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Interview With UMD Athletic Director, Dr. Debbie Yow - Part 1

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As some of you heard today, we've been working on a special story that all of us here at Testudo Times are very proud to share with you. It gives me great pleasure to announce that Testudo Times had the opportunity just over a week ago to sit down with  Maryland's Athletic Director, Dr. Debbie Yow. We were honored with the opportunity to speak with Dr. Yow and ask her about various aspect of the athletic department and touch on a large number of topics. We'll be posting the interview in two parts, with the second portion going up later today. We hope you enjoy this and hope it gives you some good insights and information. And we also hope to be able to sit down with Dr. Yow again in the coming months and continue to do so on a quasi-quarterly basis.

So, without further ado...

Debbie Yow: What do you want to talk about first?

Dave Tucker: How did you get into intercollegiate athletics? I know you started out as a basketball coach, but what made you go from one to the other?

DY: Well, I’m from North Carolina, so I was coaching high school and I got the head job coaching at Kentucky, at age 25, which just doesn’t happen. It was stunning. I probably wasn’t fully prepared for it, but anyway, I’ve always had opportunities at a younger age to do things, that’s just one example. 

So when I was at Florida coaching later, they wanted to…there’s a man named Hugh Culverhouse, who owned the Tampa Bay Bucs. And he was on something called the Gator Booster incorporated Board of Directors and there was an athletic director there named Bill Carr, who’s a terrific guy. Long story short is they wanted to try to find a woman to fundraise and they had never had a woman ever in the history of University of Florida athletics do fundraising and so they were kind of discussing the profile that they would need. Evidently, Mr. Culverhouse said, "Debbie could do this," and Bill said "Yeah, she could."  I wasn’t ready to retire from coaching, I was very young – I was only 35. But I talked to my husband about it and he said "Hey, you know, you don’t decide when opportunities come along. You can pass on it, but don’t pass on it thinking you’re going to get more opportunities like that. Just know it might never come around again. And I was never a person who wanted to be 55 and coaching, and I knew that. And both of my sisters do and did. Kay before she passed away last January 24th, and Susan still coaches now and she’s lifelong coach.  And I never wanted to do it into my 50’s. So, that’s kind of how I transitioned; that’s my first administrative job.

DT: I know you said you wanted to be out of coaching by the time you were in your 50’s, but do you ever regret leaving when you did? Do you ever miss being on the sideline?

DY:  If I do, it’s not really fair for me to do that. Because you can’t have everything.  What I miss is what most coaches miss who retire. And that is the connection with the players and going to practice. Just the teaching atmosphere and being able to do that; it’s just really special.  And of course the great wins, I don’t miss the times where I lost a great player to Tennessee in recruiting, or a bad loss or something. Your tendency is to remember only the good things is what I’m saying, and that’s not realistic either, so I kind of have to bring myself back to reality. 

I was happy when I left. I’d been a head coach for 8 years and I’d averaged 20 wins a year when we didn’t play nearly as many games as we do now. So I’m happy with all of that in terms of how it worked out. And every team I ever coached, that had never been in the top 20, there was no top 25, it was top 20, went into the top 20. So I’m fine with it. I’m fine with it. I love what I do. 

DT: When you first started doing this to where you are now, what are some of the biggest changes and challenges you've faced? Have there been a lot of changes?

DY: At Maryland?

DT: At Maryland, or anywhere.

DY: Oh, the enterprise itself has just changed dramatically. The scope of it is just off the chart. You look at Ohio State that has a 120 million dollar budget as an example or Florida that has about a hundred million dollar budget. It’s daunting. It’s more challenging than ever to win, to keep your really great coaches, everything is completed. Like your life is more complicated, it just is, because of the world we live it. The internet complicated it significantly because you can’t possibly keep up. First of all, you have to decide as an individual who you’re going to actually respond to and who’s legitimate and who’s not. And I kind of draw the line at people who don’t use their own names. I just do. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Because you can say anything anonymously and just kind of throwing it at the wall and seeing if it sticks. So, that’s kind of how I actually got interested in Testudo Times, because I was reading things and Ben was posting them and Ben had his name associated with it so I thought, well this is good. This is legitimate.

Interview continues after the jump.

DT: It’s actually interesting that you say that because when the site first started we didn’t have our names on there. We had names that we wrote under. And we asked to change it to our names because we thought that was more legitimate and creditable when we’d say something.

