Kennesaw's new AD has full plate, including football

By Tim Tucker The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 6:15 p.m. Thursday, June 23, 2011 As Kennesaw…

Georgia (Jun 24, 2011)

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6:15 p.m. Thursday, June 23, 2011

As Kennesaw State’s recently hired athletic director makes the rounds of his new campus and community, the same question keeps finding him.

“Everybody wants to know,” Vaughn Williams said, “when the day is” — the day KSU will play its first football game.

“Sometimes I cut them off and say, ‘Hey, 2014. If everything goes right, that’s what our plan is.’ I’ve actually been telling [the university’s incoming freshmen] at orientation, ‘If everything goes right and you’re lucky … when you’re a senior, we’ll be kicking that ball off and you’ll be part of history.”

Williams is in his third month as KSU’s AD — a whirlwind introduction that has included hiring a new men’s basketball coach, interviewing candidates for two other key positions, retaining an architectural firm to propose and price new facilities, being hit with NCAA penalties for the basketball team’s academic deficiencies, and generally familiarizing himself with a 16-sport department that has experienced some growing pains in recent years.

Amid the whirlwind, the conversation always seems to return to football.

Williams, 41, formerly an associate athletic director at Connecticut, arrived at KSU with Georgia’s third largest university well on its way toward launching a football program. Last September, an exploratory committee, chaired by former University of Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, recommended moving forward with plans to field an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) team. Two months later, a survey of KSU students showed 55-percent support for a $100-per-semester football fee.

Major hurdles remain, including raising $8 million to $12 million in projected start-up costs. The pace of fundraising could dictate whether the first game is played in 2014 or perhaps 2015.

A former college football player himself — he played defensive back at Massachusetts from 1988-91 — Williams says the KSU job would have appealed to him with or without the lure of football. In fact, he’s not sure he fully grasped the school’s football intentions until he was hired and Dooley showed up for the news conference.

“At that moment, I was, like, ‘OK, we’re going to do football,’” Williams said with a laugh.

There is much to do.

Costs are being “reconfirmed,” Williams said, and myriad issues are being sorted through.

An architectural firm, Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, was retained last month to present options for facilities. The team would begin play in KSU’s state-of-the-art soccer stadium, but the question is open as to whether the 8,300-seat stadium should be expanded initially or later. And there would be a need for football offices, locker room, training room, etc.

Then there’s the question of which women’s sports would be added to keep the school in compliance with Title IX gender-equity requirements.

And the question of a league to play in, since KSU’s current conference, the Atlantic Sun, doesn’t feature football.

And the considerable matter of fundraising, which hasn’t started in earnest yet.

If the fundraising campaign succeeds, a football business plan would be presented in spring 2012 or spring 2013 to the Board of Regents, which would be asked to approve the additional student fee.

“Football has a place in the mission of this university,” Williams said. “We believe it is going to bring people on this campus. It is going to give us exposure that we probably don’t have right now.

“In my mind, we’re going [to add football],” Williams said. “Either it’s 2014 or ’15, but we’re going. I have not heard any other direction. We are going to add football unless something happens that we’re unaware of at this moment, some circumstance we’re unaware of. But in my mind, that’s what we’re doing, and we’re gearing up as such.”

Williams is in the process of hiring an associate athletic director for development, who will be involved in fundraising, and an associate AD for compliance, who will oversee adherence with NCAA rules.

“People will say finance is the biggest transition from Division II to Division I, but I say compliance,” Williams said. KSU completed its move to Division I in 2009.

Also in the works is a change of the department’s structure to a separate association, similar to the Georgia and Georgia Tech athletic associations. That will offer various advantages, including the flexibility to sign coaches to multi-year contracts, Williams said. Currently, he can give coaches — including recently hired men’s basketball coach Lewis Preston — only one-year commitments.

Aside from the football chatter, basketball has commanded much of Williams’ early attention. He was hired April 5, and 15 days later he hired Preston, a former Penn State assistant, to succeed Tony Ingle, who was fired in March. Preston accepted the job knowing that the NCAA was about to hit the team with penalties because of poor Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores.

Williams said the penalties — a loss of two scholarships and a reduction of practice time — constitute a “serious” issue that “we have to deal with,” but expressed confidence the team’s academic performance will improve under Preston. “We have the right coach in place,” he said.

Amid the frenzy of his new job, Williams exudes energy and enthusiasm. “My timing couldn’t be better,” he said. “I landed in a place where things are in movement.”

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit