My Interview with New UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram

June 15th, 2015 | by Jeff Troxclair
My Interview with New UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram

New UAB AD Mark Ingram

It’s not hyperbole to say that perhaps no athletic director in the country has had a more eventful first few weeks on the job than Mark Ingram, UAB’s current Athletic Director.  Hired to be the new head of the Blazers’ athletic department on May 2nd of this year, Ingram had been on the job less than three weeks when the school announced on June 1st that it would be reinstating football, reversing its prior decision in December of 2014 to disband the program.  Almost immediately, Ingram became the face of a herculean, virtually unprecedented task:  rebuilding an FBS football program almost entirely from the ground up.

Naturally, we at College AD were extremely excited when Mark Ingram agreed to a conversation with us concerning his time at UAB thus far.  Candid and engaging, Ingram projects a palpable excitement about the prospect of UAB’s football future and his leadership role in this endeavor.  We invite you to listen to our discussion with Ingram, as he addresses such topics as the questions he had while interviewing for the UAB job; some misconceptions regarding how UAB will fund the football program going forward; the Blazers’ future in Conference USA; and why the timeline of UAB’s return to the gridiron must be guided by what’s in the best interests of the student athlete.


Mark Ingram Interview Transcript

Jeff: I take it you're enjoying Birmingham so far in the [inaudible:00:03:36]?
Mark: So far, yeah. Yeah. You know what? I've been to Birmingham many, many times. I spent some time working in Tennessee and Georgia, University of Tennessee and University of Georgia, both of which have large alumni bases in Birmingham. So I spent a lot of time raising money in my career.
My travels would take me through here to see donors and prospects. So I was very familiar with Birmingham. I've only been here now, in this role, for two weeks, just over two weeks. It was two weeks Monday, actually. So my family is not here yet. Yes, I like Birmingham. I've enjoyed my time here, but I don't . . . It's weird. I live here, but I don't live here because my family is in Philadelphia.
Jeff: I was gonna ask you that. They're still back there.
Mark: Yeah, [inaudible:00:04:34] University. Yeah, they are. So up there anyway . . . I don't know if this is common in all the northeast, just certain states, but they don't start school until after Labor Day, which means they don't get out of school until about mid-June. So they're still in school, my children. We have four. They're all in school up there.
But we've sold our house, and we got a house picked out here. So we'll close on both of those homes about mid-July, and then they'll all get here, which will be terrific.
Jeff: Excellent. You said you have four children?
Jeff: That's remarkable. We have one that's finishing kindergarten right now, and California is the same. She doesn't finish until mid-June.
Jeff: Hopefully at some point, we'll add to that, but four is an impressive . . . I'm in awe because one is a lot, and one more would be a lot more work.
Mark: You know what? I'm gonna tell you this. Now, when you have one, you go from zero to one. That was probably the biggest transition of all of it, because you go from not having to worry about anything in the world, to now having to care for this child. You find yourself constantly saying, "Well, who's got . . . Are you gonna give him or her a bath? Or who's gonna put him down? Who's changing the diaper? Who's doing this?" You feel like you've got to constantly entertain this baby.
Jeff: Yep.
Mark: Then all of a sudden, you can't . . . It's not like you can leave it at home, like a cat, when you're going to the store. So that is a huge adjustment. Then for me, one to two was just as big because at least with one, you recognize that there are times when you can do the baby thing, and your wife can do her own thing, or vice versa. But now you got two, and it's man-to-man coverage.
So you absolutely go from . . . You go to this place where you have nothing, in terms of your own time, but I'll say this. When you go from two to three, you don't even feel it. Three to four, you don't even feel it.
Jeff: It's part of the routine.
Mark: You're numb to this place. Yeah, you get numb to this place where you're like, "Yeah, I get it. I got to give somebody a bath. I got to change somebody. I got to feed somebody. I got to put them to bed. I got to put their jammies on," the whole thing, whether it's two people or four people. It almost doesn't matter.
