Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Athletic Department Responds

Athletic Department Responds

Prior to getting on a plane to attend the 2015 Final Four, Dr. Eric Zillmer took time to respond to fan concerns outlined in yesterday’s blog post.  He led off stating that “I think many concerns were raised, some of which may be valid and some of which quite frankly, are not.”  He went on “we’re a family at Drexel Athletics and we bleed blue and gold just like our fans do.  Understand that sometimes family members make mistakes, but the rest of the family will back that person up, that’s what families do.  And that’s where maybe we have made some mistakes over the years, sometimes you want to give family members a little extra leniency and support and in an atmosphere that needs to be professional at the end of the day, maybe the little things added up to some issues, some areas of concern that we can work on within our Athletics Family.”

Reaching for an ice pack to apply to his sore knee, Zillmer made it clear that he’s never wished to intimidate his employees into becoming “company men” and wants to bring back a creative, free thinking atmosphere to the DAC “Really, I want to take down the walls.  Physically.  Lets open this gym up and create a free flowing atmosphere.  I mean we can’t because at the end of the day, we can’t even get air conditioning up here, but I’m going to keep trying until I find a way.”   

I looked for some clarification there, and spoke to him about his vision for the future.  He outlined a new technology initiative to bring the Athletics Department back in line with the rest of the University.  He insisted that he has discussed the basketball programs lack of advanced metrics, and promised that if Coach Flint found a correct resource to add to his coaching staff, that he would find money in the budget for that employee and the software that he needed to bring this program to a current day competitive level that would keep players like Damion Lee in the future.  “Damion was a big wakeup call to us, it’s clear that we need a new tech initiative in the DAC to become competitive both on the court, and off the court not just with our opponents, but also with other departments under the Drexel umbrella.”  The era of buying five digit cost scoreboards that are unable to interact with our systems is over, technology spending will now be about practical purposes that advance the mission of the University.

Leaning forward he also told of a new key initiative:

Former Season Ticket Holder and Current Season Ticket Holder Retention Task Force

On this day, I have asked our External Relations Department to create a new position that will lead a Former Season Ticket Holder and Current Season Ticket Holder Retention Task Force,” Zillmer excitedly said.  Athletics will be hiring from an external source from this position in an effort to show former fans that they will be heard and taken seriously, that change will be made possible. “We’re going to find out why there is so much anger in some fans, and we’re not going to avoid it, but rather hit it head on and take it for the opportunity to seek improvement that it is.  I understand that when one senior staff member apologized to you two years ago Dan, that he did it in multiple fonts, which just wasn't right, you could not even be sure which parts had been written by the staff member and which were cut and pasted from another source.  That won’t be considered acceptable outreach anymore, and you will have a much better experience right off the bat.” 

"Often when there are complaints from fans its due to their lack of knowledge with what we do in athletics and we can work on that as well."  This new position won’t be created just to hear complaints, but he or she will assist in troubleshooting them, help clarify and ensure that communication that has been lacking in the past is no longer an issue.  “I’d prefer to over-communicate to our loyal supporters than under, and we don’t play favorites.  We want to hear fans compliments, but we also know there will be bumps and we need to hear them, and respond to them completely and professionally to keep our strong relationship with our fans. We know there has been some damage done to some relationships in the past, but we think we can make that right, and that it will lead to our goal of a 50% increase in season ticket holder accounts by the start of the 16-17 men’s basketball season, a goal that our External Relations department will be held accountable for, because while we have a family atmosphere here in Athletics, we also understand that we are professionals.”

Lastly, when talking about the coaching staff of the Men’s Basketball program, Dr. Zillmer gave a full vote of confidence, but also made it clear that with only two years left in his deal, accountability will be felt here as well.  He spoke of the exciting transfers that the school has coming in and that there is an expectation for a competitive team despite the loss of Damion Lee.  He reviewed the data on three guard production that had been produced on the Dragons Speak blog, and spoke of his disappointment in front court production in the last few years.  “As an Athletic Director, the best thing I can do for Bru is provide support and autonomy.  So I am not going to step in and tell him how to do his job, that’s not fair for him or any coach.  I did outline the problems that were backed up by math and ask him to see if there was a way to address them, and we will see how he does as he continues to improve the product on the floor.”  He ended with “We’re going to make things right, we’re going to Pack the DAC, and we are going to be transparent, adaptive, and forward looking to our supporters.  Status quo is never something that we have found acceptable, and I find it very upsetting that you would describe this program in those words.  We can and must do better to meet the expectations of our fans and the Board of Trustees.  When they give a coach almost a half a million dollars, they expect results too, it’s not just the fans.  

Standing up, with the interview over, we shook hands, and I pledged to be the first supporter to donate to the task force.

Happy April Fools Day everyone.