It seems so fitting for the latest athletic director’s candidate to visit the campus.
Johnny Williams has been where the JSU athletics program apparently wants to go, and that’s what makes him a viable candidate for the AD vacancy.
The former Troy AD and Alabama senior associate became the last of four finalists to interview for the job Monday
Where he’s been is where JSU seems to be going athletically — moving a Division I-AA football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision level. It’s a move he made when he was at Troy, the Gamecocks’ chief rival of a bygone age, from 1994 to 2004.
“I’ve been around growth at Troy … that was very similar to growth and progression I’ve watched here at Jacksonville State,” Williams said. “You can have ambitions of where you want to go, but most of it’s where you’re invited to go. If we could wish things to be, we’d already be in a lot of places.
“What I’m saying is there are a lot of challenges here that a lot of universities have gone through. I feel very comfortable about where they are. I understand the issues and there are some strong issues most universities are facing right now. I spent 19 years in Troy, four at Alabama, and all those places have had a lot of the same issues.”
JSU president Bill Meehan said he’d like to have the Gamecocks’ next AD named by June 1. Now that the interviews are completed, the selection committee members are expected to provide him their final input by noon today. He’d like to make an offer by the time school closes for the Memorial Day weekend Friday.
Retired Coastal Carolina AD Warren Koegel, former Campbell AD Stan Williamson and current Gannon AD Mark Richard interviewed last week.
Although Monday was a formal interview, Williams’ visit likely took on a more familiar tack than the others. He has been a regular on campus, having been contracted three times over the last four years to serve as a consultant as JSU explores the move to the FBS.
The JSU board of trustees gave the initial go-ahead to look at moving up in 2008 and reaffirmed that commitment with a resolution at its last meeting.
Since 2007 Williams’ Creative Marketing Management firm also has consulted for North Alabama, Valdosta State, SIU-Edwardsville and Sam Houston State. Williams said he would step away from consulting if he became Jax State’s AD.
Williams, 54, said times are “a little bit different” now than when he helped take Troy to the next level, and declined to describe how well positioned JSU is to make such a move at this time. The NCAA moratorium for schools moving within or between divisions expires this year.
Being so heavily linked to JSU’s football dreams might lead one to think he’s a football-first administrator. The Gamecocks head coaches met with the board of trustees last month to express their concerns the next athletic director doesn’t lose sight of all the programs’ needs.
Williams cited his track record to indicate all sports are included in his approach. In 10 years, he said, Troy developed $28 million in athletics facility upgrades from outside sources; $18 million went to football, but the balance, he said, went to the others sports for such things as renovating the baseball, softball and basketball venues and building new soccer and track facilities.
“It’ll be the whole athletic program,” he said. “It’s not just a football issue. It’s an athletic endeavor and I want to be of assistance to that if I’m selected.
“Before I became the athletic director I was the defensive coordinator at Troy; probably never happened before, will never happen again. I understand those issues If you look at the facilities and the success we had at Troy, it was not all one-dimensional. This is not a one-dimensional program here and that’s not something we want to help foster.”
For all the questions he might have to answer about the football issue and running an all-inclusive athletics department, there may be one question Williams might never be able to escape here. Can a Troy guy really be accepted at JSU?
“I’m an Alabama guy,” he said, noting he graduated from UNA. “Sadly to say, that (JSU-Troy) rivalry has really diminished in the last several years. Having been a student-athlete at UNA and playing the Jax State rivalry, it’s almost like a coalition. That’s what rivalries are. You hate each other but you need each other to keep generating interest.
“I’m an athletics guy. When you’re in the profession of coaching and administration, you’re humbled and voices rise based on where the checks come from. If there was going to be that kind of issue, I’m not going to get the job anyway.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.