This week, we’re starting an occasional series in which we catch up with the state’s Division I athletic directors, via five questions. First up: Oakland’s Jeff Konya. The Royal Oak native came to Oakland in 2014, after a run as athletic director at Cal State-Bakersfield.
■Question: Oakland is entering Year 5 in the Horizon League. What are the expectations for the men’s basketball program?
■Answer: With our basketball program, Coach (Greg) Kampe has had a lot of success. Most recently, we won the regular season last year, and he’s had a great career. He just got elected into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, which is a tremendous accomplishment. But I do think success for us is going to be measured by postseason play, and hopefully this is the year we can put all the pieces together and really put a nice run together. We took some steps with our performance in the NIT (win over Clemson), we took some steps with our Vegas 16 participation a couple years ago, and we’ve played competitive schedules, and there should be a maturation with this current crop. We have a lot of talent on the team. I’m hopeful this is the year all the i’s get dotted and the t’s get crossed.
■Q. What’s the biggest challenge in overseeing a mid-major program?
■A. It’s probably the same at every Division I program out there — the sense you have to keep up with your competition, keep up with the Joneses. From our perspective, we have some facility challenges that we really have to overcome as it relates to the O’Rena, and our locker rooms, and our lack of a practice facility, and our lack of a film room. We we need better academic space.
■Q. You have a reputation of thinking outside the box, like hiring co-head baseball coaches. How did that experiment work this year?
■A. In baseball, we only played nine home games (because of facilities, and rain). We played about that much at UIC (laughs). As it turned out, that facility was our home away from home. But we did play about 40 games on the road, and toward the end of the season, the team was starting to come together. They had a difficult start to the year, but as the year matured, the team grew and we had our best finish in a baseball tournament in Division I this year. The future is bright. We have great recruits coming in that’s gonna supplement the solid returners that are coming back into the program. I think Jacke (Healey) and Colin (Kaline) worked really well together. There obviously was a learning curve, as with any new staff, but I do think they have the same singular mind-set, a focused approach. They’re committed to working together, and it’s going to pay off down the road.
■ Q. You’ve made several coaching changes during year time in Rochester. What attributes do you most look for in a new hire?
■A. Fit. Period. I think the best hires are the ones who fit to work into your culture. You’re not necessarily hiring resumes or experiences or accomplishments, you’re hiring a total person and that person has to fit into what your vision and objectives are as an organization. I also think it’s imperative that whoever we hire can really connect with this generation of student-athlete, the millennials. A lot of our questions, a lot of how we evaluate coaches through the hiring process is how we project them to work with and influence the millennial student-athlete.
■Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve brought to Oakland, the thing of which you are most proud?
■A. Changing the culture, putting in some markers for what that culture’s going to stand for: innovation, marketing, branding, advertising, and the use of social networking. And we’ve made our sporting events real events that people want to be a part of. Our attendance (in men’s basketball) has tripled, our viewership on TV gets a lot more eyeballs. I think we’ve done an excellent job with the Oakland brand in the region and nationally.
Next week’s Q&A will be with Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard.
Earlier this month, Central Michigan athletics got a big surprise — and new athletic director Michael Alford, who officially starts July 3, got a big old welcoming gift.
During the silent-auction portion of the annual Chippewa Challenge golf outing, famous alum Dick Enberg, the Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, pledged to match the net profit from the event. Enberg and his wife, Barbara, went in 50-50 on the gift with venture investor Todd Anson and his wife, Terri, both also Central Michigan alums.
That led to the event raising a record $240,000.
“CMU offered two nobodies like Todd and me the chance to become somebodies,” Enberg said on CMUChippewas.com. “We want to lead by example by dynamically changing the culture around raising capital at CMU. Unless alumni give back, the quality or educational experiences at CMU are at risk. Stability and growth require financial strength. Excellence drives our lives. It drives CMU, too.”
Said Alford: “In my conversations with Mr. Enberg, he really points to his love for CMU and the opportunities it provided him. For him to feel compelled to assist our student-athletes with that gift during our first weekend in Mount Pleasant was extremely generous.”
Enberg, 82, will call, for Fox Sports Detroit, the Tigers’ three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 18-20 at Comerica Park.
This and that
Here’s Eastern Michigan’s 2017-18 men’s basketball recruiting class: Malik Ellison (Flint Beecher), Isaiah Green (Southfield; Lansing Community College), Ty Groce (Ypsilanti; Northeastern); Kevin McAdoo (West Bloomfield), Jorden Peterson (Detroit CMA) and Tariq Silver (Clarksville, Tenn.). Green and Groce are forwards, and the rest are guards.
Rob Murphy’s staff also has gotten a makeover this offseason, with the additions of Jimmy Wooten and Matt Cline as assistant coaches, and Kevin Mondro’s promotion to associate head coach.
... The Western Michigan hockey team, coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance, lost its fourth underclassman of the offeseason, with forward Frederik Tiffels signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He joins Sheldon Dries (Dallas Stars), Matheson Iacopelli (Chicago Blackhawks) and Griffen Molino (Vancouver Canucks).
... Courtney Shelton and Murriel Page have joined the Central Michigan women’s basketball coaching staff as assistants to Sue Guevara.