Jeff: Well, I'm glad those conversations don't only happen in my house then, looking at one another like, "Wait. I did the bath last night. You're gonna do the bath tonight," that division of labor.
Mark: Yep.
Jeff: Yeah. No. I often think . . . What's the age range on your four?
Mark: My youngest is six, and my oldest is 13.
Jeff: Okay. So yeah, you kind of kept them . . . We had the one that's five. So that, to me, seems like it might be the hard adjustment. You're out of diapers. You're out of everything. Then at some point maybe down the road, we'll be right back to that total lack of self-sufficiency.
Mark: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Jeff: That's exciting. That's exciting. So you'll have them get down there in July then.
Mark: Yeah, mid-July. They'll be here.
Jeff: Excellent. Excellent. Yeah, so kind of looking into it, I noticed that your tenure started a couple weeks ago, and you'd come down from Philadelphia. So that dovetails really nicely with the first question I was gonna ask, which is . . .
You seem to have, at least to me, what is one of the truly unique situations in athletics, in that I'm sure folks have dropped programs before and added programs, but I don't know that anyone, at least in my lifetime, anyone has ever encountered anything like dropping the single-biggest revenue driver and then adding it back within six months. So my first question is a very open-ended, "How?" How are you doing it all right now? How has this kind of catapulted you in the first two weeks, which are otherwise just kind of a get-to-know-you situation in most jobs? How are you managing that on a day-to-day basis right now?
Mark: I told our staff the day after my press conference. I had a staff meeting with the entire athletic department, and then I met with all the head coaches, and I met with what has been considered the senior staff for the associate athletic directors and above. In each of those meetings, I just told them. I said, "I'm available to you." I gave them my cell phone number. I said, "I'm available to you for whatever you need. Something really catastrophic happens. Please, tell me, even though I'm gonna be in Philadelphia the next couple of weeks until I get down here.
Then I said, "But when I get back, I'm not gonna see you, probably, because" . . . I said, "I just don't know how much time I'm gonna be asked to spend on all of this," because we got the . . . If you've been reading the CSS report . . . You know what I'm talking about?
Jeff: Absolutely.
Mark: So we got the CSS report on Friday. I started on Monday. That's exactly the way the timing went. I just said, "I don't know how long we're gonna evaluate this." I knew that it needed to happen by about now, but whether it'll be Monday or today . . . I knew it was pretty quick, two, maybe three-week process. I told all the staff. I said, "I want to meet every one of you. You're all important to me. I just need you to recognize that I'm gonna have to be available to the president every second of every day. I don't know if that's gonna be a 15-minute-a-day, or if we're gonna go lock ourselves in some log cabin, and he'll helicopter rations in until we figure it out."
So I think that they all understood. At least they said that they did. I bet in my first two weeks, I bet I didn't spend three hours in my own office.
Jeff: Wow.
Mark: I just unearthed some boxes in my office last night, and all I did was pull files out and set them on the ground so I can get rid of the box. At least that'll inspire me to make some progress.
Jeff: Right. Exactly. [inaudible:00:11:00] itself.
Mark: Yeah, I've got a laptop that's plugged in. I try to come through and clean out my inbox as best I can at night or early in the morning. I haven't slept a lot. Some people want to run to a negative place with that, but the reality is I don't sleep well when I go to hotels because it's not my bed. So I sleep not in my bed. Then I've got all this stuff, whether it's related to this immediate situation or just general things I want to accomplish as the athletic director, questions that I know I need to ask.
It's just all running through my head at night. If I wake up, for any reason, at 3:00 in the morning, I'm done. I can't go back. Yeah, these four coaches and staff, they're getting emails and text messages at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning. One day, I was just totally awake, and I thought, "Well, maybe if I . . . " In my mind, I just thought, "Well, if I just send these three our four emails to these people, so that I can clear my mind, maybe I can go back to sleep."
