Jason Trufant has had plenty of opportunities to do a wide variety of things in his athletic career.
From player to coach to administrator, Trufant has seen the inner workings of teams, programs and athletic departments from numerous perspectives.
All of that work has prepared him for a job of even bigger proportions: re-forming an athletic department at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus.
Today marks the one-month anniversary of Trufant’s first day on the job at MUW’s new athletic director. His mission is to help MUW rebuild an intercollegiate athletic department that was discontinued in 2003 by then-President Claudia Limbert after a November tornado destroyed the school’s gymnasium.
“It’s funny. When you called the other day, I said, ‘Oh my God, it has been a month,'” Trufant said. “It hasn’t even felt like that. It has felt like four days. That is a good thing.”
Trufant arrived at MUW from Dowling College, a Division II school in Long Island, New York, where he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of compliance, game operations, fund raising and marketing, sport supervision, team and departmental budgets and purchasing. Prior to that, he served as associate director of athletics at Molloy College and as head assistant baseball coach at Frostburg State University. He also served as baseball coach at the State University of New York at Cobleskill.
Trufant graduated from University of Albany, where he played baseball, in May 2000. He then received his master’s degree in human performance from Frostburg State.
Coming into focus
The variety of experience of Trufant’s 15 years in college athletics has given him unique insight into the “challenges” he faces in bringing back a women’s intercollegiate athletic program and creating a men’s program for a school with more than 2,500 undergraduates. He said he has been working closely with MUW President Jim Borsig to formulate a plan the school will follow to make sure everything “fits.” A self-described “process-oriented” person, Trufant believes he has the vision to “connect the dots for people that may not see the whole picture.”
Today, that picture is still coming into focus.
“The first thing myself and Dr. Borsig are going to have to figure out is what is going to fit first,” Trufant said. “What sports are going to fit first? What coaches are going to fit first? People have asked me already, ‘What kind of coach are you looking for?’ I will let you know when I meet that coach because it is the right fit. There is no cookie-cutter approach. … They are going to have to fit the ideals of the university. They are going to have to fit the ideals of the athletic department in general, and they are going to have to understand we are academic-based, we are striving toward degree-seeking students who want to have a quality athletic experience.”
Trufant said in his interview for the athletic director job that he envisioned MUW’s athletic program re-launching in 2017. He said Tuesday he still believes the school can meet that goal, but he said there are many questions left to be answered, like which sports the school will add, where it will play those sports, and what conference it will join.
Trufant said Division III remains the “target” MUW will try to hit. He said the school has started conversations with the NCAA about how it will have to position itself to go through an exploratory year and then four more years of probation before it becomes a full-fledged member of the association.
“I do see 2017 seeing a few teams, if not more, get moving,” Trufant said. “It is a ton of work. It is not anything to be scared of. It is fun work. It is what we do for a living. I do think in 2017 somebody will be doing something, whether it is kicking a soccer ball or setting a volleyball or out on the cross country trails. What those sports are today, I couldn’t really get into that and don’t have a definitive answer for that. It is all building around one process of how we are going to get to those sports.”
Trufant discussed the possibility of adding sports like baseball, softball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s cross country, in no particular order.
He said the availability of facilities like Pohl Gymnasium and the Garrett Tennis Courts on campus will play a role in helping MUW decide what timetable it opts to follow when it rolls out its new sports programs. Trufant said he envisions the creation of “team-oriented sports” that will fit the school’s current enrollment. He feels sports like baseball and soccer are larger sports that will help the enrollment of The W, but he said it takes a little longer to get those sports up and running.
“That is not saying they are going to be last by any means,” Trufant said. “I do see the soccers, the softballs, and the volleyballs moving forward quicker only because they fit the environment. We have to make sure we have sport sponsorship enrollment because we don’t want do jump into any sports right away we know we might struggle in enrollment wise.”
‘Win every day’
In addition to picking sports to fit the student body, Trufant said he wants the right values associated with the athletic program, which is why he has adopted the mantra of “win every day.” He said that encompasses the complete package of how The W wants to create “people who are going to be champions in life beyond here.” He said “win every day” will be the school’s motto for a little while. He said the W and E in the words win and every go back to the word “we,” which goes back to institution of “We are The W.”
“The goal is to put a face to the name and put it with The W and that The W is bringing back athletics and it is coming,” Trufant said. “That is what we are trying to do now, build on our momentum and keep things moving.”
Trufant said a branding initiative, including an athletic spirit mark, will come out soon so people can start recognizing that The W is and what it is going to do.
“Things are coming,” he said. “It has been such a positive, welcoming environment.”
Trufant said MUW hopes to unveil a new sports logo in the next couple of months. He also said he will continue to move forward to hire staff members and to get out in the community to build awareness and support for the school’s athletic program. He said a lot of the funding for the athletic teams will come from tuition. He said private funding will be an important ingredient of the athletic department. He envisions having fund-raising campaigns and people on campus to steer those efforts. He sees “a majority” of the funds for athletics to be tuition-based, but he feels there still will be a gap. He said his experience in a variety of jobs will help him meet those needs.
Be on the lookout
The enormity of the work hasn’t fazed Trufant. He said a presidential mentor through a program with the NCAA gave him a valuable piece of advice to remember in that there are sand, pebbles, and rocks that you have to work through to reach your final destination. The message was that the rocks are important, but you have to pay attention and find your way through the sand and kick around in the pebbles to get there.
Trufant is confident he and MUW will get there. He said he and Borsig have a “strategic plan” they are working on to make sure MUW realizes its goal of bringing back intercollegiate athletics to the campus. He said the question he has received the most is “why did the school end its intercollegiate athletic program?” He said he doesn’t have the answer and doesn’t want to know the answer. He said he wants to move forward in the best way he knows, and that the questions tell him people want it and they miss it.
“Be on the lookout because it is not too far away,” Trufant said. “Some people think, ‘Oh, it is 2017.’ It is right around the corner for us. We’re excited about what is going on. The campus is excited. We’re looking toward the next step and the next four steps, so keep an eye out for us. Keep an eye out for the next big thing to happen, and look out for our new staff members. If you see me or see anybody on the street, say hello. I probably will beat you to it, but we’ll be out and about and we will be visible.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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