College notes: Q&A with Wayne State AD Rob Fournier
This is the sixth in a series of Q&As with the state's athletic directors.
This week: Wayne State's Rob Fournier, who's been on the job since 2000 and helped oversee a significant rise in the stature of the football program, among other notable accomplishments.
■ Question: Of course, we've gotta start with football. How solid is the foundation since making the 2011 national-championship game, and where is the program headed?
■ Answer: I'm very encouraged by the football program, especially the fact that we've been able to keep Coach (Paul) Winters here. Under his tenure, we've created some obvious longevity that's helped our program. He's assembled a strong staff, I think that's led to success since he's come on board. You can obviously see the results, culminating with that national championship game (35-21 loss to Pittsburg State). We've kind of reverse the perception of Wayne State football. My first year when I got here, we played five homecoming games, one of which being ours (laughs). You sit back and look at that and say, 'OK, that's not good.' They obviously don't do that anymore.
■ Q: Speaking of Winters, he was one of your first hires, along with men's basketball coach David Greer. Both are still there. How challenging has it been to keep Winters?
■ A: Well, you know, after the championship run, he had a lot of offers, people always look at him. It's a better question for Paul, but when you establish a good relationship in this kind of business, that's as important as some of the other intangibles. The world of athletics can be so fickle. You can look up and down the job vacancies, movements, people jumping over each other ... It can be a little unnerving, and I think when you find a comfort spot, when people trust each other and you realize that they have a shared interest and aren't just in it for themselves, that kind of situation is difficult to find. And I think that not only leads to success, but leads to people wanting to stay.
■ Q: A couple years back, you installed lights at Tom Adams Field. This year, you take full advantage, with your first four home games on the schedule being night games. What's the thought process there?
■ A: You try to find that spot, you find a time that's comfortable for your fans, but also conducive to the kind of events and activities you want to put on that are kid- and family-friendly. That's part of it. And just for the college campus, that mystique of playing under the lights adds a dimension. The fact that all the home games are on TV is certainly another bit of excitement that generates enthusiasm that college kids want to be a part of that. You have time to do your tailgating or your pregame stuff, still do whatever day activities there are, then finish it off with an evening of football.
■ Q: In April, you officially opened the $2.3-million Harwell Field, home of the baseball team, to rave reviews — including from some former Tigers, like Alan Trammell. How proud are you of that project, which incorporates some of the design aspects of places like Tiger Stadium, Fenway Park and old Ebbets Field?
■ A: It's a landing spot for people, now, this year, with football games, basketball games. It's just one more added piece to the athletic campus, 'Gee, I've heard about this, read about this, I want to actually see it in person.' ... I remember showing it to Alan Trammell the day before the grand opening, and he just stood there in the middle of it, 'Oh my gosh, this is beyond what my expectations were.' And this is a guy who's been around a few places. It's really a signature piece that makes us kind of unique.
■ Q: Is the Harwell Field project finished, or what's to come? And how much was the project prioritized, given Wayne State is the only Division I or II collegiate baseball team in Detroit?
■ A: There's a Phase 2 and a Phase 3. We're gonna add a double-tiered press box to the facility, and add some lights to that facility to open up more opportunities, not just for our baseball team, but high school and state playoff games. Obviously, night baseball is something that will add to the appeal. ... I still remember when I first came here, the president at the time had approached me about eliminating baseball. I could understand why. We played on a field that had rocks and divots, it looked like an abandoned city playground. ... I could see why people would think baseball didn't have a future. Now if you look at our recent success, four of the last six years in the NCAA Tournament, we've put out players that are now playing in the pros.
This and that
■ Sherron Dorsey-Walker, the star of the Oakland men's basketball team last season and the lone graduating senior from the Horizon League regular-season championship team, signed his first professional contract, to play with Zwolle of the Dutch Basketball League. The former Detroit Pershing star, a 6-foot-4, 211-pound guard, averaged 13.4 points and led the Golden Grizzlies in assists during 2016-17.
■ Former Michigan pitcher Chris Fetter is coming back to Ann Arbor to be Erik Bakich's pitching coach. He comes to Michigan after a season at Ball State, following a career working in various jobs in minor-league baseball -- including with the Dodgers and Angels. He was a ninth-round draft pick by the Padres out of college, and at Michigan, he replaces Sean Kenny, who took a job with Georgia.
■ It's a milestone year for Central Michigan women's basketball, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this coming season. Plenty of activities are scheduled, including a Team 50 scrimmage and women's basketball tailgate ahead of the CMU-Toledo football game on Oct. 14.
■ Katie Minasola, a Grand Rapids native and former Michigan State assistant coach, is the new women's gymnastics coach at Eastern Michigan. She competed at UMass and later Central Michigan.