So I did it, and it only made me more awake. Then about 15, not even 15 minutes . . . I was gonna say 15, 20 seconds probably go by, and one of the emails or maybe just a text went to our basketball coach, Jared Hess [SP]. He responded. He responded. I told him the next day, "You got a problem." I said, "It's bad enough that I sent you the note. It's worse that you responded."
Jeff: Yeah, that you're up to answer it.
Mark: Yeah. He just said, "Hey, I've learned I need to leave my phone on." I said, "Yeah, I guess that's true. You never know when you might get some unfortunate call [inaudible:00:12:49]."
Jeff: Exactly. Right.
Mark: I told him. I said, "Hey, man. Unless it's an emergency, you don't have to answer. I'm just trying to get that stuff out so I make sure I get that stuff out." He's funny.
Jeff: I thought you were gonna tell me he was so excited by that first-round victory in the NCAA tournament back in March. He's still living off that adrenaline.
Mark: Well, he probably is. That was huge, obviously, for the program.
Jeff: Oh, great win.
Mark: Huge for the city and the state, and it was just great.
Jeff: Great, great win. So if I could kind of just ask a little bit more specific question.
Mark: Yeah, fine.
Jeff: It's so interesting to me to think about, like we talked about two weeks in, this is where you are. In the interview process, it had to be something . . . As you're looking at, you've got a great job, a temple, and have worked in other large athletic departments. I assume it was something on your mind you asked about, "Hey. Where are we?" At that point, the decision had already been made.
Where are we with the community? Where are we, in the future, looking here? How much of that was discussed during the interview process? How much of whether or not the football team was going to come back or whether it was gone forever? Was that a big part of you ultimately deciding to come to UAB, that conversations had taken place that at least gave you a good idea that, down the road, it might be something that you were open to, that the university might be open to? Kind of delve into it.
Mark: Yeah. I have followed the story. It was a pretty well-documented story, nationally, when the decision was made. So I had read it, like anybody else. I had seen that, I guess, right before it or right after it, however it was, but the athletic director here had made the decision to resign. I always thought that the UAB job would be a great job, but Brian Mackin [SP], who had been here before, played baseball here . . . Frankly I just never thought it would exist. I never thought that this job would be available. I always thought it would be great just because Birmingham is such a terrific town.
These teams are competitive at a lot of things that they do. This was just the type of team that a lot of people don't like to play because they're just good enough. They're just good enough to beat you, no matter who you are. I always thought this would be a great opportunity. So when I saw that, I was following it.
Then I got a call from the search firm. I can't remember if it was March or April, late March or late April, something like that, about the opportunity. I had been following it, just waiting to see. As soon as they were given the search date, they reached out to me, Parker Executive Service. They're based out of Atlanta. It's Scott Daniel Parker. He said, "Hey. Would you be interested in this? I'd like to talk to you about it."
So I asked him some very pointed questions about it, just to ask, "Okay. Is this really . . . It's being publicized as it's something being considered." But I said, "But is it really? Tell me the situation." I said, "Either is fine. I just want to know what it is." He said, "No." He said, "I've had really good conversations with the president. He is absolutely considering reinstatement. They're going through this." He started explaining this process to me about the CSS report and some fundraising activities and all this. I said, "Okay."
He said, "Whether it's good or bad, they want to have you in place before they make that decision because they want your input." He said, "They want your input," or whoever. They want the AD's input. I said, "Okay." He said, "Mark, I think you can do a great job either way." I said, "Hey, look. I agree with that. I just want to know what you're getting into or what the situation."
Jeff: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Mark: That's all. It really wasn't about is it positive or negative, just knowing. Also, that helps you approach how you interview, the manner that you might respond to questions. So that was probably the first time that we did it. I went and did the airport interview, as people call it, and met with the committee. I could tell that, reading the tea leaves there with other people in the room, that there was a strong desire by at least some of them, who were more vocal, that they really hoped it would be reinstated. In some cases, they really truly believed it would be. Though it was, at that point, a long way from over.
