|« FGCU AD SEARCH: IUPUI's Moore Brings Hefty Experience in Transitioning to Division I||Draft Guys TV: Video Profile; Nicholls State CB Ladarius Webb »|
FGCU AD Search: Bradley's Kavanagh Was Impressed After Seeing FGCU Firsthand
ESTERO — Bradley athletic director Ken Kavanagh had heard about Florida Gulf Coast University’s newish, impressive facilities and the almost constant warm weather of Southwest Florida, but when he saw and felt it back in November, it hit home.
Kavanagh was in Alico Arena to watch his men nip FGCU, 58-54, and beat Richmond in the O’Reilly Auto Parts College Basketball Experience Classic. FGCU athletic director Carl McAloose had resigned the previous month, and when Kavanagh learned of the opening, he dug in deeper.
“When I first came here, I was amazed at what I saw,” Kavanagh said. “I was as surprised as everybody else. The more I did my homework, the more I started getting intrigued about it.”
Kavanagh, 48, was the fifth and last off-campus person to interview for the job when he did so in front of the 10-person AD Search Advisory Committee on Tuesday. FGCU interim AD Jo-Ann Nester has the last interview Thursday.
Kavanagh has been at Bradley, a private school in Peoria, Ill., for 13 years, during which time he never has applied for or pursued another job.
“It’s an opportunity to find the right fit at the right time,” said Kavanagh of FGCU. “Challenges to me are important. … We’ve had tremendous challenges at Bradley over the years that we’ve worked hard to overcome. I think sometimes you need fresh and new challenges. I just think the timing’s right.
“If my family put the brakes to it, it wouldn’t happen. If it was a year ago, it wouldn’t happen.”
Kavanagh was waiting for daughter Rose, 18, to graduate from high school before making a move. In fact, Rose was in Naples, staying at a friend’s house during spring break last week. She drove up to scout it out, giving a hearty thumbs-up to Kavanagh, his wife, Mary, son Mitchell, 16, and 13-year-old twins Jack and Quinn.
Kavanagh has had opportunities knock on his door over the years and even recently, but they didn’t feel right, he said.
Bradley, like FGCU, has 14 sports and its annual operational budget is about the same as FGCU’s roughly $5 million. The comparisons stop there. Bradley is steeped in tradition. The men’s basketball team made the Sweet 16 in 2006, and the Braves have averaged more than 10,000 per game in Carver Arena since. Bradley’s attendance average of over 9,000 for Missouri Valley men’s games has led the conference during Kavanagh’s entire tenure. In 2006, Bradley sent three teams to NCAA tournaments, and in 2007, men’s soccer made the Elite Eight.
But Kavanagh said FGCU, which has fielded basketball teams for just seven seasons and is in only its second of four Division I transitional years, is ahead of where Bradley was when he took over in 1996. Kavanagh credited McAloose, the coaches, administrators and donors.
“I don’t think there’s very many schools that are going to be this far along in their second year of provisional status on any level,” said Kavanagh, who talked quickly while sporting a black suit accentuated with a blue- and white-striped shirt, and green and blue argyle tie to display FGCU’s colors. “From a facilities standpoint and a lot of areas, they’re ahead of a lot of us that have been D-I for a long time.”
He expects, because of the location of schools and the amount of Division I athletes in those areas, the Atlantic Sun Conference will “be better than the Missouri Valley Conference, collectively” in the next 5-10 years.
Kavanagh said he would not bring in a new staff or his current coaches. “I’m not coming in with all the answers,” he said. “I’ll have an open-minded approach not only in coming in but while I’m here.”
Bradley’s collective GPA was 3.19 in the spring of 2007. With a 77 percent graduation rate, Bradley has led the Missouri Valley Conference eight straight years.
“It’s our game plan,” Kavanagh said. “We don’t carelessly put individuals on aid. Everybody buys into it – coaches, academic support, staff, the student-athletes.”
He noted that FGCU needs to add more academic support, something he did when taking over Bradley.
Talking about the need to energize fans, particularly students, Kavanagh said “it’s a national problem right now.” At Bradley, he started the Red Pride, students who earn points toward prizes for every game or meet they attend.
“You don’t give up on (student attendance) because they are your most energized group and they’re going to be your alumni,” he said.
He spoke of the importance of fund-raising and ways to survive in the floundering economy, among them, continuing to bring in big-name schools like Florida, Butler and DePaul, and continuing trips to places like Iowa, Michigan and Marquette in men’s basketball. Budgets must be strictly adhered to and more relationships with possible givers need to be cultivated and grown.
Kavanagh played high school football and attended Notre Dame and Boston College. When asked his thoughts on adding football at FGCU, he said he would follow the university’s lead. But Kavanagh said he has friends in the process of adding the sport, and even those with stadiums are spending $8-10 million on infrastructures. Then there are the gender equity concerns with such a move. He said it’s something to contemplate more reasonably about a decade after FGCU grows from around the current 11,000 students to 15,000-20,000.
“I’d rather take our sports that are successful and enhance them,” Kavanagh said. “Timing in life is the most important thing, and I don’t think the timing is right right now. It would deter from our other programs.
“And if you’re going to have football in this part of the country, you’d better be ready to go all the way.”
Kavanagh said he wants his sports fully funded “so coaches don’t have to shy away from anything,” and that he’s “goal-driving, organized and integrity and loyalty are very important.”
He wants to not only be a part of history, but to help create it. He would start an athletics Hall of Fame at FGCU – although he wants to wait until athletes are a decade past graduation – and he’s “very big” on giving out awards and honors.
“There are lots of pioneers at this school that need to be recognized by who follows,” Kavanagh said.
And he’d love to be one of those.
FGCU men’s basketball coach Dave Balza, a member of the search committee, liked what he heard.
“He kept saying FGCU is a gold mine,” Balza said. “Well, he’s a miner, a good gold miner, and he would get the most out of FGCU. And I think that’s what we’re looking for here, someone to get the most out of this diamond in the rough we have.”
Current position: Director of Athletics, Bradley University since 1996
Athletic employment: Assistant Athletic Director then Senior Assistant Athletic Director, Bowling Green State University (1987-1996) Graduate Assistant to the Associate Athletic Director, Notre Dame (1985-1987); Director of Events and Team Travel, Yale University (1983-1985)
Education: BS in Finance, Boston College (1982); Master of Business Education, Notre Dame (1987)
FGCU AD SEARCH: Bradley’s Kavanagh was impressed after seeing FGCU firsthand
By Dana Caldwell, The Naples Daily News (FL)