PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – JUNE 25
By Leo Haggerty
THREE QUESTIONS WITH THE BULLS BOSS
Had a chance to sit down with the University of South Florida Athletic Director Mike Kelly yesterday at the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. This was the first time in over a year where the media have been allowed to come inside a USF facility so you know I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.
Got my usual three question in with the leader of the Green & Gold athletic department. As you will see below, they weren’t of the softball variety.
To his credit, Kelly didn’t shy away from any of mine, or anyone else, or redirect to a different topic. He answered every queries of the media that were in attendance directly.
The photo of Kelly and myself was provided by our photo journalist Matt Crisp. Enjoy
LH : In talking to Athletic Directors around the country, with them being in the position of leadership in the athletic department, they told me that their toughest job was just telling people when they asked them a question that “I don’t know” was the answer. Was that your biggest area of concern that telling your athletes and coaches I don’t know how we’re going to proceed?
MK : Leo, that’s a really insightful question and comment and I would have to agree with that statement. Our communications during this crisis did, obviously, increase a lot. We had Microsoft Teams here on campus and our computer capability increased dramatically. The life blood of the country for communications became Zoom. We were meeting, the coaches and the senior staff, every week and I always felt bad. I had to tell them this is what I did know and what I didn’t know. I could sense an appreciation for the fact that we were being honest and transparent with them. I think, that way, that will help us deal now with the issues that are non-health related. Because of what we did last year, we have a lot of tools in place to deal with what’s coming up. We have a lot of the tools ready and that tells our coaches that we have your back and our athletes as well. That’s what we’re doing and what we’re planning for but, I think, the fact that we were honest and authentic was huge. We went through some tough times and we emphasized that we had to get through it together. We had to trust each other and we had to listen especially to our athletes. Listening to what the wanted. We listened to what were their concerns. Expanding communications with our parents, and that went beyond what we had ever done before, was good. As you go through hardship you become better communicators and openness was a big thing. We had to take it slowly, inch by inch, but we made it through.
LH : Coach Fernandez was one of the most outspoken critics of the obvious discrepancies between the treatment of the Men’s and the Women’s athletes in the basketball tournament. Do you expect to see the NCAA make monumental changes or is this just going to pass?
MK : No, I don’t think it will pass. I hope changes are coming. Some of the criticism was justified. I was with Coach Fernandez and I observed the differences. I think it’s going to happen. Frankly, I hope it happens. With basketball, there needs to be a balancing especially with the resources available to men’s basketball during the national tournament. I don’t think those are available to women’s basketball. I think the more input that universities have to invest into the women’s sports program, that makes them take things a little more seriously. That would be a great incentive to upgrade those sports and to expand them and to support the success that women’s sports deserve. In respect to the women’s basketball tournament, in particular, it shows that there are issues that need to be addressed. Based on why we’re here today, you can see by all the trophies that our women’s sports teams have been successful. We will continue to support them and keep expanded the USF brand. These trophies, as well as other successes, are a tribute to those ladies and gentlemen. It goes back to a question that was asked earlier. Every coach and every student athlete wants a piece of that success. This school is now becoming noticed nationally. You walk around the streets of Boston, and other places, they recognize the logo and respect it.
LH : Football was the guinea pig in terms of the Covid protocols. We would get on Zoom calls with Coach Scott and he would look like he was at the end of his rope. Was there a time where you just had to go in and tell him that “We understand. Get through the year and we’ll reset and start next year.” Did that occur?
MK : No, I did not say that directly but I did say this to all our head coaches at a meeting last year. I told them that this is about leading us through a crisis. This is about taking care of our young people during a pandemic. This was about communicating that to their parents. I want to win every game, of course, and everyone wanted to do that but our main interest was taking care of our people. I told Coach Scott that and that’s what we did. Because of that, I think our programs, because of that caring, are in a better place right now. We are trying to build an athletic program that people want to be a part of. One that they can’t wait to be a part of USF and Tampa Bay in general. It was tough because we knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. We were consistent in what we did and we cared about doing things the right way and caring about winning. Back then, as it is today, we want people to be safe. We are all citizens of the world and we are stronger citizens of the world today. That’s how we looked at it.