CollegeAD recently had a chance to catch up with 2016 Next Up Honoree and Southern Miss athletic director Jon Gilbert as he closes in on one year on the job. It has been a fast and furious 10 months for Gilbert since being named AD at Southern Miss on January 24, 2017.
Gilbert’s tenure in Hattiesburg has already seen several major accomplishments such as structuring an all-sports apparel deal with adidas and plans for a new academic center for student-athletes. But as with any job, Gilbert has also faced his fair share of challenges as well.
In August, Gilbert announced updates and changes to the Bower Academic Center Project. The student-athlete academic center which is currently housed in the football stadium will move to its new home in the Cook Library. The move which Southern Miss hopes to complete within the next year will see the student-athlete space go from roughly 3,600 square feet to more than 15,000 square feet. Gilbert considers the completion of this project to be his top priority.
“I’m really encouraged about how we’re doing in the classroom but we do not have the facilities that we should have in academics,” Gilbert said.
The move also helps Gilbert reach another goal he set for himself and the athletic department, making sure athletics, academics, and campus align.
“This is a great partnership; the Dean of the library was really generous in giving us some space. Said Gilbert “We’re actually going to design it to where we can shut part of it off so regular students can use a study room if needed.”
In addition to a new academic space, Gilbert and his staff are also working on plans for a new Wellness-Volleyball facility. The facility will be 25,000-28,000 square feet and become the new home for Southern Miss volleyball. The aim is for the facility to hold about 1,000 people.
USM has partnered with a local non-profit organization for the facility to help offset some of the cost. In return, the non-profit will have access to the facility to run some of its activities.
At the end of October, Southern Miss announced the school’s first department-wide apparel partnership with adidas.
“We’re really excited about the different branding opportunities that we get, the recruiting benefits that we’ll get from the deal, and obviously from an inventory standpoint.” Gilbert said, adding “We will benefit from all being on the same deal and financially it was a good deal that makes sense.”
The seven-year apparel deal with adidas will begin in July of 2018.
Like any Group of Five school, Southern Miss has its fair share of challenges and while Gilbert and his staff are working through those challenges he says the issues aren’t stopping USM from being competitive.
The biggest challenge currently facing Southern Miss is resources according to Gilbert. And while money is the first thing that comes to mind, it’s much more than that.
“Were a little challenged from a personnel standpoint,” Gilbert said, “we’ve got a lot of people that are really good and work really hard but we’re understaffed in a lot of areas. A lot of our staff are doing 2-3 jobs and while that is a challenge, it also a positive.”
Looking back on his first ten months, Gilbert is proud of what he’s been able to accomplish and excited to tackle the next challenge that comes his way as he leads Southern Miss athletics into the future.
“I think culturally, who we are, sports are important here, were not the most important thing on campus but we are the most visible.” He said, “I took this job because I knew we are a really good school from a branding standpoint and we cared about athletics and we’ve found it to be true.”