For the first installment of Around the League, I was able to speak with Kennesaw State’s athletic director, Vaughn Williams, and discuss the events surrounding the Owls’ inaugural football season, fan expectations, and Kennesaw’s involvement in the conference going forward.
Flames Nation: “Mr. Williams, thank you for time this morning and your willingness to answer some questions about Kennesaw State athletics and the football program in particular. How long has this inaugural season been in the works and what was necessary to bring it about?”
Vaughn Williams: “This happened before I was here obviously: There was a little study prior to the big study. But in 2008 – 2009, the president was coming aboard. He decided they ought to start an exploratory committee… that was able to complete [the study] in 2009. They had a 33-1 vote– the exploratory committee– that football would be viable if certain things could be done, obviously.
First of all, they would have to get a vote from the student fee committee that would be around $100 and students would have to vote for that $100 fee. And secondly, they would have to have some financial backing besides that for, you know, facilities and that sort of thing. That came out to be about $10 million. And of course, that had to go to the board to be approved. So that’s kind of what happened, and that’s what the exploratory committee had talked about.
In 2010, that academic year, they decided that needed to put this in front of the students to see if they would vote, how they would vote, would they want football and they did decide that they wanted it. But they would still have to decide if they were going to give a $100 fee if it came to that. So that was the first step.
And then the second was financing. We were able to secure a corporate sponsorship of $5 million for 10 years. And at the same time, we had to go to the student fee committee in 2012 because we were going to have the vote as well. And they voted… I think their votes were that they would be for the fee, but wanted it to be $75 as opposed to $100. So that’s how it came to be. We went to the board and finally got approval that we could have football.
Then in May 2011 we were taking a look at our board, the demographics of where we were and all the business plans so to speak. Then we went out and did what we had to do.”
FN: “It sounds like there’s been a significant amount of student and community involvement over the last few years in making the football program a reality. Have you already begun to see the addition of the football program changing the culture at Kennesaw State?”
VW: “We refreshed the logo. We created a fight song, never had a fight song. We got a live owl mascot. A marching band is going to be on the field for the first time ever. We’ve never had a marching band. I mean, all these things. There’s the black and gold. We got an Adidas contract. We were never in retail space. Retail space around us or in the city of Kennesaw, those type of things, you could never go out and buy any Owl stuff. You couldn’t find a Kennesaw State shirt. Now we’re gonna be at Dick’s. We’re already at Macy’s. You know, Cracker Barrel down the street; all these different retail outlets. It has helped to create that sense of color, that sense of pride, that sense of what we’re trying to do, and that’s what athletics help do.
Students, everyone around campus, are wearing more black and gold. We’ve been promoting it among the student body to make sure that people show their spirit, that type of thing. Definitely the culture, even in the community, things are changing in regards to just feeling good about wearing black and gold. We’ve had to really redefine what our colors are and really start getting out, you know, in the papers, all the different things.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is starting to put more things in the paper about us. You know, those types of things. The media aspect to the community aspect to everything that we’ve done has really assisted and helped and football has been a big part of that. You know, 85% of our season tickets are sold. We’re 92 days away from our first game ever. It’s an exciting time.
FN: “It sounds like Kennesaw is excited and ready for the season to start. Apart from the general excitement ahead of the inaugural season, what are the expectations for play on the field?”
VW: “I think everybody wants to be successful the first year. But I think people feel we’re gunna be ok. You know, just below .500. I think most people would probably take that. A lot of people have confidence in Georgia football, Georgia high school football. 99% of our recruits are from Georgia. Obviously we have a high amount of freshmen on our squad that are going to be sophomores, so I think the people of this state have been waiting for this for a long time. There aren’t enough schools that are Division I-AA. You have the Georgia Southerns of the world that were successful, but I think we can take some of that space now that they’re up in the BCS.
So, I think we’re excited about it. I think we’re gunna change people’s minds. I feel like people think we’re gunna be better than we think, but you know, once again, win a couple games and that’ll be great. It’s all about the journey. The long-term goal obviously is the championship and it’s to compete in the playoffs. We’re in the Big South, so we’ll be getting competition from Liberty, Coastal Carolina, all those schools. It’s a very good conference and we’re looking to make the conference better. We’re looking to compete within the conference. So, it’s an exciting time.
