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#STINGDAILY: Creating a Bigger Presence for Tech

April 12, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Mike Bobinski wrapped his second week as Georgia Tech’s athletics director in fine fashion Friday not merely by presiding over the No. 19 Yellow Jackets’ 2-1 win over No. 5 Virginia (Tech’s 800th all-time at Russ Chandler Stadium), but also by chatting up Sting Daily.

The new AD has been around a few blocks, and he looked ready to fit in at the Rusty C while wearing a Tech pullover and jeans (of nicer-than-standard denim).

His ceremonial first pitch was just … a … bit outside (and low), but the man looked great throwing it with something of a slide-step from the stretch.

If first impressions count for a lot, Bobinski comes off initially as both extremely aware and fabulously accessible. There was no evidence of pretension as he took 20 minutes in the midst of a fine game – during which he sat in the stands, not in the AD’s suite – to go over a few things.

The second-most memorable impression was the last, after the recorder was off. Among other comments, he said that, “I’m a no-excuses guy.” In short, the man believes in getting things done rather than fretting about why they’re difficult to pull off.

He did, however, offer something of an excuse for that quacking duck of a toss.

Here, questions and answers with Mike Bobinski (edited to abbreviate in some cases):

Sting Daily: Where’d that glove come from? Did you bring it?

Bobinski: No. I believe it was coach [Bryan] Prince’s. If I had brought my own, I wouldn’t have bounced the damned thing.

SD: You started Monday before last. What have you learned about Georgia Tech in your first two weeks that you didn’t already know?

Bobinski: “I don’t know if I’ve learned anything new. I think I’ve just reinforced my impressions from a distance – the tremendous pride around our program, the great traditions … I’m starting to learn those.

“I’ve learned that I really need to dive into the history. That’s important. It’s important to Georgia Tech people, and it’s important that I’m aware of that and respect that. I need to understand who we were at a certain time, and how that’s affected who we are today.

“I’ve noticed that our people in the athletic department work extremely hard, and they’re extremely dedicated to our program, to our student-athletes, to The Institute. It’s very gratifying and rewarding. I’ve not learned anything that’s not positive.”

SD: In looking to take the Athletic Assocation to the oft-coveted, “next level,” what are the chief assets that Georgia Tech can best trade upon in attracting top-shelf student-athletes and attracting more fans?

Bobinski: “First and foremost is the education that we’re able to provide the young people who come here. The academic power and strength of this place is striking to me. For our young people to have a chance to be educated in that environment, and to walk away from here with a degree from Georgia Tech and all that that means out in the real world … is really a tremendous asset.

“Every student-athlete that comes here in certain sports probably has a dream of competing professionally and making a career of it. We all know that happens to very, very few … So having something substantive to fall back on like the education and the amazing success that our graduates have in and around not just this region but around the world is a tremendous asset to sell.

“Beyond that, we’ve got a tremendous campus community, and region in Atlanta and surrounding communities. There is so much economic energy and life in the Atlanta area that has got to be attractive to a young person. Being in the ACC is a real positive. You’re competing with really well known and respected institutions that compete at a high level nationally. All those things are nothing but positives.

“When you add to that the traditions of success in so many programs … we’re not trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. We’ve had a great deal of success in a lot of our sports, and I think being able to sell that whole package is really impressive.”

SD: In looking at the hurdles that Tech faces, the two that come up most – by far – are the academic structures that shrink recruiting pools, and generating sufficient revenue to run the department. Is that a fair assessment?

Bobinski: “I would say Georgia Tech isn’t going to be for everybody and that’s OK. We’ve got about 350 student-athletes, and that’s not an insurmountable amount of young people to attract that fit the profile. There are young people who … appreciate what it means to make the effort and put the work in to be successful and be a high-level student-athlete.

“They’re out there, and from a recruiting perspective we’ve got to target the right kind of people and go hard after them. I don’t see the academic thing as an obstacle; I see it as a real plus. We’re not going to be like everybody. We’re going to do it the Georgia Tech way, and that’s a good thing.”

SD: I’ve had this conversation before. My opinion is that Tech needs to avoid a mindset built around tryingto recruit in spite of its academic rigors but rather recruit directly to them and the rewards they produce. This is a very big nation, with a great many young people, quite a few of whom surely are interested in an education based in mathematics, engineering, sciences, interenet technologies and the like.

A Tech degree fetches very, very well in the real world. Simple math suggests that a large number of these high-minded young people are also fine athletes as well though they may be spread out rather than concentrated. Go find them.

