Monday, April 20, 2009

Building Relationships Takes Time

I was excited to see former Bengal star Jared Allen (left) back in town for the spring football game and the Bengal Foundation Annual Auction this past weekend. The all-pro defensive lineman has become more involved in supporting his alma mater recently, donating new uniforms to the program last fall, and sponsoring the new Jared Allen defensive player of the year award.

This is good news because Idaho State has not always had great relations with its former stars. For example, former Bengal runningback Merril Hoge, who had a relatively long and productive NFL career and is now a fixture on ESPN's "NFL Live" show, has had strained relations with the school dating back a decade or more. The athletic department is trying to repair those strained relations with Hoge, but it takes time to heal old wounds.

One of the many institutional problems that Idaho State's athletic department has faced over the past three decades has been the constant turnover in leadership. Just since Allen entered the ISU program in 2000, Idaho State has been through four permanent or interim athletic directors, and countless assistant ADs. That's important because ADs and their top fundraisers become the face of the athletic program to potential donors. If you're constantly turning over those names and faces, it becomes impossible to build relationships with boosters.

And relationships are what fundraising is all about. You can't just call up a potential donor and say, "Hi, I'm John Smith, the latest AD at Idaho State, and I want you to give me $1 million." It takes years to get to know potential major donors, to get or keep their interest in the program, and develop a mutually shared vision for that program. When you change athletic directors an average of every two years, however, it's very difficult to sustain relationships with donors, and there is a lack of continuity of vision.

For a small school football program that has had limited success on the field over the years, Idaho State actually has a pretty impressive group of alums with National Football League ties. In addition to Allen and Hoge, there's ex-Bengal linebacker Marvin Lewis, now head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, and former ISU assistant Mike Sheppard, a wide receivers coach under Lewis; ex-Bengal QB Dirk Koetter, now an offensive coordinator at Jacksonville; former Bengal assistant coach Kevin Gilbride, currently offensive coordinator for the Giants; ex-Bengal linebacker Pago Togafau, who played for the Arizona Cardinals last year; and former ISU QB Matt Gutierrez, who has been with New England, either on their active roster or practice squad, for the past two seasons. Those "links" to the NFL span over more than three decades of time, however, and I dare say there is no one in the current ISU Athletic Department with the institutional memory or relationships that would cover all that time.

ISU is not unique in that regard, of course. All Big Sky Conference schools, being largely stepping stones, go through a lot of turnover in their athletic departments. But it's much more difficult to recover from that turnover when it's as frequent and tumulutous as it's been at Idaho State.

So while it's good to see Allen lavishing time, money and attention on his alma mater, it will take some stability at the head of the athletic department to ensure that the relationship is nurtured over time. Likewise, it will take time and stability to build, or rebuild, relationships with Hoge, and all the former Bengals who found success in whatever field they've chosen, whether it be the NFL, or some other business.

Congrats to Joe O'Brien

Congratulations to Joe O'Brien and his staff on the announcement this weekend that O'Brien has signed a three-year contract extension. It's been fun to watch Joe grow in his coaching role over the past three years here at Idaho State. His record in Big Sky Conference play certainly supports his extension. Here's a look at O'Brien's record in BSC play, vs. his immediate predecessors:
  1. O'Brien: 25-23, one winning season, two .500 years.
  2. Doug Oliver: 41-74, one winning season, two .500 years.
  3. Herb Williams: 53-67, two winning seasons, two .500 years.
  4. James Boutin: 28-48, one winning season, one .500 year.
  5. Wayne Ballard: 18-24, one .500 year.
  6. Lynn Archibald: 35-35, two winning seasons.
The gold standard for basketball coaching at Idaho State remains that established by Jim Killingsworth, who immediately preceeded Archibald. The Killer was 60-24 in Big Sky play, his worst record being 8-6. Three times he won in double figures in Big Sky play, including a 13-1 record in 1976-1977, the year the Bengals stunned UCLA in the NCAA tournament.

New Bengal Recruit

New ISU women's basketball recruit Ashley "A.J." Smith was named Co-Player of the Year in 5-A this year by the Oregonian despite seeing her statistics go down from her junior year. That's largely because the other Co-Player of the Year was her teammate, German exchange student Sunny Greinacher, a 6-4 center. Greinacher was "Ms. Inside" to Smith's "Ms. Outside," as they led the Wolverines to a 27-0 record.

Already heavily recruited by several PAC 10 schools, the sophomore Greinacher led Willamette in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots. That allowed Smith, a 6-0 forward, to move outside and face the basket. The new Bengal averaged 12.8 points and 4.9 rebounds, made 54 percent of her shots, and shot 39 percent from three-point range, 83.5 percent from the foul line. She will team with incoming recruits Morgan Wohltman, 5-11, a two-time Arizona all-state selection, Aussie Ashleigh Vella and Shannon Byrne, a 6-3 center from Washington state, to provide the Bengals with the front line of the future. Wohltman and Smith will also bring a strong understanding of how to win -- both played on two-time state champions.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan, it's not always easy, but it's always fun.


Anonymous said...

Bradley, spot on as always! Stability and wins are critical, indeed.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Cub. Blackfoot Bengal tells me you're about to begin a new job. My advice, with a nod to the "The Graduate": Two words: athletic administration!

--Brad B.