Best of luck to Columbus State's new athletics director, Todd Reeser.
Seriously. Just because I wrote a stern column critical of the turmoil that led to Jay Sparks' departure does not mean I'm rooting for the new guy to fail. Quite the contrary. While we in the media try to remain objective and disinterested in the teams we cover, that doesn't mean we don't want to see people or programs succeed. And Reeser had absolutely nothing to do with whatever happened over the last few years.
But he has everything to do with where to go from here, which is really all that matters now. Reeser has been quite candid about his first order of business. It's not fundraising. Oh, that will come. An athletics department needs money -- especially this one -- and it's Reeser's directive to go get it. Only so much money can come through athletics fees paid by the students, especially when head-count enrollment, the true indicator of a school's student body, is down at almost every Georgia college and university. CSU's dropped to 8.156 last fall, according to the University System of Georgia's website.
There's a prerequisite to asking people for money.
"It's about relationships," Reeser said. "You have to talk to people. You have to get to know them and meet them on their ground. You can't just walk in and ask for money. It's never effective, and that has never been my style. You do need to meet people on their own terms. This is development. Development by its nature takes time. The first priority is to get to know people, and I will do that whole-heartedly."
Toward that end, Reeser's first challenge is to mend some fences that he didn't damage. Naming the Lumpkin Center floor in honor of Herbert Greene, the school's Hall of Fame coach and former
athletics director, would be a fitting -- and smart -- first step.
When that suggestion was made before, there was an attempt to sell those naming rights to the highest bidder. I'm not sure how many corporations are lined up to buy the rights to an arena that's seldom half full. But there are many people lined up in support of Greene. The university's failure to appreciate him is baffling. Without Greene, there would be no Lumpkin Center and there would be no Peach Belt Conference.
The baseball stadium was built on Marvin Schuster's generosity, and the clubhouse by the late Charlie Morrow. But the program was built by Charles Ragsdale, who won 476 games in his 15 years as the Cougars' coach, and thus the field bears his name.
The basketball floor should be no different. Embracing Greene is more than just the right thing to do. It's the smart thing to do.
Reeser is an excellent hire. CSU president Tim Mescon was exactly right when he described his resume as "incredibly impressive." He has energy and experience, but he's also humble.
"I've sat close to the person who makes all the decisions. Being close is helpful. But being responsible for an entire department is not the same. As far as my first efforts, I know I need to build my team. I have to earn the respect of my coaches and my staff. Be approachable. You're as good as your coaches. Coaches at Columbus State are certainly resourceful because they have been successful."
It was smart to bring in someone with a fresh perspective and also smart to hire someone experienced in the administrative nuances. It doesn't matter that he has never coached. Having played college baseball, Reeser should have the most important perspective, that of the student-athlete.
Reeser's challenges are much broader than raising money. He's also charged with somehow raising fan support, both from the students and throughout the community. That won't be easy. Frankly, nobody has ever been successful at that, which is a shame because CSU basketball is great entertainment when they are winning.
But it will be impossible if the teams are not competitive, and they won't be competitive if they are under-funded. There may be no choice but to cut some sports.
Reeser also faces a tough decision with the school's flagship program, men's basketball, and specifically head coach Robert Moore. He's very likeable. But with three disappointing records in four seasons, Moore must have a successful season coming up. Columbus State needs a nationally competitive program to create more excitement on campus and within the community.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org