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4 posts from February 8, 2013

February 08, 2013

New UM Canes AD Blake James Speaks on Everything from Fans to Stadium Issue



"I was thrilled to be notified today that I’m going to be able to continue on on a permanent basis. Having served as the athletics director for the last four months it was an interview process that’s probably been longer than most, but one that was a great experience and that I have valued tremendously and obviously look forward to continuing to move this program forward.

 I think we have great days ahead. We have a great staff, great coaches and I’m looking forward to bringing us back to the top and enjoying all the benefits of being here in Miami and being at the U."

 When you were given the interim tag, you said you had to get up to speed quickly as to where things are in the NCAA investigation. Could it be construed that when you did get up to speed, you still wanted the job?

  "I would want this job no matter what the situation was. Without commenting on the NCAA situation, obviously I’m excited about where our program is going and what I think the future is for this program. With that said, I think to be fair this is a job that I’ve wanted for my 20 years in this business and so regardless of anything out there, I’d be excited to be on the phone today representing the University of Miami as its new athletics director. It’s hard for me to answer that question because we can’t comment on the NCAA process.

 The ncaa investigation is not a concern of mine in terms of this job.. I look forward to helping our institution through the process and bringing us to the place where I know all our fans want us to be for ACC and national championships."

  5 ½ years In Maine, how did that help you prepare for this day?

"It was a huge benefit. The Univ of Maine program is a big part of the state of Maine. So to be able to sit in this chair for five years, and while the AP wasn’t necessarily covering everything going on, the television stations, the radio outlets, the media markets there followed the news of the Maine athletic program very closely. So to have those challenges that all of my counterparts around the country face on a daily basis, to be able to handle those for 5 ½ years gave me the necessary experience to step into this one, where the spotlight is probably greater and the magnifying glass is probably greater than any other program in the country. But again, I’ve had the benefit of having to deal with very similar issues for five-plus year."

What were you expecting when you came back from Maine?

"It’s funny you asked that question. I was texting with Kirby Hocutt earlier today. Kirby is the one who brought me back here. As I said to Kirby, when I took the job here I hoped this day would come. I wasn’t looking for this to be a stepping stone to somewere else. I really took it with the idea that someday I’d be sitting in this chair. I didn’t imagine the path that I would follow to get her but again, this was the job I came here for. And if it wasn’t something that worked out, I wanted to be in the Miami market. I wanted my kids to be able to grow up in this community and be a part of the community here. My wife and I really enjoy living in South Florida and this is where we wanted to be. I’m thrilled the opportunity worked out for me a little over two years later to be in the athletic director’s role."

Is there anything you can say about the baseball team and Biogenesis clinic and if you’ve been approached by MLB?

 “I would defer to our comment on our situation yesterday. As we’ve said before, there’s an ongoing investigation with that situation and I wouldn’t comment beyond that."

 Anything you’d like to instill that you did at maine that you look forward to doing as an AD? Something we haven’t seen? Or status quo?

"I think things are always changing. So I wouldn’t say there’s anything particular at Maine – different places, different programs. We need to win acc championships. All of us can look and see how many we’ve won and say, we need to win more than what we’re winning and so to do that, we need to provide our coaches with the resources and support they need to be their very best and our student-athletes with the support they need to be their very best. Without getting into real specifics, those are the things we need to do. I’m confident that with the group of coaches we have here that we’ll be able to bring ACC championships back to Coral Gables.

 "If you’re winning championships in the ACC, then you’re in the position to win national championships in any of those sports. I think that’s ultimately what we want the goal to be. We need to be winning championships. I think those days are coming in the future. Obviously we have a great ride going in men’s basketball right now and we’re excited where Coach Larranaga has that program. We’ll continue to do what we need to do to have all of our programs in a similar position."   

 On being the permanent AD:

"The way I look at it is when I took over on Oct. 4 I was in the role of the athletic director and it was important for me at that point to be in the role of athletic director and do the things that I felt we needed to do as a program. Because if we’re standing still and I was just there to, I guess, keep the boat from steering off path, then I wasn’t doing the job and I don’t think I would have put myself in the position to have this opportunity now today. So I don’t think there’s anything in particular that I would do differently than what I’ve done in the past other than I think I’ll be a little more aggressive in terms of really setting up a long-term strategic plan for where we’re going to go.

You don’t want to establish a long-term strategic plan unless you really plan on being somewhere long term, and I would tell everyone I plan on being here very long term and many great days ahead at the U."

 I know you’re very much in touch with the fans and the community and people are happy about that. How important do you think that is for an AD?