Bobinski: “That’s exactly right. We need to be really good at it, and be really selective, and if that means we need to be regionally more diverse in our recruiting efforts to do so, then that’s what we have to do. Atlanta and Georgia will always be our home … but in order to fill out our rosters we may need to go to other pockets of the country.”

SD: So it can be done.

Bobinski: “The other piece of it is we’ve got a really strong academic support program. Our success rate has really gone up a great deal in recent years. Every school seems to think they’ve got a corner on academic challenges. We have our own unique challenges, but so does every other place. I promise you; I’ve been other places, and they all say that: ‘We can’t get ’em in because, because, because …’

SD: Speaking of which, there is a widespread impression among the Tech fan base that The Hill is less flexible now in admitting student-athletes who are, let’s say on the academic margins – Tech’s academic margins, not those of a general population – than was the case some 15 years ago. You haven’t been around long, but I wonder if you’ve seen anything that supports this theory?

Bobinski: “I would have a sense that’s not true at all. I was part of the process this year when our football signing class was put together, and we worked very closely with admissions. They were very supportive of the class that was brought to them, and I think coach [Paul] Johnson got almost everybody that he brought to the table.

“You have to bring a certain type of student-athlete. You can’t bring something from outside the bounds of sanity or reality, but we have a very strong relationship with the admissions folks here, and I think they’re very supportive of us.”

SD: Changing gears and moving toward $64,000 questions of another sort: What needs to happen to drive up attendance at athletic events? Outside the region, and even within it, some folks marvel over Tech’s attendance numbers given the fact that it sits in the middle of a vibrant metropolitan region of well over 5,000,000 people.

The Tech alumni base is small relative to many competitors, and it’s not overly oriented toward athletic fandom. Clearly, attracting more walk-up fans is part of any strategy moving forward, but then again it has been for a long time. What can be done to better market what Tech offers?

Bobinski: “I think the trick for us is going to be to cut a bigger swath in the market, create a bigger presence for ourselves, present a more positive and appealing image to those casual fans out there who might want to go see a college football game right here in our city.

“As you said, there is no one answer. If there was, it would have been done before. A lot of smart people that are here now and have been here in years gone by. It’s sort of a lot of different strategies and I think you couple that with some success. If we have to go with consultants, I’m not opposed.

“We’re positioned to be pretty darned good the next couple years, and I think if we do a good job putting ourselves out there a little more, be more willing to let people know that you don’t have to be a Georgia Tech person, a grad, to take part in this enterprise and enjoy it and have it become a part of your life in Atlanta and this community, we’ll succeed. It’s no easy task, I understand, but we need to work at it and we’ll crack it.”

SD: Your predecessor’s legacy was forged largely on getting the books in order, and then facilities improvement. It’s early, and surely you have multiple “small-ticket” items, but is it possible to say at this juncture to outline your big-ticket agenda items?

Bobinski: “I think those two issues are sort of evergreen. The big facility things that Dan and the staff accomplished are sort of off the table right now, but there will always be some things that we’d like to get done and we’d like to keep what we have shining. And the finances have to be right; you can’t run the place if your finances aren’t right.

“The first of the two things I think we need to get done is generate resources. I need to be very busy helping our development folks raise money.

“The other piece is really bringing the department together and creating that everyday culture of excellence and really bring what appears to me to be a department that is a little spread out or not on the same page philosophically … bringing that together in a cohesive way where we’re all singing from the same sheet of music.”

SD: You’re looking for everybody to be under a blanket made of fabric from the same cloth; can the quilt approach …

Bobinski: “I feel a little bit of that. Before I got here and as I’m here, everybody is well intentioned and working hard, but we’re not always working together and we’re not always headed in the same direction. I think that’s a very doable thing. It’s kind of what I’m best at.”

SD: On a personal level, when you’ve been somewhere as you were at Xavier, given your (middle) age, is making a move like you’ve made to a different part of the country tough in that you leave behind so many strong relationships?

Bobinski: “It’s very difficult and I might have underestimated that a little bit. I was and remain extremely excited to be here in Atlanta and in this region. All that is going to work out, but when you’ve been at a place for 15 years and you disengage yourself from it, it’s all new and it’s a little bit of a daunting task.

“The fact that people have been so welcoming and so supportive … that’s reassuring, and I know that’s all going to work itself out. It’s a little bit of a catch-your-breath moment. Now that I’m here, I’m not a look-back guy. I’m a straight-ahead guy.”

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