This is the fourth in a weekly series of quick-hit Q&As catching up with the state’s Division I athletic directors.
Up this week: Eastern Michigan’s Scott Wetherbee, who arrived from his previous job at Mississippi State to replace Heather Lyke. And interesting fact, he’s the third athletic director to graduate from Kalamazoo’s Loy Norrix, joining Western Michigan’s Kathy Beauregard and former Eastern Illinois AD Barbara Burke, who’s now in the athletic department at Iowa.
Wetherbee’s first official day on the job will be later this month, and challenges, certainly, await.
■Question: A Kalamazoo native, you got your start in major college athletics as an intern in Western Michigan’s ticket office, but haven’t lived here for at least 20 years. What’s it like to finally get that call that you’re coming home?
■Answer: It’s very special to me, Michigan is, with my dad still living there and my sister and my uncle and my wife’s uncle (his wife is Tracy), so many family members. It means a lot to be able to come back home and raise my family as I was raised. I’m really excited about it — my kids (Taylor and Spencer), they thought it only snowed year-round in Michigan. I’m glad they got to see it’s actually not too bad there. (Laughs.) We’re excited. My dad was wearing me out for the last three weeks when he knew I was in the running. It means a lot to be coming back.
■Q: One of the biggest challenges at Eastern Michigan, particularly when it comes to athletics, is the school is squarely in the shadows of the University of Michigan, just down the road. How do you deal with that?
■A: You know, I just don’t think we need to even compare ourselves to them. We’re focused on being the best in the Mid-American Conference, focused on trying to strengthen our brand within the region so people are proud of going to Eastern. I’m going to focus on what we can control. They (Michigan) are always going to be right there, I can’t move them. We’ll embrace that part of it. I understand that, being on the flip side of that here at Mississippi State, we have Southern Miss up the road. I get that, with fans. But I’m not going to make that a focus. I’m going to worry about what we can control and help make it a great place.
■Q: Long a problem at Eastern Michigan has been ticket sales, especially when it comes to football, which for years has been among the worst-drawing colleges in Division I. Any early ideas on how to fix that issue?
■A: I’m going to come in eyes wide open and see what those challenges are. I’ve been down in the south, I haven’t been right there. But I’ve heard the attendance isn’t very good, we need more ticket revenue and more fundraising dollars. One thing I’ve always taken pride in is creating a great fan experience, where they’re enjoying the event so much it kind of becomes contagious, and so you attract more people. We’re going to have to get creative, think outside the box and create an event. I know we’ve got Tuesday night or Thursday night MACtion going on. We’re going to make that an event that people want to be a part of and hopefully grow it over time where people are going, ‘Man, what are they doing over there? I want to be a part of that.’ ”
■Q: You’ve been in major college athletics for two full decades. What was it like getting that call from Eastern Michigan president James Smith that you were finally going to be a Division I athletic director?
■A: It was special. I was actually at church, and we were actually having a going-away party for our worship leader, who has been here for six years, so it was kind of an emotional day at church anyway. And as soon as church ended, President Smith called me to offer me the job. All I thought about initially was my dad and coming home, what a great opportunity. I was just really, really excited. But I couldn’t come back into church and tell very many people. It was one of those things where you want to shout it from the rooftop. That part (staying quiet) was tough, but we went home afterward and set (the kids) down and explained, Dad’s got a new job. It was exciting for everybody. I’m just thankful and blessed.
■Q: Moving can be tough on kids. How did they react?
■A: My daughter was a little surprised. My son was like, ‘Yes!’ and started going into open-floor plans, talking about granite countertops. He’s a huge HGTV guy (laughs), he’s like, ‘I want this, this, this.’ My daughter is a really good gymnast and she’s been training here for four years and done really well. She was worried about that, but now she’s excited (after seeing Eastern’s facilities). It didn’t take long for her to see that.
Next week’s Q&A will be with Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels.
Tis the season for college football watch lists.
Several Michigan players have made preseason lists, as they are rolled out this month. Among them:
■Maxwell Award (outstanding player): Michigan State junior running back LJ Scott, Michigan junior quarterback Wilton Speight.
■Bednarik Award (defensive player): Michigan sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary, Michigan senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
■Mackey Award (tight end): Central Michigan senior Tyler Conklin, Western Michigan senior Donnie Ernsberger, Michigan sophomore Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
■Rimington Trophy (center), Michigan State senior Brian Allen, Central Michigan senior Austin Doan, Western Michigan junior John Keenoy, Eastern Michigan redshirt junior Dakota Tallman.
This and that
Nonconference basketball schedules have begun rolling out, including Oakland men, who, as previously reported will play marquee games against Michigan State, Kansas and Syracuse. Interestingly, Oakland also will play a home-and-home with Eastern Michigan, at Ypsilanti on Dec. 6 and at Rochester on Dec. 22. Greg Kampe has scheduled a game against every Division I state team except Central Michigan and Michigan.
... Wayne State football redshirt junior Deiontae Nicholas, who played at Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, is one of 146 nominees for the 2017 AFCA Good Works team, along with Ferris State’s Jake Daugherty, Hillsdale’s Danny Drummond, Kalamazoo College’s David Vanderkloot and Michigan Tech’s Cayman Berg-Morales. Final teams will be announced in September. To be eligible, players must be involved in charity work.
... Former Illinois tennis star Alexis Casati joined Western Michigan women’s tennis as an assistant coach.