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Athletic Director In Residence: Stan Wilcox (Florida State)

By Stan Wilcox
10 min read
You have one of the most successful football coaches in the country in Jimbo Fisher, who is consistently rumored for any number of other high profile jobs come off-season. How have you shown commitment to Fisher (outside financial incentives) to insure he remains with the Seminoles? Where do you think other athletic directors fall short when it comes to finding ways to retain their successful coaches? 

 

It’s always a challenge to keep very good coaches but continued success is also a testament to their ability, and Jimbo has been able to do that. Other institutions will be interested in coaches that are consistently successful. So it is not uncommon – and was actually expected – that other schools would be trying to lure Jimbo away from Florida State. Any AD that wants to keep a successful coach must be able to provide what that coach needs to build and sustain a successful program. It is not always monetary, and it includes providing the best facilities so that the coach can continue recruiting at the highest level. It’s also about providing enough resources to maintain your assistant coaches and support staff to ensure that you minimize turnover. If you are able to show this commitment, then you have a better opportunity at keeping coaching consistency every year. It is something that we review and discuss annually. If the time ever comes where we are unable to provide the resources, I would expect that he could be lured away to another institution. Fortunately, to date, we have been able to meet the challenge of generating the necessary resources to create and upgrade facilities, meet staffing needs and fund what’s needed to continue recruiting the top talent in the country. I cannot speak for other athletics directors; however, in my opinion, the first thing you need to do is remove your own ego and focus on doing what’s best for the program to sustain success while also adhering to institutional practices and policies. You have to be a good listener to know exactly what it is that the coach finds important to sustain a successful program as well as being open and honest regarding what you are able to do within the department’s overall budget to meet the coach’s expectations. It is also important to keep an open mind and seek advice from other ADs who have gone through similar experiences successfully. In addition, you have to keep your president and key university officials apprised of everything. They are the ones who can also give you an indication if the university is willing and able to provide what the coach believes he or she needs to be successful.

 

Florida State has long been considered a “football school,” but has shown it can have success on the hardwood, too. Can any university be consistently great in both football and basketball or is there simply too much strain on the department to maintain two premier sports at a high level? 

 

In my opinion, yes you can compete annually for conference and national championships in more than one sport at a high level. We do so here at Florida State in most of our sports across the board. In addition to Florida State, a few other schools that have had success in both football and basketball are Ohio State, Michigan, Texas and the University of Florida. For many years I have heard the terminology of “it’s a ‘football’ school or it’s a ‘basketball’ school” and some schools have been known as just that. Of course, it is important for an institution to have the necessary resources to recruit the best talent. I was a basketball student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame when our football team won the national title in 1977 and our basketball team advanced to the Final Four. Our football team winning the national championship inspired our basketball team to achieve the same. Many times the success of one program will inspire student-athletes in other sport programs to do the same. So, to me, being a “football” or “basketball” school is a misnomer – you can have comprehensive excellence in many different sports. That’s our goal at FSU and I’m sure most major institutions have the same goal. We may have more success in a particular sport over a period of time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in all sports and strive for (and expect) “comprehensive excellence” across the board.

 

Were there any moments you’ve come across during your career that stemmed from the fact that you are African-American? Do you believe minorities are still at a disadvantage when it comes to reaching the top of the college athletics hierarchy? 

 

When I first started in this business, I worked at the NCAA national office in a department known at the time as legislative services. I worked in that department for five years and became proficient as a rules expert. During that time I received an opportunity to participate in mediation meetings between the NCAA and the Black Coaches Association (BCA). Being one of the more seasoned members and being the only African-American male in the legislative services department, I was requested to participate in these meetings. The individuals representing the BCA organization were all African-American and it was decided that it might be in the best interest of the NCAA to include diversity in the discussions. It was a very good experience and I had an opportunity to make some lifelong friends in the process. Years later when I worked for the Big East Conference, John Thompson, who was part of these mediation discussions, observed first-hand how I was able to handle myself during the negotiations. As a result, he entrusted me to help him with issues on his campus and recruited me to be on the Board of the BCA. That was one career moment where being African-American helped open opportunities for me. I do believe that the annual numbers compiled by the NCAA and organizations that monitor diversity still show that minorities are less likely to get hired as athletics directors, deputy athletic directors/senior staff, head coaches in football, women’s basketball and other sports. The numbers have not increased significantly and, in some cases, the numbers have gone down. This is an area that still needs to be addressed and analyzed. We have not moved forward in the off-the-field, “in the office” numbers of African-Americans at the decision-making, higher levels of athletics administration. We have large numbers of African-Americans participating on the playing fields and courts in the sports of football and basketball; however, the number of African-American head coaches in football, basketball, and among ADs, associate and assistant ADs have not increased as one might expect over the past 30 years that I have been in the business. That issue was discussed as a part of the BCA mediation.

