. And I said, “You know, Brad, I really, I want to be sitting in your chair someday.” And he said, “You know, that’s… I think it’s great. I think you can definitely do it. Here’s…” and he walked me. He’s great. He’s very kind to me. He walked me through all that. Well, about six months later, Brad left to go to Central Arkansas. And so, I was 30 years old and I had zero athletic administration experience. And… but I… it was kind of now or never for me. And so, I threw my name in the hat as, you know, in the process of the athletic director search there at Delta State. And fortunately, there were enough people there who, who had seen me as an athlete, again, we talk about things having an impact on you and your career as a college athlete. They had seen me as a college athlete. They had seen my leadership abilities on, on teams there at Delta State. And so, there were enough people who had that level of confidence, not in my experience, or, you know, my background but me as a person. And they felt comfortable with, with, you know, supporting me and putting me in a position to, to win that interview, so to speak, and become the athletic director of Delta State at the age of 30.

 

Amazing. I remember meeting you at the Gulf South Conference, summer meetings down in Pensacola Beach, and I mean, I was probably, I was probably like 24. But I remember thinking, “Wow, this…” I mean, because I had been around the group of ADs before in those meetings. My company was…

 

So, you couldn’t tell I had no idea what I was doing.

 

I don’t know. I… when you told me you just got done playing pro baseball, you won me over. But it’s an amazing story. And of course, with the work my company at the time was doing with the Gulf South, I got to know you guys and Delta State amongst the other Gulf South schools. But you were able to go back there to build a program and then get yourself here as the deputy AD.

 

Right.

 

And that got you cross over from Division II to Division I, but with that foundational experience as an athlete and the lead guy at the helm for a Division II program, which you still use today. So just talk about the journey of now you’re the guy and how it ended up, you know, giving you this, this role where you’re in charge of the athletic program, but you’re also able to move up, so to speak…

 

Yeah.

 

…to a Division I school.

 

Yeah. So I had the opportunity, and I was there Delta State for almost six years.

 

Yeah.

 

And so… and we had a, we had a great group of coaches and had a ton of success. I think played for two national championships, one in football, one in baseball, went to the Final Four in women’s basketball twice maybe, just had this great group coaches that, you know, allowed me to learn a lot of things and build relationships with them and figure, figure some things out, you know, learn on the job. And… but that foundation of building those relationships, learning on the job there, learning to manage a budget that was a real challenge at the Division II level when you’re expected to be a top-tier program in Division II but maybe the resources don’t reflect that. And so, I learned that lesson really early. And it’s… that’s kind of, you know, stuck with me throughout and been really important to me.

 

But was there for about six years and really just got to the point where I kind of felt like, career wise, it was time for the next thing. And, and, you know, again, had done a lot of good things, just felt like it was right… it was time for the next step. And, you know, when you’re in Division II and you’re at a top-tier program, you know, maybe a top 10 or 15 program in the country, the next natural step is to look towards Division I. And so, I kind of looked at some things, explored some things, and then this opportunity came open at Southern Miss to come be, basically the number two position in the department. General Jeff Hammond had been hired here and he really wanted, needed somebody who had that day-to-day experience of running a department because that was not his background. But… so I had the great opportunity to come here and work for Jeff and, you know, and then Bill McGillis after Jeff. And so, had two guys here Southern Miss I learned a lot from. You know, there’s a three-year time frame at Southern Miss and it was a really challenging time. There was, you know, we had to hire a new football coach. We had to go through some, some real challenges. And so, I learned a lot in those three years here the first term is Southern Miss.

 

And then, and then when the opportunity at Troy University came along, I was hired as the AD at Troy. And again, so you go from being the AD sitting in the seat to taking a step back, being the deputy AD, and that’s a different perspective. You know, you’re having a lot of input, but you’re not necessarily making all the decisions to going back to being an AD at Troy. And so, I felt like, you know, I was more prepared the second time being an AD than I was the first time and I think that really paid dividends for me kind of that path where I had sat in the chair before but also had been in that number two position. And so, then at Troy, we were there for about four years and had a lot of lot of good things happen and very fortunate there. And, you know, like I said, thrilled to get the opportunity to come back here at Southern Miss and hopefully have an impact.

 

So it’s an amazing story. It’s got a lot of, you know, ironies and connections. Even down to the, you know, Mississippi is where you grew up and went to college. And then, you know, you go to Alabama, lead Troy to, you know, a run you guys had while you were there was phenomenal. And you come back here, it’s really, really neat to see how it’s all worked out. And I know you’re excited to be back here. But in that story, there’s a lot of conflicts that are tough probably for a lot of people to get used to that just, just happen as part of business, but especially in college athletics. There’s turnover. There’s teams that don’t necessarily put out the product that we all hope down the field. There’s coaches, not just head coaches, but assistant coaches that have to, you know, leave and be replaced and there’s families represented and you built a family during this whole story.

