Editor’s Note: Texas Tech Deputy Director of Athletics and 2017 NEXT UP presented by adidas honoree Tony Hernandez took a few minutes late last week to talk with CollegeAD on a wide array of topics. The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and length.
CollegeAD: What are biggest challenges facing fundraisers today?
Tony Hernandez: I’ve spent time in fundraising and I’ve spent time in a lot of different areas and have had a lot of different experiences. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best fundraisers in the country, among them, Kirby Hocutt, Blake James, Ross Bjork, and others. Really to me, it comes down to quality relationships with our fans and donors and putting them in a position where they trust you as a person, and more importantly, they trust the program to do the right thing for the student-athletes. I believe our best selling point is what we’re doing for young people, providing them an education, an opportunity to grow within their sport and become not only better athletes but more importantly people who will hopefully leave school with their degree. That’s really our main, core purpose, we’re here for our student-athletes. The biggest challenge is that it does take time to build those relationships. There’s no quick fix, there’s no quick way to build a relationship other than investing time, treating people the right way with respect, and being honest with them, but that doesn’t happen over night.
CAD: When Kirby Hocutt left for Texas Tech in 2011, you served as Miami’s interim AD, what are the biggest challenges facing athletic directors that you people don’t understand until you’ve been in the chair?
TH: You really do not understand the magnitude of that job and being an athletic director until you sit in that chair. I was fortunate to sit in that chair for a few months and really benefit from it. I think I became a better administrator and leader because of it. What you don’t understand is the amount of issues and people that need your attention, it is much greater than you ever anticipated. During the time when I was the interim AD at Miami, I dealt with a men’s basketball coach who took another job and then had a search that ultimately led to a great hire in Jim Larranaga. But through that process, it almost becomes all encompassing and you’re extremely busy while the whole department is progressing and you’re still trying to sell tickets and still building relationships with donors. There are so many different things that you deal with as an athletic director and then you have certain time as an AD where you a great deal of time being spent on one specific issue. Until you’re really there doing that, you don’t have a true appreciation of what an athletic director does.
Prioritizing and listening become really important. What I mean by that is, we don’t have all the answers, so it’s very important to listen and try to take away from others what might be the best thing to do. Don’t shy away from asking others and listening to what their advice is.
CAD: What are the keys to ensuring the financial health of an athletic department and keeping the department running in the black?
TH: There’s one constant in college athletics, and that is that the expense side keeps growing at a very strong pace. In order to keep some financial health, you really have to do two things. One is manage that expense side of the budget and making sure that you’re being fiscally responsible and knowing expenses are going up. For example, travel’s more expensive than it ever has been, salaries go up at an increased rate. Some of that is within your control others are not, so you have to manage that.
Then the side that you really need to invest a lot of time in is growing your revenue.
There are the traditional revenue sources such as donations, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and conference shares. You’ve got to push those and maximize that as much as possible. You have to start thinking of creative sources for revenue, it’s putting your institution and athletic department in a place to be able to benefit what ever changes might occur in the future. It’s not being grounded in the traditional way of always doing things just because that’s the way they were done. It’s really thinking out of the box and being forward thinking and progressive to where you need to be in the future to bring in additional revenue. As an athletic department, we have to be quick and nimble in order to react to situations and be able to maximize opportunities for revenue.
CAD: Without a league network, something you had to deal with during your time at Miami, what are the keys to getting your programs on air? And how do you create the content you need to promote Texas Tech?
TH: You have to have the infrastructure in place to produce network quality games and events. At Texas Tech we’re able to do that at just about all of our facilities. You need to have the equipment and staff in place to be able to produce quality content, at the end of the day whatever you’re putting out is representative of your athletic department. Next, you’ve got to be able to push that content out through the networks, through your third tier rights, through your all-access on your website.
CAD: What was it about Texas Tech, that as an alumnus of Miami, drew you to Lubbock, and how hard was it to leave Miami?
TH: Miami as an institution, as a city we’re extremely good to me and I was ready for a new challenge and new opportunity. Blake James is a great friend and wonderful person, he knew I was ready for ready for a new opportunity and then the opportunity came available here at Texas Tech and I had enjoyed working with Kirby when he was the athletic director at Miami. I was interested in joining Texas Tech because I thought he had built a great staff here and he has built a wonderful culture here.
CAD: You began your career working on the academic side of athletics, moving up from there to now handling internal and external operations, contract negotiation, fundraising and more, what would be the biggest piece of advice you would offer to young people entering the industry today?
TH: Be a sponge, learn and do as much as you can. Whether you’re working in academics and you have an opportunity to go volunteer in compliance, for example, go and volunteer and help. Learn as much as you can about different parts of the job. Once you get your foot in the door, work hard and do as much and learn as much as you can.