When I first got here in ’11, the number one question for admissions was ‘When are you getting football? Is football coming?’ So now that we’ve consolidated with a technical institution down the road, we’re 32,000 strong. It’s gunna be really neat to see this thing grow. I’m excited and I know the community is excited. I mean, everyone is talking about Owl football and they have been for the last year.
FN: “You did note the competitiveness of the conference. Do you have any short term goals or milestones to measure success by?”
VW: “I think what we’ve decided to do is play through this year first and then we’ll really start to strategize a little bit more. I think the most important thing is to get this team on the field and doing things the right way. Academically, we’d like to have a student athlete body with an average above a 3.0 GPA. We want to make sure we’re going to class, we want to make sure we’re doing community service. All those different things are necessary. We wanna build a great foundation. This is very critical now. We want to show what it means to be an Owl. You gotta be a servant. You gotta do it all. You gotta do it right.
I’ve been meeting with Coach Bohannon. He’s done a great job thus far. He’s got some great young men and a great coaching staff. I think we’ll re-evaluate after a year, but obviously winning is a piece thing. But I think it’s how we win and we’re gunna worry about how we win and why. And hopefully we’ll get wins here and get wins there. At the end of the day, when you come to Kennesaw we wanna be a place, especially this year, you know when you come to Kennesaw that you’re gonna be in for a fight. We fight. We protect the home turf. We get after it. It’s hard to come to our place to play. That’s the kind of team that we wanna be. This is a team that’s smart, doesn’t beat ourselves, and a team that competes to the end and that’s what we want to do. I think if we continue to do that then we’ll have those results. We believe in our Georgia young men. And we feel like the high school football in Georgia gets you properly trained to be successful at this level. So we hope that’s the case.
FN: “If you don’t mind, I want to go back to coach Bohannon real quick—Just giving his resume a quick look over, I noticed that while he has experience as a WR and QB coach, he has yet to be a head coach at this level. What was it about him that made you believe he was the right man to coach the Owls during their inaugural season?”
VW: “You know what, everybody that I spoke to I was looking for the man. The man is what we were trying to recover. The knowledge of the game, let’s just put that down, ok? He’s been a winner for a long time. He’s been in environments where he’s been able to win at every level. His mentality, you know, of succeeding. He walked on at Georgia. That speaks a lot for a guy. His dad was a long time head high school coach—a legend and an athletic director, so he knows how to build men and he knows how to build servant leaders.
So the man was the difference. I felt he was ready. We connected on a lot of fronts and the character of the man. He’s the kind of man that I would let my sons play for. And I think that at the end of the day, who would you let your sons play for? Would you entrust your son to this coach? I would definitely do that. He’s going to turn young men into men and he knows how to win. He’s going to do it the right way.
Anyone that you could speak to from the assistants to the equipment manager, you could speak to anyone in the athletic department, all over—they all talk about the man and how he treated people. He treated people the right way. I think that’s what we want all of our Owl coaches to be. That’s the type of person that we want representing. That’s the type of person we want people to learn from. So, hands down. No problem. I’m excited, really excited for him to be on the field for sure. It’s been a long time to ask the coach to stop really getting after it and competing for two years. And now we’re only 92 days away from competing again on the gridiron. I’m excited for him.
FN: “It’ll be an exciting first season for sure. But for this first season, you’ll be a member of the Big South for football only. Are there any plans to join the Big South as an all-sports member in the future?”
VW: “No, we haven’t talked about that. It’s just football. We’re happy in the Atlantic Sun. We’re an all-sport member besides football. We’ve been in the Atlantic Sun for a while. They were the conference that gave us our Division I status. So, we’re happy there. We’re trying to make it the best conference it can be. Obviously, we’re excited that we get the best of both worlds, being in the Big South as well: a lot of great ADs in that league, a lot of great coaches in that league. There’s also a great commissioner in that league. So, no. Not at this time.
FN: “Alright, well that’s all the questions that I have. Thank you so much for your time Mr. Williams, it’s been a privilege.”
VW: “You too, son. Have a great week.”
In our next issue of Around the League, we head to Boiling Springs, NC for an inside look at the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
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