 

So, let’s start with the tough things that you have to endure and stomach as an athletic director because I don’t think people talk about those things enough. How do you approach those things, generally, knowing that it’s still business that you got to fill up the stadium we’re sitting here in right now, that you got to get the best kids here to impact and these 18 and 22-year-olds you talked about, but you, you, you have to balance those two things?

 

Yeah, it is the most difficult aspect of the job, there’s no doubt about it. And so, I think any time you have to make a decision, to go a different direction, to sit down with a coach and tell them that it’s not working, and that we’re going to have to do something different, there’s, there’s nothing more difficult than, than having to do that and learning to be able to do that and learn to be able to do in a way that’s, you know, the best way you can. And so for me, you know, and again, I’m speaking from personal experience, I know maybe everybody, people have different ways of… different areas they may turn. But for me, it’s about faith. And, and so, for me, when I get into the, you know, when I’m in those situations, I spend a lot of time in prayer. And I want to make sure that, you know, I do that, and I’m not, I’m not on this island alone, trying to make a decision that’s going to impact a lot of people.

 

And then not only do I spend time in prayer, but, you know, and I think this would be advice for anybody who is in the business or getting into the business, but you have to have people in this industry and sometimes out of this industry that you can talk to about confidential things, about things that are weighing heavy on you, about decisions that you’re going to have to make. I just think you have to be able to have those conversations outside of your department, outside of your campus. Sometimes even outside of your family, and, and, and have those discussions and be able to share those things with people who can, can help you. And so, for me, those are the two things that are, that are really important. And then at the end of the day, you know, and this is not meant to sound callous in any way, but at the end of the day, as an athletic director, you know, you’re hired to do what’s best for the university and student athletes. And sometimes that leads you to a point where you have to make that decision. So I think as an AD, you just have to remember where that responsibility lies. And I think we all want great relationships with our coaches. I do. I mean, I don’t, I don’t get fulfillment out of this job if I don’t have quality relationships with our coaches and our staff, our student athletes. But at the end of the day, our responsibility is to make sure we’re doing what’s right by the university and our, and our students. And sometimes that leads you down a path that, you know, results in a very difficult conversation. You just have to kind of remember where that, where that center is and what your responsibility is.

 

When you’re looking for a replacement, or you’re hiring for any open position, what’s the number one attribute you’re looking at or looking for, I should say, in a head coach?

 

Yeah, great question. I think from a, from a head coach’s perspective, a couple things that are really important to me. Number one is how you’re going to treat people, right? Student athletes, support staff, the people around you, how are you going to engage? And what… who are you from the sense of, how are you going to treat people. I think culture within an organization, a department is the most important thing there is. And are you, as a head coach, are you going to add to the culture in a positive way? Or, are you going to take away from it? So, sometimes difficult to maybe decipher during the interview process, and that’s why I try to dig as deep as possible. But one of the main things for me is how are you going to treat people. How are you going to make, you know, rally people, so to speak around your program, not just your student athletes?

 

And then, also, you know, what, what are you about from the standpoint of helping young people grow? You know, are you just about wins and losses? Or, is your focus and your decision making going to be based…? And we expect our coaches to win. So I’m not, you know, I need to qualify that. It’s not, it’s not that, you know, there’s an expectation to be successful. But is it at all costs? Or, are you focused on trying to make sure that we’re teaching our young people and helping them grow? So when they leave us they get a chance to be successful in life.

 

You think that there’s cases you’ve been a part of as an AD or you’ve seen out there in other programs where the wins maybe didn’t come right away, but the leniency to continue trying out that coach was there because they were good at the student athlete development side?

 

Absolutely. And I think that happened… I know it’s happened with me a lot. I mean, I think, I think as an AD, I think there’s always more patience and flexibility with, I think, something someone who’s trying to do it the right way is benefiting our students and our student athletes, maybe in sometimes ways that can’t be seen by everybody. There… I think there’s always a… more runway for them to be successful, then there are people who aren’t adding to the culture or the environment or benefiting our students. And, you know, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, definitely, that will always be the case.

 

So, as an entrepreneur, I always say the CEO’s number one and two responsibilities are people and cash. As an AD, I think it’s similar.

 

That doesn’t change much.

 

Yeah, I think it’s similar.

 

Yeah.

 

So I’m going to… we just talked about people. Let’s talk about cash.

 

Yeah.

 

Budgets, whether it’s the Division II level or a group of five league like CUSA and a program like Southern Miss, there’s some creativity there that it’s just got to be there, right. So, is your… is your foundational way of looking at budgets, “Hey, if it’s necessary, we can go find the dollars,” or is it, “This is what we’ve got, and we’re just going to have to just do what we can do”?

