Why would he want to go there?
Why would he want to deal with that headache?
As I enter the next chapter in my career, I do not do it blind to the challenges that my predecessors have faced. As the ninth leader of Florida A&M Rattlers since 2009, my primary task will be to provide a road-map towards real stability. Before we can build, we must lay a foundation of simple, standardized industry best practices based on our vision and mission. Perhaps our biggest challenge is to formulate that plan quickly and then disseminate it to our base: current employees, student-athletes, the more than 80,000 alumni that we serve and represent, as well as external bodies like the state and the city of Tallahassee. Then, and only then, will be able to create a positive narrative for athletics to which our stakeholders can feel connected.
That narrative will be able to stand on the shoulders of the Florida A&M story that has played out over the past 132 years of the school’s existence. The institution’s reputation as an elite historically black college and university, an R2 research institution, Law School and the campus serving as a launching pad for high achievers like entertainer Common, filmmaker Will Packer, Microsoft Chairman John Thompson, current mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Former Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum, paint a vivid picture of the untapped potential for the Rattlers.
People will buy into a vision if you can show them how it’s going to work. Plan strategically. Put it on paper. A discussion that led to a $1 million dollar check for a facility project at Middle Tennessee State written the day before Christmas Eve was precipitated by a simple request from the donor to me: “Come see me. I really want to see your plan for this.” Have a plan.
Developing positive relationships with key constituents and being able to tell them where you’re trying to go is crucial. Creating alignment and galvanizing all parties is accomplished by demonstrating the ability to lead people in a positive direction, achieving unparalleled benchmarks and doing the things about which others say, “You could never do that here.” These are the components to creating an atmosphere of success. That atmosphere at Florida A&M is fostered by President Dr. Larry Robinson, who understands the art and science of creating a positive culture, and is one of the primary reasons I am overwhelmed with excitement about joining his cabinet.
Leadership isn’t defined by age, where you are or what you are, but by your ability to bring the best out of everyone else around you. As an athletic director, you set the tone for your staff. When I consider being a CEO, I don’t view that role as a chief executive officer; I see it as a chief energy officer. Having that energy to bring to the table, it’s infectious.
An individual’s leadership characteristics may transfer over from one position to another, but the processes and procedures for accomplishing certain tasks will undoubtedly be different based on the DNA of each individual institution. No matter how many ideas a new leader may have in their head, this is where being a good listener on the front end, to learn nuances that may not be readily apparent on day one, will help with the formulation of action items to tackle challenges and opportunities. In addition to one-on-one meetings with all of our athletics staff, we’ve got to get out into the community to hear from the donor and booster base that is passionate about FAMU Athletics, in order to fully understand their vision and desires for the athletic department.
After our highly-ranked 2009 football team at Jacksonville State missed the post-season due to APR issues, I vowed it would be the last time as an administrator that I had a team that we let down at the administration level. We will use academics and compliance as the offense and defense of our administration. If you don’t get those two things right, engagement with external constituents becomes exponentially harder. If you don’t get those two things right, you cannot move the program forward with a winning culture.
This culture will be exemplified by a staff that embraces creativity and innovation, that pushes the envelope outside of the norms of what has been established. We must be able to elevate our processes, our efficiencies and our decision making to a level that will allow us to keep up with the pace of our peers. With a nod to Oval Jaynes, the former athletics director at JSU who gave me my first opportunity in this business, there is a place on every staff for those who are functionaries, but we will actively seek to augment our team with visionaries, those who can help build a brand.
While there is no doubt that check-the-box items are important, we must also be willing to go outside the box, and to get a little ‘crazy’ in our thinking. We have to capture people; we need to do things that we’ve never done before to get places we’ve never been before. To build an athletics department and develop a world-class student-athlete experience, you must have people who are committed to that passion, committed to that purpose. Establishing a dynamic administration will be a major key to our success.
My path in athletics administration started off in equipment operations, giving student-athletes the physical tools they needed to practice and compete. As my career has progressed, I have been able to provide so much more: Vision. Purpose. Inspiration. My purpose was crystalized by an interaction with a minority student-athlete at Middle Tennessee State who sought me out to tell me that he wanted to be like me after he graduated. It wasn’t just his assertion that struck me, but his explanation. He said: “I’ve never seen, other than on TV, a person who looked like me, who’s been in charge, who’s really run an organization, who’s really been that person.”
Serving student-athletes, providing the physical and intangible tools for them to succeed on the field, in the classroom and after they leave campus, is my driving passion. That student-athlete’s why became my why. At FAMU, we’re now going to turn ‘why’ into ‘what’s next?’ We’re going to turn ‘why’ into ‘wow.’