 

 

What’s your stance on dealing with agents during Head Coaching searches? Nearly every HC has an agent these days, which seems natural given escalating compensation around the industry. Some ADs take a hands-off approach and refuse to engage directly with agents. How do you approach these situations and how can both sides (the AD/university & the prospective HC) derive benefit from having an agent involved? 

 

I will always talk to an agent because they have an understanding of what their client is looking for. However, I recently hired an individual from our legal counsel’s office at FSU to work directly within athletics. This person handles any contractual employment negotiations with our head coaches that employ an agent. I prefer that negotiations are handled attorney to attorney. While I am also an attorney, I do not practice contractual law on a daily basis like our in-house legal counsel does. I prefer that she handle it because she can better flush out all the contractual nuances that I might miss when trying to structure and come up with an arrangement that is equitable for both the head coach and the university. I am involved in the negotiations through our in-house counsel as all the contractual change requests come to me for approval. At the end of the day, once we are finished with the negotiations it has to be something that my university president is comfortable approving. So I prefer to deal with agents as a precursor to make them aware that I will speak with them but the actual negotiation will be handled by our legal counsel. I believe this benefits both the coach and myself where we can just deal with the major points and instruct our attorneys to move forward with the actual negotiations and not get bogged down with the process. This also allows the coaches to concentrate on their respective teams without the distraction of having to figure out contractually how to continue feeling comfortable working at Florida State.

 

Time management is a challenge for virtually every AD around the nation. How do you use your administrative assistant(s), digital tools & planning processes to make sure you have a clear picture of what the day holds & then sticking to it? Any tips you can share? What’s your administrative assistant’s secret code for when she needs to interrupt about something really important :)? 

 

I have one of the best executive assistants in the country and she is the person who manages my daily schedule of meetings, conference calls, signing of contracts, travel, correspondence, and miscellaneous paperwork. Vicki is the filter that keeps me organized and helps make my day bearable. Without having someone as proficient, I don’t know how I would be able to maintain the responsibilities of running an athletics department which consists of 20 sports, over 550 student-athletes and 250 employees. My tip is to find someone who is detail-oriented and someone who is not afraid to put in the hours necessary to keep their supervisor well organized and informed. It’s all about hiring the right person. I was lucky that Vicki was already here when I arrived at FSU and that she is a person who has held various positions in her career other than an executive assistant; therefore, she came with a variety of skills that help me in all that I do. She is in tune with me and knows my idiosyncrasies which is important because she often times has to save me from myself. Vicki knows exactly when it’s time to interrupt me to keep me on schedule for the rest of my day. We communicate often, using a variety of mediums. She has constant access to my calendar and emails. An important component to being an assistant to the AD is the ability to anticipate my needs – even before I do.

 

For example, during busy weekends, I am prepped with an itinerary of “where, when, how and who” so that my schedule is seamless and I can move from event to event. I receive information I need, both on my phone calendar and a typed hard copy of the meetings and events I am attending, which includes speaking points, names and bios of donors I may be meeting, and sometimes, even when I have free time to get in a workout. She is a liaison with donors and other constituents, stays abreast of daily happenings in Tallahassee, around FSU’s campus and within the world of athletics so that she can provide me the “need to know” items to begin the day. It is important to have good communication and trust as ultimately it is an important partnership.

 

Senior staff synergy is a topic I’m always thinking about for my own team. Do you have any specific examples of how you effectively encourage collaboration, healthy competition & a team-first mantra? 

 

Yes, I allow my executive staff to be themselves, speak their minds and I always challenge them on their thought process by asking questions to help get a clearer picture of an overall situation. This can help them give their co-workers/team an understanding of the ideas that they are espousing. It starts by having an executive team that complements me so I like to find and hire individuals that have expertise in areas that I do not. But I also like to hire individuals that have had some experiences similar to mine such as in the compliance regulatory field. If you aspire to be a Deputy, Assistant, or Senior Associate AD, it helps to have a background in the compliance governance area. You will be faced with a compliance or governance issue almost daily and having those tools and experiences makes staff members familiar with them invaluable. Of my executive team, over half have a compliance background. I meet with my executive staff on a weekly basis and encourage open communication – which sometimes leads to lively debate – but as we walk out the door we are unified as a team that supports one another and moves in the same direction to provide the coaches, staff and student-athletes what they need to be successful and represent our department and university well.

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