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FGCU AD SEARCH: Nester Brings Familiarity, New Ideas Into Final Interview
ESTERO — Jo-Ann Nester was right at home with Florida Gulf Coast University’s athletic director search committee during Thursday afternoon’s conclusion of the six finalist interviews.
Nester is FGCU’s interim athletic director, having taken over the role on Oct. 31 on the recommendation of outgoing AD Carl McAloose and request of President Wilson Bradshaw, who will make the final decision on the full-time athletic director.
The committee — which was originally schedule to meet Friday morning — will now meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to determine three or four candidates to toss to Bradshaw, who, committee chair Hudson Rogers said, likely will make a decision within 10 days of that, possibly as early as next week.
Wearing a black and white plaid jacket and black business skirt, Nester, 61, charmed the committee with wit and rattled off answers and specific plans with passion and ease.
“Jo-Ann’s biggest strength is she has a great feel for what we have here and what the potential is because she’s been here and done this,” said committee member and men’s basketball coach Dave Balza. “That is a major strength that you have to look at. Everybody else would have to come in and learn where we’re at.”
The only in-house candidate and female finalist, Nester is the former AD at San Diego. She spent two-plus years as FGCU’s compliance director. A former four-sport college athlete, she has a Doctorate of Education from Temple and a master’s degree from West Chester State College.
Drawing on her experience as associate director of athletics for compliance and student services at Dartmouth College (1993-2002), Nester said, “We want to be an Ivy model.”
Nester spoke of the need to get FGCU assistants to full-time status, to raise the salaries of head coaches and to secure a uniform/equipment sponsor shortly after FGCU completes its four-year transition to Division I two years from now.
She said she wants FGCU athletics to “have fun as a department and work together.” She would incorporate bowling outings, an Olympiad of sorts and holiday parties.
Academically, she cited 14 Eagles with 4.0 GPAs, but indicated those flew under the campus radar, so she’d like to promote accomplishments like that more visibly. Her first hire would be an associate athletic director for student support and student services who would develop an Athletic Academic Center, where a “life skills program” would be conducted.
She wants to enlist one to two faculty members to help each team, not only with their studies and planning, but also to help them learn to communicate with professors. She has, and will continue to, meet with deans and faculty members to “help them understand what things student-athletes go through and the demands on their schedules” and she would work with the faculty senate to upgrade the flow of information when student-athletes become at-risk (2.5 or less GPA).
Nester talked long and hard about money matters, saying, “My most important endeavor will be to continue to fund the athletic department. We can’t continue to live in the red. We will get what we need first, then when we are solid, we’ll look at what we want.”
She cited the increase in costs since FGCU joined Division I almost two years ago. Travel costs tripled in the last year. The cost for officials grew from $22,000 to $46,000. She said overseas and West Coast trips (with an exception or so for the fast-track programs, volleyball and softball) must be put on hold for two years.
“We’ll get there, but give us some time,” Nester said.
FGCU currently has a $5.7 million operating budget. It is projected at $6.3 million for next year and $7 million the following year. Nester wants to ensure it gets there and threw out some specifics like hosting a “high-end” sports banquet with silent auction and sponsored cash bar, a golf outing and luncheon that would include celebrities and a grass roots program designed to bring in 1,000 $100 donors and 100 $1,000 donors. And she wants to start a copy of the Ivy League’s “friends of” programs where each team cultivates the families and friends of athletes and coaches and fans to help financially. The same would hold true for Nester, who said, “The role of the AD is pivotal” in fundraising.”
The Web site is currently being redesigned and Nester wants elements to be easier to find and for it to include “academic components.”
She said FGCU needs a bigger marketing team, the bookstore must offer more athletics gear and display it with more purpose, and that the “experience” of games also must continue to improve to bring more students to contests.
Nester said adding football would be a big positive, but the $100 million price tag and logistical and conference affiliation difficulties make that unrealistic for now. She sees that happening, perhaps, in 2020.
Nester choked up when discussing her passion for helping student-athletes and making their time at FGCU “a great experience.”
“Her passion really came out,” Balza said. “So you’ve got her knowledge of the situation, her education, her passion. She’s FGCU through and through.”
FGCU AD SEARCH: Nester brings familiarity, new ideas into final interview
By Dana Caldwell, The Naples Daily News (FL)