So that helped. Then when I got here, I did a full day on campus, really about a day and a half, between sort of a night-before meeting and then a 7:00 AM breakfast through dinner the next day, a long day. I think I met with . . . I counted it up. I want to say that I met with 51 people, some of them twice, but I think there was 51 people who I met with, in groups obviously, over the course of a day.
I got the call the very next day to offer me the job. But during the day, I just asked people straight up, "What do you think is gonna happen? What do you think is best? What do you want to have happen," to see if anybody had any particular feelings. I think, in some cases, some people maybe were . . . If they were coaches or staff, they were a little more reluctant to answer that. But anybody who I met with that was a donor or community person, they were all in favor of reinstatement.
You could tell. When people wanted to talk about it, they were energetic about it. They had strong opinions of how and why and all those things, for the reasons that they thought it should come back. What was telling about it was just the level of energy that people had. You could just tell there was starting to be this ground swell of support.
Ultimately that's what led to our president's very brave decision, in my opinion, to reinstate the program. It was, in large part, because of financial need that we had that had never been met before, that had never been seen before. We got pledges for money that doubled our best year of our annual fund that we've ever had. We got people who've already committed money to help us build a reasonable facility for the team to practice in and have their meetings and [inaudible:00:19:47] and so on.
It's really been tremendous. It really has. The whole thing has just been a great learning experience and overwhelming to see the volume of support. It's been impressive.
Jeff: That actually leads right into what I was gonna ask. It sounds like the community is behind it, certainly in spirit, and at least what you're eluding to as well in numbers as well. [inaudible:00:20:16]. Right? With dash, which is really interesting to me because, as I read the story unfold, I think both President Watts and yourself kind of directly eluded to the fact that you guys would be doing this with no debt taken on.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, I think that message has been mixed and, in some cases, unfortunately lost.
Jeff: Really?
Mark: Well, what I mean is . . . People want to take that in a negative place for some reason. Somewhere, I think, there's some websites or something that say the athletic department has no debt, but that doesn't mean the university doesn't have debt. The university has plenty of debt.
What's been said is, "We're gonna do our facilities with private philanthropy." The university is already providing $20 million annually, to help run the athletic department. So when we talk about university investment and those things, I assure you the university is investing fully in the athletic department. What's been talked about is that the university doesn't have the debt capacity to take on multi, multi, multimillion-dollar facilities that don't have an economic model to support it.
So if we have pledges to support a project or a financial model that's gonna pay the debt service, I think that the university will be willing to work with us to make those facilities happen. I've been given every indication that they would. What they can't have is a situation where we say, "Hey. This project is gonna cost $10 million. We've raised $2. Can we break ground?" That's what they can't have, because then you'll never get the other $8.
So I think if it was the reverse of that, "Hey. We've got $8. We need another $2. Can we go ahead and at least get started so we get in this thing?"
Jeff: Is there a ratio there that needs to be satisfied before that? Or is it kind of done on a case-by-case basis?
Mark: Yeah, I'd say that it's case-by-case and probably different at every school. But from a fundraising standpoint, I think everybody, nationally, who's in development, will tell you your best opportunity to raise funds is right up until that moment you put the shovel in the ground. Once you do it, there seems to be this tendency for a lot of people to think that it's already been figured out, that the university wouldn't allow the project to start. They didn't have the funding model. It must have been figured out. Right? That's one of the . . . Whether they even think it consciously or not, that's what happens.
So you also have this opportunity to be able to say to somebody, "Hey. I need you to make a million-dollar gift to this project. If you do this, we're gonna break ground. We've already got $9 million that we need. We need one more million. If you do this, we're gonna stop talking about this and go to work and do it." There's just something about that gratification that the donor has in recognizing and realizing that they made it happen, rather than just the guy that's paying the bills.
Jeff: Interesting. Interesting. I certainly can see that from a human motivation standpoint.
