By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – During his first year in the athletics director’s chair, Scott Stricklin has seen Mississippi State through some euphoric highs and some embarrassing lows. A constant thread has run straight through the heaves and ebbs of the 2010-11 athletic year: A vision set forth by his predecessor.
On May 7, 2010, Stricklin was introduced as Greg Byrne’s successor, and during that press conference he talked about big ideas, the same ideas he and Byrne had turned over several times. Much of that vision is becoming reality, but Stricklin tried to deflect some of the credit for that.
“I think the momentum is created by our student-athletes and fan base,” Stricklin said. “It’s everyone in our department’s job to continually sell and promote Mississippi State, which obviously helps the momentum. As athletic director, maybe in some ways I’m promoter-in-chief.”
Promotion was a strength of Byrne’s, and the same can be said of the 41-year-old Stricklin, who prior to taking the reins of the MSU athletic department was its chief fundraiser. He and Byrne worked closely together, and Stricklin recalled a summer afternoon a few years ago when the two sat in the Barnes & Noble on campus and tossed marketing concepts onto the table.
Their goal: Show the fans what direction it wanted for MSU and sell them on it. It’s working.
“I think a lot of stuff that happened this year are things that we worked on the last couple of years and just kind of came to fruition this year,” Stricklin said.
There is ample evidence, and it naturally starts with the football program.
Turning the wheels
Stricklin recently announced a $12 million gift from the Seal family to go toward the building of a new football-only complex. He’s also unveiled renderings of what an expanded Davis Wade Stadium might look like several years from now.
In December, Stricklin tried his best to make sure coach Dan Mullen sticks around a while, more than doubling his starting salary with a four-year, $10.6 million deal. That news emerged as the Bulldogs were in Jacksonville, Fla., preparing for the Gator Bowl, which they won over Michigan, 52-14.
In the SEC, football keeps the wheels moving, and MSU has gotten a lot of mileage out of Mullen already. Records for season-ticket sales and home attendance were set in each of his first two seasons, which has led to increased private giving, and the excitement seems to be growing even more.
That enthusiasm isn’t easy to measure, but Stricklin, an MSU grad who’s worked at several big schools, senses a difference from just three years ago.
“You don’t have any way to quantify this,” he said, “but the overall vibe from our fan base and the people within out department is up dramatically. The key now is we can’t take our foot off the gas.”
Sharing the load, ideas
Perhaps a key to Stricklin sustaining the momentum is that he’s not trying to do it himself. He speaks almost daily with school president Mark Keenum, and he still talks to Byrne several times a week.
Byrne was State’s AD for barely two years before leaving for the same post at Arizona. He’s kept a close eye on Stricklin and MSU.
“Scott’s a great communicator. When I was there, he was certainly a key part of everything that took place. He had a wonderful pulse on that and has moved it much further along,” Byrne said.
There have been challenges and disappointments, of course.
There was the infamous brawl involving basketball players Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney in December, and the team struggled to a 17-14 finish with no postseason. The baseball team is still trying to re-establish itself as a contender in the SEC under John Cohen.
Off the field, Stricklin is constantly having to wage battle against the bottom line – MSU has one of the SEC’s smallest budgets.
Stricklin expressed confidence in the basketball and baseball programs getting on track, and he’s always working with his staff on ways to maximize resources and develop more of them.
“I am amazed at some, I think, very brilliant ideas that are presented to him by his staff,” Keenum said, “but occasionally I’ll share some ideas that I have. It’s a sharing of ideas and how to put forth the best, most positive image of not only the athletic programs, but it is a direct reflection on our university.”
None of the challenges have moved Stricklin’s eye from the goal, which is to be consistently competitive across the board. A year into the job, he feels he has a good handle on what must be done and wakes up each day motivated to make it happen.
“It’s a demanding job, there’s a lot of challenges, there’s a lot of rewards from the standpoint of you’re working in an industry that people outside the industry are very passionate about. Not every profession has that – most professions don’t.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571