Most Georgia Southern fans still hadn’t shaken off the haze of the always-blurry week between Christmas and New Year’s when they were surprised to hear that the Eagles will have a new person heading up the athletics department in the coming weeks.
With Tom Kleinlein’s announcement that he’s off to Ole Miss, Georgia Southern finds itself looking for an athletics director for the first time since it was an FCS school. While the university is roughly the same in terms of students, it will be a whole new ballgame for the next person to take the reins.
For starters, Georgia Southern Athletics is a much larger operation nowadays. The budget is now well over $20 million where it hovered around half that mark before Kleinlein took over. There are also more sports to oversee as women’s golf and women’s rifle began play in conjunction with the school’s move to FBS. There is also the pressure to keep up with the Jones’ as the Sun Belt features large public schools that are continually growing as opposed to the Eagles’ former home in the private school-dominated Southern Conference.
So with all the changes that have taken place since the school’s last athletic director hire, I think it’s time to keep that trend going.
It’s likely that — following Kleinlein’s final day on the job and during the school’s national search for his replacement — a member of the current athletics administration staff will be named the interim athletic director. The Eagles definitely have an ideal candidate in current Deputy AD Lisa Sweany, who served as the athletic director at Armstrong Atlantic before the school was absorbed by Georgia Southern. The rest of the current staff is equally talented, with most of those in senior positions boasting over a decade of proven success at Georgia Southern and elsewhere.
By all accounts, Sweany did a good job at Armstrong and has continued the good work in Statesboro. But the athletic program in its current state is in need of a shove forward, and keeping the administration in roughly the same order isn’t the best way to accomplish that.
Five years ago, the school boasted a skyrocketing football team, a men’s basketball squad on the verge of making the NCAA tournament and a baseball and men’s golf team that were postseason regulars. Nothing has fallen off a cliff since then, but nothing has gotten significantly better either.
More importantly, the surge of money and fans that ushered in the FBS era has slowed. The stands haven’t been as crowded at any GS venues in recent seasons and balancing the budget is becoming a tougher task with each season.
It’s time for Georgia Southern to think outside the box.
The school and its athletic programs are too big and too notable to not transform into something bigger than they currently are. Maybe that needs the touch of a business-savvy director who can bring more donors and partnerships into the fold? Maybe it will take an aggressive and visible athletic director that will challenge the bubble immediately outside of Statesboro that is full of potential fans that don’t always fall on the Eagles’ side of the fence.
Kleinlein’s efforts were much-needed and he was the right guy at the right time for what had to be accomplished half a decade ago.
Now it’s time for Georgia Southern to find the right person once again. And if the athletic program wants to be more of a national presence, then it would do well to make sure it covers every corner of the map to find that person.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.