"In my opinion I think it’s something that’s critical. For us to be in communication with the fans is something that I feel as a program we need to do. Again, credit to our communication staff. I think they do a good job of getting info out. I think they do a good job of pushing me to get info out. Additionally, I think it’s a situation where when you look at the U of M, we don’t have the ability to just go out and raise dollars by saying, hey send your ticket invoice in along with your donation, and thank you.’ It’s something where I think we have to get very aggressive. You hear people use the Canes Family slogan quite a bit and I think in many ways that’s true. We’re a small private school, we’re a family in many ways and everyone is important in the family. So as the head of the family it’s important for me, in my opinion, to have a real open line of communication and a real open access to all members.

So, whether it’s the person that has been with the program forever and maybe is writing a big check or a person who is new to the program writing a big check that they’re there. At the same time, maybe the person who can’t afford to write a check at all and wants just to buy tickets or come out. You know having them have access also. Obviously you can only talk to so many people in a day, or tweet, or email, but to me, it’s important that I’m as accessible to as many as possible and that includes everyone on the call and I hope you guys continue to feel that way."

Baseball and NCAA stuff: Has the NCAA opened up an investigation or are they just monitoring?

"What I would say is we’re doing our part with the investigation. I wouldn’t be able to comment on what the ncaa is or isn’t doing, that’s something they determine... from our side we’re addressing the issue and looking into it and moving forward and beyond that I wouldn’t be able to speculate on what the NCAA is or isn’t doing."

Re the Interview process, how many times did you sit down with interviewers?

  "On Oct. 4 president Shalala notified me that I was going to be serving as the acting athletic director and really for me the interview process began on that day. Over the last four months and four days I guess there have been a number of situations that are real-life situations. Many times you try to play out interviews and try to present scenarios in interviews.  The benefit for president Shalala here was she got to see how I responded in those situations. So at the end, yes, there was a formal interview process but really the interview was a 4 month and 4 day process, not a one day and one meeting process."

 Do you plan to stay long term?

"I plan to be here as long as they’ll have me here. This is where my wife and I wanted to be. This is where we wanted to raise our children. And this is the job that I’ve always wanted. My plan is that I’ll be here until I retire. I’m hoping that’s a good 20 years down the road. I’m 43 right now, so 63, 65 – I guess I’d like to get at least to that point and beyond that I think it would just be an enjoyable ride to the end. I have no intentions of leaving.

When I took this job with Kirby my hope was that at some point Kirby would decide it was right for him to move on and this opportunity would present itself. I wouldn’t have predicted the timeline or the path to get here, but this was the one that I wanted.

I haven’t signed, finalized the agreement yet, but it will be a five year deal."

Was there any point you felt uneasy, like you were making decisions and walking on eggshells almost as if you were auditioning while trying to lead at the same time? How did you balance that?

 "In college athletics, you’re on the stage everyday. And whether it’s for four months, you never know when the end is going to come. I think it’s very similar to what coaches do. This isn’t a job you get and you have it from 7 to 3:30 and you punch in and punch out and take an hour for lunch and operate that way. This is a job that goes nonstop. You don’t know when the calls are going to come or when the events are going to happen and it’s something you just have to be ready to go at. I looked at it on oct. 4 as the job was starting on that day and I felt if I did everything that I needed to do and I knew I could do that this day would happen. It was hard for me to predict when that would be, but I’m happy that it happened today and if wasn’t until four more months I would have continued to operate as I have been for the past four months. I guess I will say, though, that I’m thrilled that it became a more permanent situation today, but those are things than can change. You have to continue to make good decisions and lead the program to where it needs to go."

 Who is the new UM RBs coach?

"I don’t think we’ve determined that yet but I know we’re working on that and I’m sure we’ll get it finalized here real soon."

When is an on-campus football stadium going to be built?

 "In all seriousness, as I said before, there isn’t anyone who would enjoy an on-campus stadium more than I would, but it’s not a realistic situation to even discuss. We don’t have the land for it, and if we did have the land, there just isn’t the infrastructure in this place. We’re playing in a first-rate facility that is in the process of only getting better and I’m confident that we’re putting our student-athletes into a premier facility in the country and with the new additions we’re going to put our fans into an environment that will be even better. I’m not going to say it’s going to ever create anything what the Orange Bowl was, because those were special days and games that I would go to at the OB but I think it’s going to create a much different environment and an atmosphere that will much more closely resemble the atmosphere we had at the Orange Bowl."





