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VOL. 132 | NO. 125 | Friday, June 23, 2017

Bowen Relishes Passion of Tigers’ Fan Base, Supports Tubby

By Don Wade

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University of Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen discussed a wide range of topics with The Daily News recently, ranging from conference realignment to the future of the basketball program to the intense passion of Tiger Nation. (Matthew Smith)

Today we delve into Part 2 of our interview with University of Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen. If you missed Part 1, which covered his background, facilities upgrades, the upcoming football season, and scheduling and ticketing, go to https://bitly.im/JsafZ.

In the second part of Bowen’s discussion with The Daily News, we talk about Wichita State joining the American Athletic Conference, conference realignment, men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith, the strong opinions people have here about Memphis sports, and the passion the city has for the Tigers.

First, however, a nod to the athletic department’s all-time high GPA of 3.176 in the fall of 2016. Among the other GPA records broken: male athletes (2.998), female athletes (3.484), and freshmen athletes (3.294).

“Academically, right now, we’re probably as good as anybody in the country,” Bowen said. “You come here as a student-athlete, we are making sure you are graduating with a degree from the University of Memphis.

“And now we’re having a jobs fair with the M Club and we’re getting CEOs of companies to meet our graduates. That’s the next big step for us. If I can say to you, you can come here and compete at a high level, get a degree, and oh by the way we have the opportunity to get you a job, that changes everything.”

Part 2

TDN: Want to get into conference realignment with you, but know you were part of the committee of athletic directors The American formed to consider Wichita State for membership. What was so appealing about them?

Bowen: Their president, their AD, and their coaches are magnificent examples of how you can continue to build your program and be successful and do it the right way. Tremendous community. Play in a tremendous arena. It seemed like a natural opportunity for us to put a 12th team in, non-football related, to put some balance in our scheduling. And it’s an old rivalry for Memphis. It fits in our footprint very well, their budgets are like our budgets. Their salary structure is like our salary structures. Quite frankly, it was a pretty easy decision.

TDN: Big 12 expansion turned out to be a lot of talk for no action. But for Memphis fans there was a hurtful period where the school had been excluded from consideration before the process fully played out. Now it seems like most fans are over it and the disappointment doesn’t linger. Is there an attitude of getting back to business and putting that all in the past?

Bowen: The college landscape – there were 287 changes that took place over an eight-year period in all levels of Division 1. But from the Power Five to the Group of Five … it morphed into all kinds of discussion because the perception now is that there’s a difference between us and them. Every time we go out and compete and win that difference starts to dissipate. The real changes between us are the levels of annual revenue. My revenue doesn’t look like the revenue that comes from any of the autonomous schools. But at the end of the day, as long as the scholarship totals stay the same, we have the ability to still compete.

TDN: So what’s next?

Bowen: The (American) has to become better to afford opportunity for anybody. I think now it’s clear that there will be a quiet period, which I consider very important for our conference and the University of Memphis, to get very, very good. To get the facilities. To get the fan base. And when our TV deal comes up in the spring of ’18 and we start talking about it, I do think we’ll have the opportunity to get a better television agreement, which will increase the revenue for our conference members which allows us to continue to build.

TDN: You don’t think realignment or expansion is over?

Bowen: At some point there will be another realignment. I’m very measured by the fact there will be change. I want to be one of the people picked to be part of the change.

TDN: What did you take away from Tubby’s first season?

Bowen: Tubby and I have been friends a while and I’ve always respected what Tubby’s been able to do wherever he’s been. He’s one of the finest coaches and gentlemen and he’s just renowned for his ability to come into an institution and regenerate and lead that program to postseason success. What I’ve enjoyed about being around Tubby this last season is how good he is at coaching the team during the game. Oklahoma, I was right behind the bench, and it was an amazing victory. South Carolina, too.

TDN: But among the fan base there is an unrest, or a concern maybe, that perhaps he didn’t realize what this particular job entails – all the community presence and promotion that is expected from the Tigers basketball coach. You think he’s getting the hang of that, getting out there more?

Bowen: Now we’ve gotten through a full cycle, you’ll see more and more of that. He’s asked me on numerous occasions, “What else can I do, where else can I go? I want to be a part of everything.” He’s a great mentor to all of our coaches and student-athletes. Remember, Tubby wasn’t looking for a job. I went out and recruited him and convinced him to come to Memphis. I feel good about what Tubby will continue to do and I think Memphis will, too. We’ve got to wait and see what next season brings and I think it will be a very good season.

TDN: Passion sometimes comes out in the form of criticism. There’s obviously been some of that in the media, on sports talk radio, with fans, concerning the basketball program. How do you view that?

Bowen: I’ve had people be very poignant with their opinion and I’ve never felt that it was anything personal. It was all about their Tigers. And my Tigers. And our Tigers together and what we need to do better. There’s been times when the media and others have taken a different opinion and they’re gonna do that. That’s not unexpected on my part. What I hope is that when it does go the other way, that (people) acknowledge the new position. So we were at this point in 2016-17, and we get to another point that’s far greater and far better, that people would embrace that and enjoy that and be part of that, and I believe they will.

The differences (of opinion) that were created were because people want to see (basketball) the way it always was and where it always should be, and I do, too. It matters a great deal to me.

TDN: And as long as there is passion – in whatever form – isn’t that sort of a healthy temperature reading for your fan base? Truthfully, wouldn’t apathy be an athletic director’s toughest opponent?

Bowen: When I became the AD at San Jose State, the entire program had nothing but apathy in an area with multiple choices for you as a sports fan. And those are some hard, hard days when you know no matter how well you work or how competitively successful you become, there’s a piece of this that will never change.

One of reasons I was excited to become athletic director at the University of Memphis is there is no apathy here. There’s excitement. And so there’s no ceiling. The passion in this city for this university and Tiger athletics is extraordinary. It’s compelling and keeps me grounded, reminds me of why every day I need to wake up and say we’re gonna be better today.

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