Jeff: Once it's there, you kind of figure, "Oh, everybody else has already picked up the tab. I'm fine for that." So it would be accurate then to say that there could be a situation down the road, where UAB is allowed to take on some level of debt to engage in facility rehab or construction, without the full amount being upfront. That's something that's . . .
Mark: Well, no. Don't put that. I think my impression is that the university is willing to assist us in that, as long as we have a strong financial plan to pay for the building or to pay for that project.
Jeff: Pay in full for that project.
Mark: Yeah. That's what most people do. I'm not talking about $200 million football stadiums or something. I'm talking about . . .
Jeff: Right. Practice facilities.
Mark: Yeah, practice fields and practice facilities and locker room renovations and those kind of things. That's what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about $100 million. When I was at Tennessee, we had a $250 million plan to renovate the football stadium, needless to say.
Jeff: Right.
Mark: When I left, we had done about half of it, but some of the funding for the project came from the sale of sleet and club seats.
Mark: By creating those areas, it generated revenue which offset the bond that we had to borrow to do the project. So we didn't raise $125 million by philanthropy. What we did was we sold all these club seats, and we took the revenue from those sales and put it towards the debt.
Jeff: Again, that's something that you have been led to believe that situation could be replicated at UAB.
Mark: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Jeff: So that's . . .
Mark: That's a hard and fast line. Yeah. I feel like it's funny that you ask that, because I feel like . . . I don't know how many interviews I've done today. A dozen maybe?
Jeff: You lump all of us together at this point.
Mark: Yeah. It's been a lot. I did sense that from one or two other people, almost that they thought that's what that meant, that the university wasn't going to do anything to support or assist, and that's not the case. It's just that the university needs us to figure out the financial plan in a way that makes sense, so that they don't take on the problem if somehow it doesn't work out.
Jeff: Right. I think a lot of that is, at least from my perspective, the only insight we've had into this, is what's given to us via either local media that's been put out nationally or what we can find. People start drawing comparisons. They'll start saying, "Look. We've got this statement here that appears to say there will be no public assistance with any building project," and then we can look two years ago and see that Alabama used revenue bonds for a $9.1 million strength and facilities or strength-and-conditioning facilities.
Mark: Well, they probably borrowed the money, but they probably have pledges that are backing that up. It's not like the university . . . I don't even know that specific example, but I'm just saying that that's generally what happens. You get these pledges, and then you go, and you work the financing out by saying, "We have the $9 million to do this work. We have it in pledges. They're gonna pay it over a five-year period." If the university is comfortable with that, then they go borrow the money based against those pledges.
Jeff: Yeah. No. Full disclosure here. My background was . . . For about two and a half years, I did kind of large-scale public finance work in a large Chicago law firm.
Mark: Okay.
Jeff: So immediately . . . I only thought about it in the sense of, "My gosh. This seems like it would make the job so much harder," if what's being told to me is that that's not even . . . The way it was communicated or the way, at least, I've read it in several pieces is that the message is the university won't even ask that question. The money has to be there before it's built. Then of course, you juxtapose it to situations where, like the Alabama one . . .
Mark: Right.
Jeff: I think [inaudible:00:28:13] Wow. Mark has got a heck of a tough sell on his hands if he can't. So that, to me, is right when I went to that. It's one of the things I really wanted to ask you because it was just such a jarring disadvantage in the way it was presented.
Mark: Yeah, I don't think it's quite as stark as that sounds.
Jeff: Okay. No, that's awesome. Thank you. Thanks for the transparency there because that is something, I think, that just has not been communicated to the public. Again, I think people kind of look at it and scratch their heads.
Jeff: One other kind of thing that I immediately picked up on, that just really interested me, was the conference aspect of things, whether or not . . . Obviously when the news broke, you had Conference USA saying, "Football is a big thing to us. It's important." Whether or not the actual football would jeopardize the membership for the rest of the sports . . . Can you give me any insight into whether or not . . . I guess, first, there's a definitive commitment on the part of Conference USA, for you guys to be full members once you reinstate.
