Education a priority for Alford as new AD at CMU

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Central Michigan's new athletic director comes from the University of Oklahoma.

So, naturally, it had to be asked what he thought of his new school's controversial victory in football over his chief rival, Oklahoma State, this past fall.

Michael Alford

Michael Alford laughed off the question, and declined to comment. But Central Michigan president George E. Ross jumped right in and took the bait.

"I have a comment," Ross said of Central Michigan's 30-27 victory that Oklahoma State officials decline to consider a loss. "We won!"

Ross believes he also won, big-time, in his hiring of Alford, announced Monday. He replaces longtime athletic director Dave Heeke, who left for the same job at Arizona.

Alford emerged as the last person standing in a wide-ranging search that netted Central Michigan about 40 candidates, about half from the Division I level, with some from Power Five conferences, like Alford at Oklahoma, and others from Group of Five conferences, as is Central Michigan's status.

His first day will be July 3, taking over for interim athletic director Marcy Weston.

"We had a pretty broad array of candidates from across the country," Ross said. "Michael stood above in my conversations with him."

Alford, 47, is the senior associate athletic director for administration and development at Oklahoma, and has a background in marketing and fundraising — two instrumental skills at the mid-major level, as Central Michigan is in the Mid-American Conference. At Oklahoma, he was the face behind a $160 million renovation at the football stadium, and he also orchestrated multiple capital campaigns, the most recent being a $7 million basketball facility, which is scheduled to open in Norman next year.

Alford was one of four finalists for the job, beating out Mike Harrity, Chris King and Marie Tuite, the interim athletic director at San Jose State who was the lone finalist with strong ties to Central Michigan and the state of Michigan.

A 16-person search committee, headline by football star Antonio Brown, came up with the finalists. There was no recommendation from the committee. The final decision was Ross' alone.

"I believe they brought me four of the best (candidates) in America," Ross said. "Was it a difficult decision? Yes. But I believe the right decision."

Ross said he was searching for an athletic director who knows how to put the student-athletes first, and not just when it comes to athletics, but academics, too. Central Michigan is one of 13 universities without a major NCAA violation, and Alford, an expert in compliance, said he expects that to remain the case.

Prior to his time at Oklahoma, Alford was senior director for corporate partnerships and sales for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys from 2008-12; he was at Alabama from 2004-08; and he's also worked for ESPN, the Cincinnati Bengals, Southern California and the University of Cincinnati.

He played baseball at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1993. He earned his masters's at the University of Arkansas in 1995.

On Monday, he laid out his three main messages, the first being education. Alford's parents both receivers masters's in education, and both were teachers.

"Our job in athletics," said Alford, "is to support the educational mission of the university."

Alford said he already has met with several Central Michigan coaches, some who were on the search committee and others who were part of the interview process. He plans to sit down with each coach, individually, once he officially starts on the job.

He wants to hear each of their visions, particularly when it comes to facilities. He's already done a walk-through in several facilities.

"I'm going to be listening a lot," Alford said. "You've got two ears and one mouth for a reason. That's what I'm going to be doing, hearing visions."

Visions, of course, are one thing. Reality is another. At Oklahoma, Alford helped run a self-sustaining athletic department with an annual budget of more than $120 million. At Central Michigan, the athletic budget is around $30 million, nearly 75 percent of which is subsidized by the university's general fund, i.e. student tuition dollars.

Alford is married to Laura, a former volleyball player at Hawaii and coach at Cincinnati. They have three daughters, including one who plays volleyball at Oklahoma.

"We love college towns," Alford said. "It's something that is a draw.

"Mount Pleasant is just unbelievable, how beautiful a town it is."

He will hold an introductory press conference on campus June 8.

Eastern Michigan continues to search for its next athletic director, to replace Heather Lyke, who left for Pittsburgh. Last week, interim AD Christian Spears also left to join Lyke’s staff at Pittsburgh, after he was told he wouldn’t be a candidate for the full-time job. Eastern Michigan, which is using a national search firm and a 12-person committee, is expected to begin interviews next month.