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Mark Alnutt: Learn From Others, Follow Your Own Path

By Mark Alnutt, University at Buffalo

Skid Row.  That was the not-so-affectionate moniker for the very back of the Missouri Tigers football locker room in the early-1990s. It was where my pads and my triple-digit number jersey resided, alongside those of my fellow walk-ons. And it was where I honed my competitive nature, developed the mindset of doing more than simply earning my keep, and earned an athletic scholarship after my first season.


But individual determination is rarely enough. Having the right mentors from whom I could learn and grow was invaluable to my development in this business. At Missouri, that was typified by Mike Alden, who taught me about servant leadership, communication, being inclusive and transparent, empowering staff, and holding people accountable without micromanaging. Most recently, at Memphis, I was able to watch Tom Bowen exude passion for his department and Student-Athletes, while also demonstrating to his staff that one can be successful in this business without neglecting one’s family.


But working for the right people is also not enough. At some point, one must learn how to lead from the chair. In between those stints at Missouri and Memphis, I gained valuable experience as the athletic director at Southeast Missouri State. Residing in the bottom third of our conference from a budget standpoint, we had to be creative and figure out how to run with ideas that didn’t take a tremendous amount of resources. This led us to organize the first college football game to be held at Busch Stadium which turned out to be the largest off-campus alumni gathering in the history of the school.


Some may wonder why my first move from an athletic director position was not to another as department head.  It’s very simple: my career arc has not been about title, but about gaining experience. The opportunity to raise funds at a high level, work with major television partners, and hire high-profile individuals positioned me as a desirable candidate at UB. If I had to do this path all over again, I would.


My own student-athlete experience, coupled with my professional journey through college athletics, has molded my view of what the experience for our current student-athletes here at Buffalo should be grounded in: academic excellence, social development and competitive success.


Academic Excellence – We want to invest in academics so our student-athletes receive unprecedented value from their degree, especially for those that are first-generation college students. I want to make sure our Student-Athletes know that we are here for them and we care about their achievement in the classroom as well as on the field of play.


Social Development – What can we do to help best prepare our students for life after college? We want them to pursue graduate degrees. We want them to continue to give back to their communities. We want them to understand that young people in our communities look up to them and they should model themselves accordingly.


Competitive Success – We want use every possible advantage we can, no matter how small, to make ourselves more competitive. Whether it’s a new coat of paint or something simple in the locker room, better nutritional snacks in the weight room, how we travel. There are so many small things that cost next to nothing that we can address immediately well before even thinking about big expensive things like facility upgrades.


In essence, we want to utilize our resources in the best way possible to prepare our student-athletes to win championships, to graduate from one of the the top universities, and to become stellar members of their respective communities. Our most-important goal at Buffalo is to provide and support opportunities for the enhancement for our student-athletes, not just when they are enrolled here, but also to prepare them for life after graduation so they become great citizens. I believe in leading by example. I will be visible, not just in high-profile moments at football and basketball games, but routinely and consistently during practices, academic sessions, and campus functions. They will see me modeling and fostering not just a championship mindset, but also what it means to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father.


So how did my career odyssey, which kept me tightly situated on I-70 and I-55 in the heart of flyover country, bring me within mere miles of the Canadian border?


I got my first look at UB in 2010 during the men’s basketball regional. A facilities tour from then-AD Warde Manuel provided a glimpse of the potential possessed by this athletic department. The $18 million indoor practice facility, which is currently being built, shows the depth of commitment from many supporters to the Student-Athlete experience.


The opportunity to join the legacy of leadership for this athletic department was a strong pull. Warde Manuel, Danny White and Allen Greene have laid a robust, stable foundation. The department struck gold with the performance of both basketball programs this season. The time is now to become more engaged with the community, to break through the most dangerous foe of apathy from those who are not on board yet, put more butts in the seats, boost giving, and put Buffalo on the front page of the sports section.


Perhaps most importantly, this is the community in which I want to raise my four children.


So when people ask me “why Buffalo?” …the question really is: Why not?