STARKVILLE — Scott Stricklin”s introduction as Mississippi State”s 16th athletics director had the feeling of a family reunion or and Easter Sunday gathering.
With Stricklin”s family and friends gathered together Friday, the Mississippi State alum and employee spoke for the first time in a position he called “his dream job.”
He wasn”t sure when he”d get the opportunity, if ever, to be an athletic director. He didn”t know if his candidacy to replace close friend and former MSU AD Greg Byrne would hold up in the national search university president Dr. Mark Keenum led through Parker Executive Search.
Keenum, however, was very sure of Stricklin”s contributions to the department since his arrival to join Byrne”s staff as associate athletic director in 2008.
Strengthened by the department”s economic progress the last two years, Stricklin”s potential as MSU”s next AD grew in the eyes of Keenum.
That, combined with Stricklin”s ties to the school and state made him a no-brainer candidate, Keenum said.
“Clearly, there is an advantage having been here, but I think that”s a minimal advantage because you have to have that vision, that plan and direction we need to move this university”s athletic department forward,” Keenum said. “He absolutely personifies that.”
Keenum said he was impressed with Stricklin”s energy, innovation and vision for growing an athletics program in the Southeastern Conference — considered the toughest conference in the country.
Stricklin has had a front-row view of the challenges and rewards of dealing with a low budget in a heavy-spending field. Mississippi State”s resources and facilities, once considered in the bottom tier in the SEC, were boosted in Byrne”s tenure with major plans for the future.
Despite the steps forward, Stricklin acknowledges the department cannot expect to operate as Alabama, LSU or Florida would as those universities are larger and work with much greater budgets.
Basically, that”s why he”s the next man to continue to lead MSU”s progress.
“The most important thing that could change the future of Mississippi State is for our people to take an optimistic view of where we are and where we can go,” Stricklin said. “We cannot be defined, as Dr. Keenum said, by what our budget number is. We”ve got to be defined by something else, whether that”s our energy, our innovativeness, our ability to find what strengths we have and use that to attract the best student-athletes and best coaches.”
Stricklin”s hire comes after Keenum, along with an advisory board of Bulldog Club, MSU Development and MSU Alumni leadership representatives, reviewed “several” candidates for the job.
Keenum didn”t name any of the other candidates whom he interviewed, but from the outset of the search, Keenum was ebullient in having the best possible candidates reviewed.
Outgoing North Carolina State athletics director Lee Fowler had contact with Parker Search, according to the Charlotte Observer, but the university and Parker kept the process out of public light.
“I wanted it no other way,” Keenum said. “I went into this very open-minded and I want to asses the field of candidates across the country. We looked at universities very comparable to Mississippi State”s size and structure and scope. Had some senior associates who were ready to go to the AD level and several sitting ADs, but at the end of the day [Stricklin] was the absolute best candidate and had the best interview. He had the best plan and vision for this university.”
Keenum shrugged off any concerns or criticisms over using an outside firm to ultimately help make an in-house hire, saying he “owed it to the university” to find the best person for the job.
As nerve-wracking as the process was for Stricklin, he”s pleased to have gone through the national search process.
“I respect the way they went about the process; this is too important of a job just to hand somebody,” Stricklin said. “If I wasn”t the right person for the job I would want Mississippi State to hire whoever that would be. I do appreciate they went through this process and I feel blessed and fortunate that I was selected at the end of it.”
Stricklin”s path through athletics administration started when he was a student worker during his freshman year at MSU. He spent one year following graduation working in the department before serving as sports information director for baseball at Auburn. He then moved to Tulane in 1998 before taking a job at Baylor, where he was a key figure in the public relations storm following Carlton Dotson”s murder of basketball teammate Patrick Dennehy.
Tradition-rich Kentucky was Stricklin”s next stop in 2003, and it was there he sharpened his sword through working with Byrne and AD Mitch Barnhart. In Lexington, Stricklin oversaw the day-to-day publicity of the Wildcat basketball program.
“Everything I picked up and learned, I always looked at it through the prism of ”how can I one day go back to Mississippi State and use this information,”” Stricklin said. “It”s a little bit special, knowing I get to pour that energy into a place I call home.”
Friday, Stricklin spoke about about the university”s master plan and the planned facilities upgrades for Davis Wade Stadium, Humphrey Coliseum and Dudy Noble Field. He said he”s had meetings this week with the people involved, and when the report comes back in November he”ll have a better idea of how to move forward with revenue-generating additions to the “big three” venues on campus.
“I think we”ve got to start dreaming,” Stricklin said. “I think we have a chance to do something really special. One of the things Greg really struggled with in his decision was he felt this place was on the verge of doing something great. I think he kind of regrets he”s not going to be here to see it happen. I”m excited I get to be here and see it when it happens. It”s going to be fun to see the faces on all the Bulldog fans.”
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