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FGCU AD SEARCH: Kent State's Heller Only Finalist Not to Have Been AD
ESTERO — The only of six finalists hoping to be Florida Gulf Coast University’s new and second athletics director who is not or has not been an AD, Bob Heller toured campus, met with several groups and interviewed with the 10-person Search Advisory Committee on Wednesday.
The 50-year-old Heller, Kent State’s Senior Associate AD, sported a black suit and an ice-blue tie that matched his eyes. The father of three with a large compliance background spoke softly, but with purpose.
“I’m hungry,” Heller said. “Given the opportunity, I won’t disappoint you. This is not a steppingstone for me. This is a long-term commitment.”
Heller recently interviewed for the AD job at Delaware State. Several years ago, he interviewed for the top job at Kutztown State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and was the head men’s track and field and cross country coach for six years. But he views FGCU, which is in its second of four years of transition into Division I, as a unique opportunity.
“Potential,” said Heller when asked about the attraction. “Recognizing what they’re currently doing with their transition into Division I, the success they had in Division II and carrying it over to Division I, and the direction that this program is headed. To be a part of that excites me. I’m not talking about applying for an athletic director’s job at a school that’s already been successful in Division I. We’re talking about one that is in some regards in its infancy stages of Division I. To be part of growing that program, that excites me. I want to be part of that. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Heller, who has been at Kent State since 1999, tackled the same dozen questions presented to former Butler AD John Parry on Tuesday.
Noting FGCU’s graduation rates of student athletes is “21 to 25 points higher than the rest of the student body,” Heller said, “I think the (academic) plan is in place. I think you’re already well on your way.” He did have “staffing” issues with academics and said he’d research further on what needs to be done upon his hiring.
“The athletic director takes the lead on fund-raising,” Heller said, and that he would “work in concert with the development officer and the VP for Development” in that aspect. He wants the athletics department to have a “partnership” with the rest of the campus in fund-raising.
In regard to energizing the student body and fanbase, Heller said he wants to start a “Student Advisory Council” so the “community leaders” can turn to students instead of those in the athletic department for ideas. “We feel having students take a more active role is much more effective than having someone my age come up with (promotions and plans to generate more attendance),” he said.
At Kent State, coaches have pizza parties in residence halls as a reward for game attendance. Students must get tickets, which are free, because, Heller said, that’s more tangible than pulling out an ID card for entrance to games and meets.
He said FGCU must “work within the budget,” but has to raise more money from corporate sponsorships, gifts in kind, marketing, e-commerce and the selling of media rights. And he’d like the bulk of marketing to be done on a private level.
“More and more colleges are turning to off-campus entities because they are more creative,” Heller said.
He mostly stiff-armed the talk of adding football. Heller said he wanted to talk to FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw first to gauge his interest. However, he doesn’t take the notion lightly and he mentioned the considerations of timetable, operating budget, conference affililiation, the need to add more women’s sports if such a move is made and the impact of having an on- or off-campus facility.
“You’d better have all your facts straight (before making a move),” Heller said.
For FGCU’s current 14-sport program, Heller didn’t hesitate on his expectations.
“In the next five years, we need to compete for (Atlantic Sun) conference championships,” Heller said. “Not in four sports (FGCU has won baseball, softball, volleyball and swimming titles) but all of them.”
As he re-packed his bulging bag, Heller again referred to FGCU as “we.”
“I get it,” he said. “We have a garden to grow. How great do you want your garden to be?”
Committee member Dave Balza, the men’s basketball coach, was impressed.
“He’s got a great demeanor,” Balza said. “He did a good job explaining himself. Our coaching staff was very impressed with him, and I think the initial impression of the committee was very good. He comes from a different background from the other candidates because he’s the only one who isn’t a currently seated athletic director or been an athletic director.
“But I think he has the high energy for it. He knows what he wants and would bring a high level of enthusisam for FGCU and athletics.”
Current position: Senior Associate Athletic Director, Kent State University; since 2007
Athletic employment: Associate Athletic Director-Compliance, Kent State (2000-2007); Assistant Athletic Director-Compliance, Kent State (1999-2000); Assistant to AD, Slippery Rock University (1995-1999); Coordinator of Special Events, Director of Intramurals and Compliance Coordinator, Lenoir Rhyne College (1990-1995); Head men’s cross country and assistant men’s track and field coach, Kutztown University (1984-1990); Graduate assistant, East Stroudsburg University (1989-1990)
Education: BS, Kutztown State College (1981); MBA in Health and Physical education, Sports Administration concentration, East Stroudsburg University (2000)
FGCU AD SEARCH: Kent State’s Heller only finalist not to have been AD
By Dana Caldwell, The Naples Daily News (FL)