Members of the public and Mississippi University for Women officials on Thursday heard from the first finalist in the running to become the school’s new athletic director.
Matt Jones, a senior associate athletic director for external relations/operations at Delta State University, spoke to about 30 individuals in Cochran Hall about his plans for the soon-to-be-re-instated athletic program at The W were he to be selected for the position.
Jones, originally of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is one of three or four finalists selected from an original pool of about 38 candidates, according to Rita Hinton, who is leading a five-person search committee.
MUW officials have declined to say who the finalists are until they present, citing confidentiality issues.
On Thursday, Jones discussed his desire to help The W economically, and otherwise, through a successful sports program.
“We want to grow and athletics is a major component of that,” Jones said, adding that the Golden Triangle is ripe for the economic possibility’s of a new athletic program.
Prior to moving to his current leadership role, Jones directed the DSU’s office of athletic communications and statesmen sports properties. He was promoted to assistant athletic director for external affairs in 2011 and in June of 2014 took on the position of senior associate athletic director for communications, marketing and external relations/operations.
In his current role, Jones directs the operations of the statesman club, statesman sports properties, office of athletic communications and statesmen sports network.
Jones told the group he has helped to increase revenues from $33,000 to more than $600,000 annually through corporate advertising, broadcasting and event sponsorships. He overhauled the DSU Athletics’ fundraising arm, the Statesmen Club, and has grown it by nearly 400 percent, according to the DSU website.
Jones spoke of the importance of addressing the need to overcome attracting male recruits to a female-dominated school upon starting as director, and the importance of an energetic social-media campaign.
He presented a slideshow, including a concept page for a #WeAreW social media campaign, as well as plans for a facelift on the W’s mascot — Ody the Owl.
“We want to have an image that will help us recruit,” he said, showing examples of other owl mascots.
Jones, a veteran broadcaster, has been responsible for the overall media presence of DSU’s 13 intercollegiate sports, including media guide production, website development and maintenance, writing of press releases and coordinating multimedia needs for more than 350 athletes each year, his bio states.
A number of times, he spoke of The W as a “public institution with a private school feel” and spoke to a need to use that message as a “selling point” for the program. He said he believes such virtues will help in securing donors needed to fund a $7.5 million package for funding the program and any new facilities.
“Community is key, we want to keep our message in front of as many people as we can,” he said. “(We) can’t be bored, we want to create an atmosphere.”
Jones said hiring the “right coaches” will be key, but also making sure the projected 170 students that would be recruited for the different sports teams are up to par.
“So (we) have to recruit the right kids,” Jones said.
He also spoke to the need to surround such athletes with the right support services in terms of health and education once they are selected.
“We don’t want them to get to senior year and (not) get a degree because no one was checking on them,” he said. “We want to use the resources on campus to make sure (the athletes) are successful.”
Jones said his program would likely begin as early as July 2017, depending on what sports he decides to include and at what pace its decided to roll them out.
Following his presentation, Jones told The Dispatch he was drawn to the opportunity in Columbus because of its “rich literary heritage,” because he has family and friends in the area, and because he sees the program as “ripe for opportunity.”
The next AD candidate to give a presentation will be Jason Trufant, senior associate athletic director at Dowling College in New York. Trufant’s presentation will be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in the Welty Conference Room, according to Hinton.
MUW ended its intercollegiate athletics programs in 2002 after a tornado destroyed the university’s primary sports venues.
Sam Luvisi is news editor and covers education for The Dispatch.
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