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Acadiana Lifestyle

The Midwestern Cajun

09/15/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Bryan Maggard Takes The Helm At UL

By Scott Brazda  |  Photos by Fusion Photography

"So when people say, ‘What do you do?’, I kind of describe it this way:  As an athletics director, you manage situations and expectations.”

The expectations usually come from the fans, while the situations are brought about by the players, coaches, and sometimes external factors in the community.  As per his own definition, new UL-Lafayette Director of Athletics Bryan Maggard has already dealt with each and every one of those situations and expectations. “How’s it going?  It’s going,” answers Maggard.  “Even as I approach ‘Month Five,’ I’m still drinking water through a fire hose.  But the pressure isn’t as strong as it was on ‘Day One.’”

Maggard’s decision to leave the University of Missouri last spring wasn’t an altogether easy one; there was family (he and wife Kerry have three children) and there was the stability and security that comes with being at the same school for 22 years. 

He served in a variety of capacities at Missouri, including a prior role as academics counselor for the Tiger football team; that allowed him to have the best of both worlds: one foot on the campus side, one foot on the athletic side.  “I enjoyed the experience, and through 22 years was given more responsibility and eventually positioned to have a broader view of Missouri athletics.”  As the executive associate athletic director at Mizzou, life was pretty good.

 But still, the 50 year old from Wichita, Kansas knew UL’s offer to replace Scott Farmer was practically a ‘once in blue moon’ opportunity.  “We knew when our kids finished high school we would be open to entertaining opportunities should they present themselves,” explains Maggard.  “And in my industry, these are tough jobs to get. So, yes, you should be selective, but these jobs are sometimes far and few between.  So if you want to be an athletic director, you might have to go somewhere that wasn’t on your radar.”

“My approach to the athletics director position is to be very visible and to be very engaging with the various communities we serve. I don’t feel like I can lead behind the desk; I want to be out there to focus on the bigger picture.”

Bryan Maggard made it to the round of seven finalists for the UL job (“...This was considered a very good gig, and it was very competitive….”) and with each discussion, he knew the University had all of the elements needed for success. “One, there’s the leadership; you don’t get any better than (University President) Dr. Savoie.  Two, there is the quality of degrees, and we knew this was a great institution to which we could recruit student-athletes. And third, there are the athletics programs, and there are the traditions of winning, of success.  It’s been proven that the Ragin’ Cajuns sports teams can be very successful here.”

But a university with a winning tradition in a number of sports is one thing; finding a place that a husband and wife believe can become home is something else to consider.  “And finally for us, there was the community,” says Maggard.  “Kerry and I both felt this was a place where we could live, and the quality of lifestyle and values was a perfect fit.  We looked at everything we needed to make this move, and then checked the box on all of them.”  

“The secret to good leadership is pretty simple; surround yourself with people smarter than you.  If I’m the least smart person on my team, then I’ve done my job well.”

He knew he needed to surround himself with top-notch lieutenants, i.e. experts who knew their jobs and whom Maggard could count on to get those jobs done.  “I’m not good at having to deal with the minutiae; more often than not, I’ll go in and screw things up,” he laughs.  “Jessica Leger is my deputy athletics director, and I recently hired Nico Yantko to be my director of external affairs.  Plus, Monique Ardoin is our CFO and Jim Harris is the executive director of the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics Foundation (RCAF).  I really rely on those individuals.”

An all-too-common practice for new leaders is to come in and, right from the start, shake things up.  Not so for UL’s new director of athletics.  “I committed myself to coming in and just listening to people; that was really important to me.  I had gone through two athletics director transitions at Missouri in 18 months, and probably more than anything, during that experience I learned both how not to do things and how to do things.”  And then there was the matter of putting ego aside.  “I was definitely not going to come in and simply make changes just to make changes, just to put my stamp on things.”

“And look, I think Scott Farmer (former Ragin’ Cajuns athletics director) did a fantastic job,” continues Maggard.  “He and even his predecessors were the ones who really carried the water, so to speak, on all of these facilities enhancements.  And I get to be the one who’s cutting ribbons and attending dedications at baseball stadiums.”

With his staff in place, Maggard then began to go out into the community and meet with members of Cajun Nation.  “I’ve probably been to every parish in Acadiana, and will continue to do so.  I mean, we can hardly expect them to come to our events if we don’t go to theirs.  We’re all in this together; when it comes to the University and our fans, well, we need each other.”

“Communicate, communicate, communicate…make sure my boss is always fully informed about what’s happening in his athletic department.  And I will never bring him a problem without at least a couple solutions; he may not like those, but we can strategize from there.”

“I’m never going to just drop something on Dr. Savoie’s desk,” explains Maggard on the relationship between University President and Director of Athletics.  “I’m the expert on all things ‘athletics,’ he’s not; and I need to act accordingly, like I’m advising him.”

“It’s crisis management, and in college athletics, it’s not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when.’”

Maggard had hardly signed on the bottom line when he faced his first crisis.  Thirteen Ragin’ Cajuns football players were arrested for breaking into a dorm room and stealing items worth $2,400.  They were charged with felony theft.  “We’re all given the God-given ability to choose our own actions, but when we do that, we lose the right to choose the consequences for those actions—judicial consequences, institutional consequences, departmental consequences.”  

Although the charges were later reduced to misdemeanor criminal mischief---and the players can eventually have those charges dropped through a pre-trial diversion program--- Maggard was understandably disappointed. “I know a lot of people get impatient; there was the concern, have we lost control of the program?  And I can tell you absolutely not; by no means were we at Defcon 5. And I was extremely proud of how Coach (Mark) Hudspeth owned it.”

“The worst thing we can do in our business is to go silent, and not come out with a statement.  Through communications, transparency, integrity, you have to own it.  At the end of the day, you have to own it.” 

Hudspeth is just one of 11 head coaches inherited by Maggard, and he is more than willing let those coaches do what they’re paid to do.  “I told them when I first met them, ‘I’m not a coach, I never have coached, and I’ll never tell you how to run your program.’ They’re the CEOs of their programs.”  

And he likes what he sees in those programs:

• Baseball:  “Power Five program; can compete with anyone in America.”

• Softball:  “Power Five program; can compete with anyone in America.”

• Football:  “Very competitive program; a program that can and should dominate the Sun Belt Conference.”

• Men’s Basketball: “The potential is there; we need to focus on winning conference championships.  I think we have the facilities to succeed.”

• Women’s Basketball:  “Coach Brodhead is a rock. In a short time, he’s someone I’ve become very fond of.”

“My job—and I go to bed every night thinking about this--- and wake up every morning doing the same. How can I help position our coaches to compete more for championship?”

That positioning means giving those coaches and programs the resources they need to compete.  The problem is, those resources cost money, the availability of which has been reduced in large part by the economic struggles of the oil industry.  “I’d love for us to follow through on the recommendation of mixed-use real estate,” says Maggard.  “We have a footprint here—we have a lot of real estate-- and we’re not remotely capitalizing on that enough.  It’s real, and it’s where we will make our hay, incorporating retail space and housing up above our sports venues.  This will provide revenue streams that will enhance this department like no one’s ever seen.”

In the meantime, The Bryan Maggard Era of Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics is nearing the six-month mark.  “We’re loving it here. The people are very engaging.  I’ve learned that if you ask people here ‘how you doing?’ they’ll tell you,” he laughs. “And I like that.”

And as to when the Maggard Plan will go fully into effect?  “I think it’ll take a calendar year before I feel like I’ve really settled in.  It’s going well and I’ve enjoyed the experience….”

“I’m working with fantastic people and Lafayette is an amazing community.”


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