DY: You’re right on target. That really pulls you towards the mainstream media like the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun because you use your own names. It really does. You’re not a message board when you do that. You might have some people posting under anonymous names but that’s them not you. So that was really a smart thing to do because that’s the thing that really made me decide to pick up the phone or email or however I did that.

So it’s the scope of things. It’s insane. The scope.  It just is and it’s not going to change. It’s just going to get more crazy.

DT: Just touching on that, that was one of the things I wanted to talk about. How do you see new media sources like blogs, like our site, transitioning into covering collegiate athletics, especially after the Washington Times just folded their sports section.

DY: I don’t know. I don’t know that anybody really knows. I really don’t. I just know that there, you can’t lump all of the websites into the same place. Some are much more legitimate than others. So it’s wrong to just say "It’s a message board, it’s on the web, its no good." That’s not right. I mean, there are some that are crazy and thrive, on innuendo and rumor and actually seem to kind of enjoy that.  And there are others that really like we’re going to the bottom of this, we’re going to try to get the facts, and then we’re going to post that for our readers.  And that’s what I see Testudo Times doing, and that’s more like the Washington Post or the Baltimore Sun.

DT: Managing 27 teams here at the University and managing the budget between those and the revenue sports and how those inter-mesh with each other; with the economic situation that we’re in, how do you draw the line between cutting one budget versus another, and how do you balance between the two?

DY: Well, I don’t do that alone. We have a budget committee internally and it’s chaired by the chief financial officer here, his name is Randy Eaton. What usually happens is they’ll advise me on how they think something should be managed and I certainly can veto that, but they’re pretty smart people, so I usually listen to them. The collegiate model in Division 1 is the same everywhere for Division 1 and that is revenue sports are called revenue sports because they’re suppose to generate revenue to help pay for everything else. That’s also why those coaches are paid as well as they are; they earn that  money. They should be paid that well.

There’s a trade-off in this collegiate model, so when those go well, life is good and when you hit a spot, which most people do, where one or both are down, then things can be pretty rough, especially if you’re living on the edge financially. So as an example, when football had a very challenging season this year, and we’re in the recession, that’s not a good combination, so it’s a very rough year for everybody. But I don’t see that as permanent. I think we’re going to rebound. I think next year is going to be terrific. Our recruiting is actually going pretty well, especially for a team that was 2-10. I’m very pleased with that.

Those things just make me so happy. This is great. We need reinforcements and waves of talent, especially in football, and Ralph didn’t forget everything he knows about football. This is going to be a very important year for all of those reasons.  And so when we start winning again, then people start buying more tickets and then that pressure, like the 27 teams, gets alleviated. So I don’t see it as permanent.

And the other thing that’s going to happen for us is we’re going to have a new ACC TV agreement. And it will begin July 1, 2011. And it’s going to be better than the one we have. The one we have was the best in the nation when we signed it, ironically. That’s how quickly things are changing, six or seven years ago. Now we’re looking at what the Big 10 did and what the SEC did and talking about what we hope we can get. So those two things are critical. How it works is, our ACC TV money is guaranteed; it doesn’t matter what our record is, we’re going to get the same share. That is a wonderful thing. And it isn’t that way in all Division 1 conferences. So we’re blessed that we’re in the ACC. So that money is guaranteed. We negotiate a deal as a conference and that’s what we’re going to get. The part that’s where we have wiggle room and coaching really makes a difference and recruiting makes a difference is that home gate. 

And also in fund raising because people can be in great moods when we win a lot and not in such great moods when we don’t.  We notice the difference. So I think we’re going to have a rebound year. Get back on track in football. I really believe that. I’m really fired up about spring ball starting.  And Gary is doing a magnificent job. I’ve said for years, this is not a new statement, I think he’s the best coach in the ACC. And as a basketball coach, I did this for a living, I was successful at it for a living, and I think I have some creditability in that area and he’s the best one. He is.

DT: You won’t get an argument from me.

DY: You give that man some talent and he’ll do something with it. It’s just like Jordan Williams coming on strong like he is, I mean, it’s a thing of beauty, as far as I’m concerned, to watch. We’ll see. This is going to be an exciting year for us this season.

That concludes part one of our interview. Check back in later today to hear more from Dr. Yow. We hope you all enjoy this!