An athletic director is responsible for big money, big decisions and big exposure for any program. So it follows that the search to fill that role at any school is bound to be conducted by some of the most trusted, powerful and influential people at the school.
Georgia Southern’s ongoing search for a new athletic director is no exception as it begins the process of replacing Tom Kleinlein, and it’s notable that - alongside the expected department heads and high-profile boosters expected to have a say in the matter - a pair of student-athletes have been chosen to round out the 22-person committee.
Eagle quarterback Shai Werts and swimmer Ashley Kubel will be privy to all of the thoughts and considerations that will ultimately lead to the hiring of a new athletic director in the coming weeks. Kubel currently serves as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which communicates with administrators for the school and athletic department, as well as NCAA representatives, on many matters that affect athletes’ lives on and off the field. Werts is going into his senior season and is a team captain and one of the most recognized and respected athletes on campus.
“It’s an honor to be included,” Kubel said. “I know that there are going to be questions and concerns that the student-athletes have about the process, so it’s great to be involved. Honestly, it just solidifies all of the reasons I’m already here. I chose Georgia Southern for the chance to compete in sports, but also because of the welcoming environment and this shows their commitment to it.”
“I was a little surprised to be asked, but I’m grateful for it,” Werts said. “I don’t really think of myself as the most important guy who should have a say in everything, but I was glad that they wanted to keep us involved.”
While it’s built right into the title that the athletic director will oversee the student-athlete Eagles, it’s not always clear how the top person in the department affects the hundreds of scholarship and walk-on athletes on a day-to-day basis.
When word broke just after the new year that Kleinlein was leaving, there were mixed reactions throughout the Eagle fan base. Plenty acknowledged Kleinlein’s efforts to help the program move to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference while others immediately had laundry lists of things that the next athletic director could do differently or better.
Werts was among many athletes that were sad to see him go, mostly because of contributions Kleinlein made out of the public eye.
“People can say what they want, and that’s fine,” Werts said. “But (Kleinlein) has done so much for me and for other athletes that doesn’t have anything to do with winning games. We’ve talked a lot over the years about things other than school and football and he’s been a great supporter. I guess that’s something that we’ll definitely want with the next athletic director.”
No formal meeting of the search committee has occurred, but it is expected that things will start to build momentum quickly. Deputy Athletic Director Lisa Sweany has been named the interim Athletic Director and will take over Kleinlein’s duties following his final day Jan. 21.