Q&A with new athletic director Chris MassaroApril 10, 2005 · MT Media Relations
You are now in an elite group as one of just 117 Division I-A athletic directors in the country. How does it all feel right now?
"It's very humbling. It's always been a goal of mine to be an athletic director at a I-A school and to be nominated and selected to come to a place like Middle Tennessee, and it's an awesome responsibility to be a caretaker of this program, so there's a certain sense of pride, a certain sense of nervousness like, 'Wow, this is a big deal and we have to make it happen.' And then there's that confidence that we all remember where we are today because we are move forward and look back in a year or two and look back and say, 'Hey, we've come a long ways."
You mentioned during your on-campus interview the similarities between Middle Tennessee now and the University of South Carolina 20 years ago. Can you explain this?
That's easy. Twenty years ago (South Carolina) was in the Metro Conference and the Metro Conference was a bunch of schools thrown together for the common purpose of meeting a league affiliation. There was no real rhyme or reason for these schools to be in the same conference and that's kind of where Middle Tennessee is right now. The best thing that happened to us at the University of South Carolina was joining the Southeastern Conference, and that's meant everything to us. It has allowed us to hire people like Mike McGee, who is the athletic director, to hire Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier and Dave Odom and some of the wonderful coaches I've had an opportunity to work with. The same can be said about Middle Tennessee right now. The league needs some identity, whether the Sun Belt becomes a better league, what we have to do here is concentrate on our product to make our product great and so if there's another round of conference expansions we have a choice. That choice may be to stay in the Sun Belt, if we lift the Sun Belt up, or it may be another type of conference, but what we need to do is work on our product and be the best we can be so that we are attractive to others."
Now that you have accepted the job as athletic director what do you feel are the most pressing issues in the months ahead?
"There's the obvious of the fund-raising and driving attendance, but we also have to pay attention to the situation internally. I need to get to know the personnel, both in the university and within the athletic department, what each person's strengths and weaknesses are and develop an organization that takes advantage of those strengths and weaknesses. We are going to set some goals and some standards and our expectations are going to be that people meet these standards. Those are the kinds of things we are going to have to do. I want to meet with the people within the athletic department and get to know them and also get to know people external and learn the culture of Middle Tennessee. That's the one thing I don't have. I am very confident in knowing how to run a big-time athletics department. What I don't know right now is the intricacies and culture, but I will learn that quickly."
How has the last 20 years at South Carolina helped to prepare you for this job?
"It's been great. I've said I never graduated from the University of South Carolina but I received my education there because I learned every day. I had the opportunity to work with some fabulous people, some real professionals, and people at the top of their craft, so I've been able to learn and observe them and see how they mold their teams or how they operate in the office and how they manage their time and how they prioritize what's necessary. I've also been able to learn from our mistakes. I don't want to make the impression that we have been perfect at the University of South Carolina because we haven't been. We have made mistakes and I think there will be mistakes made here. I will make mistakes. The whole thing is to learn from mistakes and not make the same mistake twice. Those are the types of things as you look back over 20 years of how you learned. You don't want to put your hand in that fire too many times because you get burned."
It's pointed out that you have made a number of contacts over the years. How do you feel those contact will help you at Middle Tennessee?
"Number one is to share ideas. It's a big world out there and I am not afraid to steal a good idea. All of the thoughts don't have to be original ones. What's worked here may continue to work. That's the big thing. Also, coaching contacts that I have been lucky enough to be part of and develop those types of friendships. If we would ever need to go out and hire coaches I feel like I have a wealth of people I can draw on for expertise."
After accepting the job as athletic director, who was your first phone call?
"(Lady Raiders basketball coach) Stephany Smith. I just wanted to see where she was. She's obviously a great coach and we would love to have her here at Middle Tennessee. She has a great program going. She's where we want all of our other programs to be and then some. I wanted to talk to Stephany and tell her how excited I am and how much I hope we have an opportunity to work together."
Can you tell people what some of your hobbies are?
"My hobbies are my family and my job, those are the big things. I am a hard worker. I love to what I do. My hobbies are really sports so I have a great occupation. I don't really feel like I go to work. I feel like I enjoy my hobbies and watching people grow so that's number one. I have a great family, wonderful wife and four great children that I'm eager for people to meet and to become part of the community. Those are the main hobbies. I enjoy golf, biking and hiking and some outdoor activities like that. Exercise is one although if you like at my body you are not sure how much I actually enjoy that hobby, but I do like to break a good sweat. I like to compete."
Describe yourself to the fans and supporters.
"I feel like I'm approachable. I love people. It's fun; I like to go in an airport and watch people. I like to watch people be greeted at airports. I think airports are some of the happiest places to be if people haven't seen each other in a long time. Every time I go through an airport I think that thought. I am a pretty basic person. I am open, I try to be honest with people, I try to deal them straight up. I love what I do. I like to dream the dream and I am open to suggestion. There may be times when people disagree with what I have to say but I do want them to know that every decision I am going to make that my intent is to make it what's best for Middle Tennessee. That's my obligation and that's my duty."
What is your vision for Middle Tennessee athletics?
"It's unlimited and I don't want to put parameters on where this place can go because I don't want to put a ceiling on it. I want to say, 'Let's dream big. Let's never stop dreaming the dream.' The one thing coach (Lou) Holtz taught us at South Carolina, he came the first day and said, 'We are going to win the Southeastern Conference, we are going to play for national championships.' True, under his tenure we never won the Southeastern Conference. We played Florida a couple of times late in the year and the winner of that game would have gone to the SEC championship game as the winners of the Eastern Division, so he taught us how to dream. Dreams are ongoing and are a little different than goals. You reach goals and you don't live a goal. People live dreams and that has to be our heartbeat so I want us to dream big and see the stadium full and see the gameday excitement, people dressed in blue, wearing their Blue Raider gear and taking great pride in the University because there is nothing greater than intercollegiate athletics if its done well. That's my vision, is to get this thing up and going and in 10 years I want people to say, 'Wow, can you believe the progress we have made?'"
How important is the timing of this hire with the new membership campaign on-going and the season ticket drive for football starting?
"It is a good time. I hope I'm not too late to have impact on a lot of that stuff. From my perspective it can't happen soon enough but I would have preferred it to be a month or two ago but these things take time. We will hit the ground running and we will hit it hard. I hope I'm here enough to get to know some of the student athletes before they leave for the summer. That's a big issue. This is a big time because the critical part of the cycle is the early summer and the summer selling, trying to get corporate sponsorships and the BRAA memberships, the season tickets, the group sales and all of those things. We have enough time to do that so I hope when people come to our stadium they will say, 'Wow, there are a lot of people here.'"
What attracted you to the job at Middle Tennessee?
"The more I learned about it the more excited I became. Number one was Dr. (Sidney) McPhee. Just getting to know him and what people have told me about him, his vision, he's not afraid to dream the dream either. Our philosophies really matched. He's not a person to put ceilings on goals either. He wants everybody to strive for that unlimited potential. That was number one, the leadership in place and being able to meet with some of the vice presidents this week and seeing the university leadership, I am excited about the possibility of joining that administrative team. Then you look and some of the heavy lifting here has already been done with the facilities. We have great facilities. I think there are some cosmetic changes that could be made here and there but all and all the facilities are good. We need to make them better. These unplowed fields that I believe we can get. We can drive attendance, which I happened to do that at South Carolina. We can drive the BRAA membership, get those going, and get people feeling very good about their university. The ability to come here and make a terrific impact, that's exciting, so I want to put my stamp and have people to look back on this moment at Middle Tennessee and say, 'That's one of the best things that happened to us athletically."
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