 

Yeah. So I think, again, I’m kind of… I’ve always been a situation where, you know, they’ll say Southern Miss Troy where you had to be smart about how you spend your dollars, right? So for me, you always want to try to decide for wants and needs. Now, if you can ask the coaches, “Tell me what you wants and what your needs are,” sometimes they get confused about that. But I think you can help them get to a point where you can have a better understanding of what’s really important for your program to be successful. And that’s an important conversation and important exercise. My philosophy has always been this, you know, you can’t, you can’t cut yourself to success. Like, you can’t, you can’t reduce your budget, you can’t make cuts and, and expect to put yourself on the path to success. And so, for me, it’s always been about… and again, we’ve had to go through budget cuts, don’t get me wrong, and there are times when you have to do that. But, for me, it’s always been about being creative on the revenue side. How can we get more resources to our student athletes and our coaches where they can get their need’s list met? And so, you know, for me, I think, you know, you’re looking at a balance sheet and you got two sides to that balance sheet. And so, I just, I’m just a big believer that you cannot cut yourself out of, out of that. And, and there were times when you’re going to have to tighten the belt. But I’m… 80% of my focus is always going to be on the revenue side and how we, how we improve that situation to help us be successful.

 

So you’re going to decrease liabilities when you need to, but you’re going to think about how to increase assets…

 

Absolutely.

 

…first and foremost. Yeah, I mean, I think, I think that’s why you’ve been successful. I think there is obviously is a balance, that’s why it’s called a balance sheet.

 

Absolutely. Absolutely.

 

But…

 

And don’t get me wrong. We’ve gone through plenty of budget cuts and there’s always a… there has to be this sense of, you know, we use the term “investment” a lot, right? You know, so what are we investing in?

 

Yup.

 

What are…

 

ROI.

 

Yeah, exactly.

 

If it’s not… if there’s no ROI, it’s not an investment, it’s an expense.

 

If you ask my staff the two things that they get tired of me saying, one is culture and two is ROI. So, yeah, I’m right there with you. You know, there has to be… it has to make sense, the big picture. And, you know, and yeah, there… I think everywhere I’ve been, you kind of come in and there are always places maybe we’re you’re spending dollars that you can tighten up some things. But yeah… but the revenue piece is always going to be… it’s going to get most of my focus.

 

So a big reason that we’re sitting here right now, and that this podcast exist is that we were able to build INFLCR from, you know, an embryo to a business that it is today impacting almost 100 now colleges across the country and thousands of athletes. And it’s really, you know, something that started with some initial logos, some initial college athletics brands believing in us. It started with Kentucky doing TV that the AD there was a big catalyst for that. UAB, Auburn…Troy. So you were one of the early adopters. And, obviously, we’re here because we’re partnered with INFLCR in Southern Miss and spoke to your football team. We’re doing an athletics-wide deal which is exciting. Why do you believe not just in INFLCR, but just in this whole movement of digital social branding? I mean, you were the only head AD at our Storyteller Summit this summer at Turner Sports in Atlanta. Next year, that’ll be different. We’ll have a bunch there. But why do you believe in this movement so much?

 

Yeah, let me, let me first say, a great question. Let me first say it’s been, it’s been so much fun watching you guys grow over the past 18 months or so and see your vision for what it is and really filling the gap, if you will, in the industry and allowing our student athletes to have this great tool. And so, so I was excited about that at Troy. I’m, I’m thrilled that we got an opportunity to do it here at Southern Miss. And it’s about ROI. I mean, we just talked about it. And so, and it’s, but it’s, it’s multilayered for me, especially when it comes to INFLCR. It’s, it’s about trying to teach our students how to be smart and use social media platform wisely; how to build their brand; how to think about their future; how to think, you know, long term, “What do I want to do? Who do I want to be?” But then it’s about the department ROI, too.

 

And so, for us, especially when we were at Troy, we were trying to build a brand that people could recognize, that people could be proud of. And the same thing is true here at Southern Miss. And so, for me, it’s about, it’s about the ROI, the investment and here is what our brand is about. We need to be able to tell our story in an effective way. And this tool allows us and allows our athletes and coaches, and our, you know, our people who are involved in our program to tell our story, to do it in a way that is going to have this great impact on our brand and in turn have the return on what I think is a very smart investment.

 

And you you’ve invested in staff on this really since the beginning. I mean, I even remember a time at Delta State where you didn’t have a video staff or marketing videos on your website, but you used my company into that. And that was 2007-08.

 

We’ve come a long way.

 

We have come a long way. We’ve come a long way. I think those were flash videos that had to be embedded on the site. But the reality is, is you’ve been thinking about this. You’ve been seeing this and you’ve been investing into it with technology. You already talked about that but with people.

 

Yeah.