If there isn't that firm commitment . . . Again, I only know what I read, and I just haven't seen anything from the conference's standpoint. If there isn't that firm commitment, what contingency plans are in place? The sun belt? Would anyone consider FCS? That, to me, is just something that I think is really interesting, and I just haven't seen anywhere else.
Mark: Right. Well, all indications, at this point, point to us being a member, a full member, and staying a full member of Conference USA. We've not been given any reason to believe that we should think otherwise. Our conference commissioner and his team have been extraordinary through all of this. The other members of the league have been extraordinary through all of this. They've been patient. They've been helpful. A lot of the ADs and football coaches in the league have reached out to us. "Hey, if there's anything we can do to help you as you're trying to navigate this process, please let us know what we can do."
It's been a very collegial environment, and it's been just really terrific on their part. Again, this is all unprecedented. It's all uncharted territory, and we're just overwhelmed by the support that we've gotten by so many different people in the conference and our membership. There's no exception to that.
Jeff: That's great. That's great. So you couldn't foresee any situation right now where the conference membership would have to be revisited in the near future.
Mark: No. Not that I'm aware of. No.
Mark: Yeah, if there's the conversation about that, I'm just not aware of it.
Jeff: Gotcha. That's obviously, again, something I saw and thought, "Wow. Everyone is kind of . . . " It was in very general terms, and there wasn't anything specific, but I definitely appreciate you going in-depth there. Is there any plans? I keep seeing 2016 as the goal to re-field the team. I think one of the quotes that I saw you had was that the launching pad was . . . The launching point was set towards 2016. If that doesn't come . . .
Mark: No, that's not right. That's not right.
Jeff: Okay. [inaudible:00:32:04].
Mark: Yeah, I think the quote that I had was, "This is a launching point." Yes. What I was trying to say in my press conference, in my remarks at the press conference on Monday, was that we've got a lot of money to raise. Getting us to this place where the president had the courage to this decision and reinstate the programs is just the start. We got to raise a bunch of money for facilities, for football, and all of our teams. We've got to make some real improvements there, or else we're just not ever gonna be more competitive than we are. In fact, we'll get worse.
Now that's on me to help articulate that in the community. That's what that term "launching point" has been. That's what I referenced in there. That's at least what I meant. Relative to when are we gonna play, we don't know yet. We want to do it right, more than we want to do it fast, but we also want to make sure that we stay a full member of the conference and that we are an FBS member and not an FCS member.
That's critically important because the path . . . If we were to drop down, the path back is a lot harder for us because I can't imagine all the schools in the conference . . . Like every division-one school, they're allowed to play one FCS member each year. In doing that, you can still count that game towards a bowl eligibility. Well, if we were an FCS member and playing a conference schedule . . . Well, if Western Kentucky has already got an FCS member, now they have to play us because we're in the league. They've got two FCS opponents on their schedule. That means they've got a harder chance. Instead of 12 games to get to six, they've only got 11 games to get to six because we don't count. Right?
So those are all things that we're trying to keep ever-present here, in terms of respecting our peers and their generosity and, again, being so helpful through this process. The other thing is if you play too soon . . . Listen. If we're told we have to play in '16, that's exactly when we'll play. We'll do all those things. Okay.
But we've also got to talk about the student athlete welfare situation. I shared that with our commissioner. I said, "Hey. I know that there'll be heartburn if we try to over-sign one or two monster classes. There'll be some heartburn with some other coaches in the league saying that somehow that gives us the advantage, which is almost silly, the hearsay, but I know it's a competitive environment. They want to make sure that we all are on the same plane there.
But at the same time, if we were to put 50 true freshmen out there on the field in '16, and we've got to play a full conference schedule and then probably play a couple of non-conference games against people who are . . . If we got to play one game against an FCC opponent or something, it just wouldn't be safe. It really wouldn't.
Jeff: You'd have like an SMU in '88 situation, or '87, when you had Notre Dame pulling their starters in the second quarter, up 55-nothing. Right?