Blake James: UM's new athletic director, got a standing ovation this morning -- and UM spring practice dates announced

First, congratulations to new, permanent Miami athletic director Blake James, a super nice person who absolutely does not shy away from the media -- or from mingling with fans and attending UM sports events. I was told by UM Board of Trustee members that he has done a great job in his interim capacity since October, and that he handled the entire aspect of the program well since then -- from the NCAA mess to dealing with employees to fundraising.

I talked to some folks today about James and what went down this morning at the National UM Board of Trustees meeting in Coral Gables:

* Blake was brought in toward the end of the executive session as a surprise by UM president Donna Shalala, who introduced him as UM's new athletic director. The whole place, I was told, cheered and gave him a standing ovation. Blake was grinning from ear to ear.

* "Everyone was overwhelmed,'' one trustee said. "They all cheered and shook his hand.''

* "I didn't hear one person disagree with the choice of Blake,'' a trustee told me. "He had a smile on him that you couldn't wipe off in 10 years.''  

* James was chosen by Shalala and her search committee, headed by UM Board of Trustees member David Epstein. The Board overwhelmingly approved, though there wasn't a formal vote taken, I was told.

 * I was told James' hiring doesn't necessarily mean there will soon be closure on the NCAA investigation of Miami -- but that it doesn't necessarily mean there won't be closure soon either (LOL, sorry, that's what I was told). More than one person said Shalala and company are so sure that Blake will stay at UM, regardless of what happens to UM re the NCAA case, that she felt confident about naming him the permanent guy now. 

*Shalala said more a bit more than 100 people expressed interest in the AD job.

* A trustee told me there were about 40 people present today at the meeting.

Have an awesome weekend everyone! We're getting Blake on a conference call in the next hour.

Hurricanes' three spring scrimmage dates set

UM's spring football schedule was released Friday. The first of 15 practices begins March 2nd.

Three scrimmages will be open to the public.

> March 23: First scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami (10 a.m.)

> April 5: Second scrimmage in Naples (7 p.m.).

> April 13: Annual Spring Football Game (3 p.m.) at Sun Life Stadium.

For the first time, the Canes will hold a "Student Appreciation Day" during their Tuesday, March 26th practice at Greentree Practice Field. With the exception of March 26 and the three scrimmages, all practices are closed to the public.



Hurricanes three spring scrimmage dates set

UM's spring football schedule was released Friday. The first of 15 practices begins March 2nd.

Three scrimmages will be open to the public.

> March 23: First scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami (10 a.m.)

> April 5: Second scrimmage in Naples (7 p.m.).

> April 13: Annual Spring Football Game (3 p.m.) at Sun Life Stadium.

For the first time, the Canes will hold a "Student Appreciation Day" during their Tuesday, March 26th practice at Greentree Practice Field. With the exception of March 26 and the three scrimmages, all practices are closed to the public.

Blake James sheds interim title, hired as full-time athletic director at Miami

The University of Miami announced Friday that Blake James has shed his title as interim athletic director and been hired for the position full-time. James had been serving as the interim AD since October 2012.

“Blake James has proven that he has the experience, skills, leadership and especially the love for the University that we need in Athletics,” University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala said in a statement released by the school.

James came to UM three years ago as Senior Associate AD after spending seven years the University of Maine, where he served as Senior Associate Athletic Director before serving as Director of Athletics from July 2005 to September 2010. In that role, his primary responsibilities focused on marketing, ticketing, retail operations and athletics development, along with men's and women's track and field, cross country, men's soccer, men's basketball and baseball.

“I’m honored to be named the Director of Athletics here at the University of Miami,” James said. “I want to thank President Shalala and the Board of Trustees for the opportunity as we continue to move forward through these difficult times. We have assembled a great athletics staff with tremendous head coaches and I am grateful to be a Miami Hurricane.”

During his tenure at Maine, athletics experienced tremendous success, including three trips to the Frozen Four for the men's ice hockey program and NCAA playoff berths for football, baseball (two), women's basketball and softball. Additionally, James implemented a comprehensive $17 million facility improvement plan, which included an indoor practice facility and numerous other facility upgrades and renovations. Academically, the program flourished, earning the conference academic cup twice and maintaining better than a 3.0 GPA.

Prior to his stint at James worked in athletics development at Providence College, where he established the "Friars Forever" campaign and the Friar Athletic Fund.

No stranger to South Florida, James began his athletic career with UM, working in ticket sales, corporate sales and athletics development while a graduate student at St. Thomas University.

He graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato with a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1992 and received his master's degree from St. Thomas University in 1994. He and his wife Kelly have two children, Haley and Ryan.