B.A. in English, 1990
Director of Athletics
Mississippi State University
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
Upon completing my degree, the original plan was to head to law school. There were no designs on coaching whatsoever, but then a freak accident changed all of that. A scout from the Minnesota Twins who signed me to play professional baseball later told me about a job opening at Missouri. I drove there and was offered the job. It ended up being something I enjoyed and believed it was something I could pursue as a career and went on to coach baseball for about 25 years.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I’m now the Director of Athletics for Mississippi State. I’ve been in my current role since 2016. It involves a wide variety of duties including having fiscal responsibility, overseeing compliance with NCAA and SEC rules and regulations, fostering the student-athlete experience, expanding the MSU athletic department’s brand, and relentlessly selling Mississippi State. Ultimately, the primary goal is to help our student-athletes and our coaches put ourselves in positions to win championships.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
One thing that really stands out is simplifying. I had great professors at Mississippi State and every one of them talked about eliminating every single thing that doesn’t help the sentence or help the structure of the idea. That has trickled over into every part of my life. Everything that’s an additive that doesn’t make sense to the cause, it must be eliminated. Secondly, earning an English degree provided me with the ability to communicate ideas in a way that’s acceptable and understandable to other people. In a leadership position, it’s critical to be able to clearly explain plans or expectations to others. My time as a student certainly helped provide me with the skills needed to be an effective communicator.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
So much goes into intercollegiate sports. Along the way to my current job, I’ve experienced a lot of what goes into the process. I started at the absolute ground level of athletics. It included mowing grass, working dirt, painting lines, working in concession stands and umpiring Little League games. There were many small steps along the way. Even now, I can go sharpen the blades or change the oil on a mower. The opportunity to work from the ground up and do almost every job has been tremendously beneficial. There are not a ton of jobs in our athletic department that I haven’t done at some point before. That includes selling tickets and more. All the firsthand experience has provided a better perspective and hopefully, helps me to be a better leader.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
In any endeavor with any form of responsibility, when you’re on the inside there are people around you who are not privy to the information that you have. People around you are guessing. You have to deal with others who are constantly guessing what you are doing. I think that’s true of any leadership position. For example, whoever is the President of the United States, no matter if it’s a Democrat or Republican, will be scrutinized. We all criticize, but at the same time, we don’t know the report the President might’ve just gotten in the privacy of his office. We’re not privy to that information. We’re not privy to all the information that is provided to leaders, but we still question them all. That’s really unfair, but part of being a leader is understanding that others are going to question what you do. There’s some healthy part to that and there are some unhealthy parts to that, but the way you deal with it mentally really determines the kind of leader you’re going to be.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
When you’re in a college environment and you get to see young people get better as people, as athletes, as students, or as contributors to the community, all of that matters. I think that’s what gives me the most joy. It gives me great satisfaction to see a student-athlete who shows up to campus and a year later, he or she is better than upon arrival. Then you get to see further improvement as time goes along. Seeing that every day and seeing the progress of our student-athletes, it’s fulfilling. At the end of the day, I evaluate everything when it comes to our coaching and support staff based on whether or not the kids are getting better. If kids are getting better, we’re on the right track.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
The advice I give to anyone who wants to get involved in any business is to become an expert in one small area. If someone in our department, in one specific, narrowed area is doing an unbelievable job, I’m going to be very inclined to give them more responsibility. But it has to start with an expertise in one specific area. I think a lot of young people make a mistake by wanting to be good or average at a bunch of stuff. That’s not how it works. For instance, if you’re a coach, you’re going to have to be an absolute expert at one phase of the game before I can make you a head coach. I don’t want you to be average at 10 things. I want you to be outstanding at one thing, then I’m going to put more on your plate. There’s nothing wrong with being knowledgeable about many things. However, growth usually begins with someone dedicating themselves to being incredibly good at a specific task, then adding to the repertoire.
Updated Feb 2022