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: It's just easier from the student athlete welfare. You're right. That smacks of a really bad situation waiting to happen.
Mark: Yeah, it's demoralizing. You're sitting here, and you've got all this positive momentum. Then potentially you'd just be crushing it by putting the kids in an environment where they just can't win. It would just be totally unfair. Plus, again, you'd be getting all these freshmen and trying to install the offense in a couple of weeks. They'd be showing up in August, maybe at best in the summer, and you're trying to install an offense next year to play in August. Oh, my goodness.
Jeff: Yeah.
Mark: It just is not good in any regard. But again, if that's what we have to do in order to maintain our FBS status and a full member of the conference, then that's what we'll do, but we're trying to work towards a different deadline a little farther out, so that we can just . . . just so that we can have a fighting chance.
Jeff: Do it right.
Mark: We're excited about the opportunity. Again, we're gonna do whatever we need to do to play as soon as possible, within the boundaries of all the rules.
Jeff: In your estimation, given all those . . . I am cognizant of time too. I recognize you must be among the more in-demand people right now, and you've given me a ton of time. So one, I really appreciate that, and I want to be respectful. So if I just had one or two more questions, is that okay?
Mark: Yeah, that's fine. Yeah, sure.
Jeff: Okay. Great. So with the knowledge of everything that's gonna entail, are you treating this, you and Coach Clark and the administration, are you guys treating this as a complete reboot? Or is there a chance that maybe some of the folks that had been around in 2014, that some of them that either haven't transferred, that they'll stick around and bridge the transition? I'm trying to get a sense of whether it will be kind of a complete ground-up or if there's any [inaudible:00:37:41].
Mark: Yeah. Well, it's interesting you asked that. So one of the questions, or that exact question was raised on our conference call. How can these players assist us? And how many are there? You think that's an easy answer when you say, "How many are still here?" Well, how many are still here is not the same as how many will be here, because you have some players who did stay through the spring, but you don't know if their intention was to come back in the fall or to transfer somewhere else after the spring semester.
You have all these kids that left at the end of December, before the spring semester. So you know they're gone. What I guess I'm saying is you don't yet know how many of these kids, like I said, if they stayed through the spring, if they intend to come back in the fall. So these are all yet to be determined.
You might say . . . We could say, "Well, there's 28 people still here," but that doesn't mean 28 will be here in August.
Jeff: Yeah. You're exactly right.
Mark: Right? Even if they don't graduate. They may choose or have plans to transfer somewhere else. Yeah. So that's part of it as well because, obviously, once we know when we're gonna play, that's just gonna answer so many questions like you're asking about. I think if there was a young man who was going to leave, but he found out that if he stayed he could get another year or something, he probably would. So who knows.
Jeff: You're right. It's way too early to tell the answer.
Mark: It is. It really is.
Jeff: So the final thing I wanted to talk to you about was just kind of . . . Given your background . . . You've eluded to it a couple times in development. I noticed in your profile, you seem to have a high degree of success, raising $335 million at Tennessee and the Capitol campaign. That sounds like everything about this position is well-suited to your skill set, everything we've talked about. Right? We need money. We've got the mandate. Now we need to fund it.
Mark: Yeah. I didn't raise all that money by myself, obviously [inaudible:00:40:01].
Jeff: You're supposed to take credit for it though.
Mark: No, no. I was leading the team that did it. Yeah, this is a great opportunity. The nice thing is when you're at a place like UAB that could use some facility improvements, it becomes pretty easy to share that need. When I was at Georgia and Tennessee, those two places in particular, it was sometimes difficult to get a donor to recognize the real need that you have, because they just have so much. Their facilities are so great to begin with, and the fan base adores everything about them. Articulating the real need is tough.
I don't want to anticipate challenges here, explaining what the need is. I think the need is easy to find.
Jeff: Self-evident to anybody who's out looking.
Mark: I think so. Yeah. Yeah.
