May 7, 2010 4:50:00 PM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Scott Stricklin''s introduction Friday as Mississippi State University''s 15th athletic director had the feeling of a family reunion or an Easter Sunday gathering.
Stricklin''s family and friends filled an entire section of the reception area in the Bryan Athletic Building conference room. The turnout made perfect sense, though, as the MSU alum and employee spoke for the first time in a position he called "his dream job."
Stricklin wasn''t sure when he''d get the opportunity, if ever, to be an athletic director. He didn''t know if his candidacy to replace close friend and predecessor Greg Byrne would hold up in the national search conducted by Parker Executive Search.
University president Dr. Mark Keenum, who headed the search, had on-site evidence of Stricklin''s contributions to the department since his arrival to join Byrne''s staff as associate athletic director in 2008.
Strengthened by the department''s tremendous economic progress over the last two years, Stricklin''s candidacy for the job stood out to Keenum.
Stricklin''s contributions to MSU athletics, combined with his previous ties to the school and state made him a leading candidate. But Stricklin wasn''t hired on track record alone, Keenum said.
"Clearly, there is an advantage having been here, but I think that''s a minimal advantage because you have to have that vision, that plan, and direction we need to move this university''s athletic department forward," Keenum said. "He absolutely personifies that."
Stricklin''s path through athletics administration started when he was a student worker during his freshman year at MSU. He spent one year following graduation working in the department before serving as sports information director for baseball at Auburn. He then moved to Tulane in 1998 before taking a job at Baylor, where he was a key figure in the public relations storm following Carlton Dotson''s murder of basketball teammate Patrick Dennehy.
Tradition-rich Kentucky was Stricklin''s next stop in 2003, and it was there he sharpened his sword through working with Byrne and UK AD Mitch Barnhart. In Lexington, Stricklin oversaw the day-to-day publicity of the Wildcat basketball program.
"Everything I picked up and learned, I always looked at it through the prism of ''how can I one day go back to Mississippi State and use this information,''" Stricklin said. "It''s a little bit special, knowing I get to pour that energy into a place I call home."
Keenum said he was impressed with Stricklin''s energy, innovation and vision for growing an athletics program in the Southeastern Conference -- considered the toughest conference in the country.
Stricklin has had a front-row view of the challenges and rewards of dealing with a low budget in a heavy-spending field. Mississippi State''s resources and facilities, once considered in the bottom tier in the SEC, were boosted in Byrne''s tenure through dynamic fundraising ability and embracing the use of social media.
Despite the steps forward, Stricklin acknowledges the department cannot expect to operate as Alabama, LSU or Florida would, as those universities are larger and work with much greater budgets.
"The most important thing that could change the future of Mississippi State is for our people to take an optimistic view of where we are and where we can go," Stricklin said. "We cannot be defined, as Dr. Keenum said, by what our budget number is. We''ve got to be defined by something else, whether that''s our energy, our innovativeness, our ability to find what strengths we have and use that to attract the best student-athletes and best coaches."
Stricklin''s hire comes after Keenum, and an advisory board of Bulldog Club, MSU Development and MSU Alumni leadership representatives reviewed "several" candidates for the job.
Keenum didn''t name any of the other candidates he interviewed, but from the outset of the search, he was ebullient in having the best possible candidates reviewed.
Outgoing N.C. State athletics director Lee Fowler had contact with Parker Search, according to the Charlotte Observer, but the university and Parker kept the process out of public light.
"I wanted it no other way," Keenum said. "I went into this very open-minded and I wanted to asses the field of candidates across the country. We looked at universities very comparable to Mississippi State''s size and structure and scope. We had some senior associates who were ready to go to the AD level and several sitting ADs, but at the end of the day (Stricklin) was the absolute best candidate and had the best interview and best plan and vision for this university."
Keenum shrugged off any concerns or criticisms over using an outside firm to ultimately make an in-house hire, saying he "owed it to the university" to find the best person for the job.
As nerve-wracking as the process was for Stricklin, he''s pleased to have gone through the national search process.
"I respect the way they went about the process; this is too important of a job just to hand somebody," Stricklin said. "If I wasn''t the right person for the job I would want Mississippi State to hire whoever that would be. I do appreciate they went through this process and I feel blessed and fortunate that I was selected at the end of it."
Friday, Stricklin spoke about the university''s master plan and the proposed facilities upgrades for Davis Wade Stadium, Humphrey Coliseum and Dudy Noble Field. Stricklin said he''s had meetings this week with the people involved, and when the report comes back in November he''ll have a better idea of how to move forward with revenue-generating additions to the "big three" venues on campus.
"I think we''ve got to start dreaming," Stricklin said. "I think we have a chance to do something really special. One of the things Greg really struggled with in his decision was he felt this place was on the verge of doing something great. I think he kind of regrets he''s not going to be here to see it happen. I''m excited I get to be here and see it when it happens. It''s going to be fun to see the faces on all the Bulldog fans."