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Friedman prepares ahead of first season as Illinois State AD
Gary Friedman enters his first season as Illinois State director of athletics with a football team fresh off winning seasons in the first two years of Coach Brock Spack’s tenure.
Friedman also inherits a decaying home for that team. Hancock Stadium is in dire need of a renovation that has been discussed for several years, but has yet to begin in earnest.
The inactivity appears to be taking its toll at the ticket office. Average attendance for the 2010 season dipped under 7,000 for the first time since 1995.
The Pantagraph discussed the state of ISU football and Hancock Stadium recently with Friedman, who took over the director of athletics position on June 1.
Question: What are you early impressions of Coach Spack and where this programs stands from a competitive standpoint?
Answer: “I love Coach Spack. I think he’s got everything you want in a head coach from his philosophy to his values. He’s a hard-nosed football coach. He’s got a great young staff he’s put together, and I think the future is very bright for Illinois State football. I think we are going to see a very competitive product on the field. I think it’s going to be a fun year.”
Q: What are your short-term goals for the football program?
A: “As I’ve told Brock and all our head coaches, I want them to continue to build a program. I don’t want them to build a team. What that means is I want them to put everything in place that puts consistency together and consistent success. I don’t have any short-term goals as far as how many wins and losses. I want a long-term commitment in building a program and making sure all those pieces are in place to sustain competitiveness.”
Q: President Al Bowman has said he sees this program moving up to the Bowl Subdivision in the future. Do you share that goal?
A: “I think we need to focus on building the program. We need to have consistent success and build our fan base and obviously have a commitment to facilities, a commitment to building the brand of Illinois State football that includes building attendance to where people are hanging off the so-called rafters at Hancock Stadium. As that continues to grow and build, I think we can look at the long-term future of the program.
“I look at it as very similar to when I was at Louisville and we were in Conference USA and looking to potentially move to a different conference. We focused on how do we make ourselves the best program we can be and position ourselves for whenever an opening came in another conference that we were ready and we were the school people wanted to come after.
“We focused on facilities and making sure every need of our programs was met. We’ve got to focus on making Illinois State football and Illinois State athletics the best that it can be and focus on the needs we have which include facilities, building our fan base and donor base. If we focus on those things then the rest will take place.”
Q: Do you feel Hancock is in need of extensive renovation?
A: “Yes. That’s stating the obvious. What I’m trying to do right now is get my arms around exactly where we are in a lot of stages from what’s out there from a fundraising standpoint and a design standpoint.”
Q: What would be the first step in an extensive renovation?
A: “That east side is definitely one that I think is part of the plan that would be the first step. What that entails is still something I’m trying to get my hands around. We’re working to make sure we have a great plan to move that forward.”
Q: The removal of the bleachers in the south end zone has dropped Hancock’s capacity below 10,000. Is that acceptable for the next several years?
A: “I would like to think we’re going to figure something out pretty soon. This is a top priority for us. I’m trying to gather all the information I can. I’m trying to get a sense of what does that mean to move this forward.”
Q: What sense do you get of university support for the renovation?
A: “Dr. Bowman has been great to work with. He absolutely recognizes the need. It’s not a secret it needs to be renovated. What’s important is we do it the right way and we have the best plan to get that done. From the standpoint of a new athletic director coming in, I want to sit down with Dr. Bowman and his staff to make sure we are all unified in what we want to get done and go out and get it done.”
Q: Do you sense a general level of fan impatience with the status of Hancock Stadium?
A: “I think everybody recognizes something needs to be done. We all want it to happen sooner than later. In the meantime, we’ve got to focus on our outreach, being as aggressive as we can reaching out to the community to support our football program.
“We’re going to focus very heavily on our students and upgrade what we’re doing from a group sales perspective and the opportunities to enhance game-day atmosphere. From what I understand tailgating is very good, but we’ve got to make sure the people who tailgate before the game come into the stadium and support the team.”
Q: What can be done about fan apathy, especially among the ISU students?
A: “Absolutely, students would no doubt help energize the stadium or arena. It’s an important focus of ours to engage them and connect them with our teams and do the things that get them coming out not only to the first game but every game.
“The more students we get in there the more energy we put in the stadium. That will help bring other fan support out. We want to make it the place to be. We want to make it to the point you can’t get in Hancock, it’s sold out. With 10,000 seats, it’s a reasonable goal to try to sell out every one of our games.
“I’ve set various meetings with folks on campus. I want their ideas on what we can do to engage and connect the students. I’ve had a lot of success doing it at other campuses. Those things that worked at other campuses won’t necessarily work at Illinois State, and what works at Illinois State won’t necessarily work at other campuses.
“I’m in the listening and learning phase not only with the students, but with the community. I invite our community to reach out to us and share their ideas with us. We can’t sit here behind these four walls and have all the answers. We’ve got to interact with our fans and get their input on what is going to be successful. It’s important to be approachable and engaged with the community.”
Q: Does Championship Subdivision (the former Division I-AA) football have a future?
A: “I think it does. The playoff system in FCS is something fans love to see. I believe it can be a very viable part of athletic programs across the nation. The FCS level is very-well respected across the country.”
By Randy Reinhardt, The Pantagraph