Jeff: Interesting. Is there any type of particular strategy or success story that you utilized at places like [inaudible:00:41:13], even given the sometimes more difficult need? Anything utilized there that you think translates well to this specific situation?
Mark: Yeah, sure.
Jeff: I always am interested in hearing specifics on that front, in that I'm in sales. So I always look at ways people get raised.
Mark: Yeah, normally what you want to do is you show . . . If it's a facilities project, you show pictures that your peers have of that same facility on their campus. These are our peers. Then you show your aspirational peers, what they have. So if we said that our peers in this conference are middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Southern Miss . . . If we said that, then we said our aspirational figures, who we aspire to be, then we aspire to be as competitive as Vanderbilt or wherever, Auburn. We want to be Auburn. We want to be [inaudible:00:42:11] whatever.
You show the difference between what you have and what both of those places have and say, "Look. For $1.8 million, we could be better or at least as good as Southern Miss on this subject. Look at what they have and what we have," or you could make a real difference. With $18 million, we can fix this other place. So it's a delicate balance there. You're just trying to show the differences between the two facilities and how you can grow. Who do we think we are? Who do we think we should be competitive with? That's how you can sort of show the need.
None of our fans . . . I use that word, "our," in a figurative sense. Every AD in the country could say what I'm about to say, which is our fans don't get on other teams' websites and look at other teams' facilities. They might travel to their stadium, but what they don't see is the other school's weight room or locker room, those intimate areas that are the player areas that are used for recruiting.
Jeff: Right. Whereas every recruiter does.
Mark: Right. The recruits, yeah, but I'm talking about donors and season ticket holders.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No.
Mark: Yeah. They get this impression, everybody, that things here are terrific. When's the last time they looked at school X? Have they seen what they have? Oh, no. They haven't done that. Because why would they? That's not an indictment. That's just what it is.
Jeff: No, that's . . . I mentioned it's a very powerful visual tool, to put up, "Here's what our weight room looks like. Here's what," to use your example, "[inaudible:00:44:04] Tennessee's weight room looks like."
Mark: Yeah. Right.
Jeff: Now let's talk about why we're not as competitive or why . . . No, that's a powerful thing that does transcend conference affiliation or anything like that. Right? Or institutional size or anything. You can always kind of draw those comparisons. So that's great. Well, Mark, I really cannot thank you enough. You've given me 45 minutes during a time where I imagine your phone is hanging off the hook. I promise I did not set out to take that much time. I really enjoyed hearing from you.
Mark: Yeah. Well, glad you called.
Jeff: Yeah, ask any questions you have for me. I think we've got some really great stuff here. I'll let you go and, again, wanted to reiterate how thankful I am. I really do appreciate the time.
Mark: Yeah. Thanks a lot, man. Thanks a lot.
Jeff: Absolutely. Absolutely. Take care. By the way, are you gonna be at the athletic director conference in Las Vegas in July?
Mark: No.
Jeff: You're not. Okay. I was gonna say if you were, I was gonna be there. So maybe shaking hands, but anyways. Again, I do appreciate it. I wish you the best of luck. I can assure you I'll be watching afar from California, pulling for you guys.
Mark: Thanks, man. I appreciate that.
Jeff: Take care, Mark. Bye bye.
Mark: Call me any time. Okay.
Jeff: I very much appreciate that. Very much appreciate that. Have a great one.
Mark: You too. Bye.
Jeff: Bye bye.

About Jeff Troxclair
Jeff Troxclair is an executive, lawyer, and life-long college sports fan. He is a graduate of both NC State University and the University of Notre Dame, and is a hopelessly optimistic Wolfpack and Irish fan. Jeff is originally from New Orleans, LA, but has lived for extended periods of time in both Raleigh, NC, and Chicago, IL. He currently resides in Oakland, CA, with his wife and daughter. Having seen the New Orleans Saints actually win a Super Bowl, he is now convinced that we live in a world where no sports-related achievement is impossible.

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