 

And at Troy, Adam Prendergast, who was also at the Storyteller Summit and actually had a great tweet this morning about how Troy is leveraging content of their alums through INFLCR and celebrating their NFL alums that have come from Troy. But guys like Adam, Brent Jones, who’s gone from the deputy AD to the lead guy there has a big foundation in digital and social in his ideology. So, here, you have a staff, Brad, some of the folks I was just with, that really are pouring resources, time into shooting great content.

 

Yeah, and it’s, you know, and this happened at Troy and we’re kind of in the early stages of it here at Southern Miss. But sometimes you have to choose where you spend your time, energy and money. And what we did at Troy was… and that you were a huge part, INFLCR and yourself were a huge part of this, that we said, “We can’t do it all. But here’s what we can do really well.” And so, let’s make sure that we still want to do this piece of the puzzle, which would be your traditional press release. You know, me… press conferences, dealing with the media and all those things are really important. But we can control this other side, I think, in an even more special way. And so, the digital content piece, and so, we invested time, energy and money more on that side to try to leverage what we were doing. And again, ROI. And so, at Southern Miss we’re going to follow a very similar path where, you know, we’re going to make adjustments and we’re going to position ourselves—people, time money—in a way that that our focus is going to be telling our story through, you know, digital content, and using our platforms that are available to us.

 

You know, and it, and really, I’ll be honest with you, Troy started with this kind of the decline in some of your traditional media outlets, some of their staffing, okay. When you’re at a Sun Belt school, it can, can be difficult, because you get less coverage. And so, we just kind of made a decision that we’re going to tell our own story and we’re not going to rely on anybody else to tell our story and talk about who we are. And so, that’s really what started that discussion. And I just, you know, again, I’m a firm believer in that and we’re going to do some of those same things here.

 

Now, Troy, you had some great things happen. But probably the biggest story out of the athletics program is the football team. Once again, being just Power in the, in the in the group of five portion of college football and really in college football altogether, big wins at LSU. At Nebraska, I had a chance to be with you for that one. Coach Brown, who was able to leverage his success there to be the head coach now at West Virginia has continued working with us. And I know he cares about this just as much as you do, all this stuff we’re talking about with storytelling and digital. But if you were to kind of give advice to somebody that is a leader in college sports, what would be like the number one thing, especially somebody now going into a role that to step up, it doesn’t have to be an AD. It could be they’ve gone from SID to assistant AD or they’ve gone from digital creator to SID, whatever it is, what would be your number one advice to them?

 

Yeah, great question. I think for me, and again, it would be different depending on what role you’re in. But the thing I’ve learned that I would share with people is don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone. And what I mean by that is, like, if you do go look at my social media accounts, my Twitter, like, I’m… I do interact and I do post, but I’m not the most social media savvy person in the world. But I understand what it takes and, and it’s very important that us as an organization. So, what… and I use that as an example of, you know, I think a lot of times we get into this, this is how we’ve done it, this is how we’ve always done it, it’s worked, you know, this way, to a certain extent, we haven’t had any issues. Well, that’s not good enough, you know, and so my advice to people would be, always be looking to grow and learn whether that’s… whether that’s reading a new book, whether it’s getting a new circle of influence from friend’s standpoint, whether it’s what we’re talking about from a digital content and making a shift to how you tell your story a little bit differently. That would be my advice is don’t, don’t, don’t be afraid to kind of step out and do something different. And as a matter of fact, if you’re not doing those things, you know, from a career standpoint, you’re probably moving backwards and you’re hurting yourself.

 

That’s great advice. Last question, perfect way to wrap it up. What’s the vision here for Southern Miss?

 

Yeah. I want, I want us to be one of the best group of five programs in the country. And that’s a pretty broad vision, but, but I think something… Southern Miss has this strong tradition of success, you know, dating back to the ‘70s and ’80s, big wins, and especially when it comes to football, but I want us to kind of be the model or example of, of how you do it. It doesn’t mean I want us to have the biggest budget. But I want people to look at us and say, you know, “That’s how you do it. That’s how you build a program. And that’s how you get to a level of sustained success.” And so, for us, it’s about a culture of excellence and a culture of sustained success.

 

And we’ve got things we need to do. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got an outstanding foundation here to build on. And so, for me, it’s about, you know, every day getting up, trying to figure out how we get to that point where we can sustain this level of success that we’ve got other people in the country looking at us and going, “Hey, that’s, that’s who we want to look like and that’s who we want to be.” And, you know, that’s, that’s my goal and vision.

 

I love it, man. I’m so appreciative for this time, of our partnership, of what lies ahead. We’re excited to be a part of that vision at INFLCR and, you know, just can’t thank you enough for, for making the time to record this interview.

 

Well, we’re very excited about the partnership and appreciate you coming to visit with us.

 

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