Last Modified: Saturday, August 10, 2013 5:26 PM
It’s been a decade since Bruce Hemphill worked in collegiate athletics, but his personable presentation to McNeese State boosters on Thursday evening demonstrated why he is the proverbial leader in the clubhouse for the school’s athletic director post.
The Sulphur native trumpeted his hometown connection, his big-school experience and his feelings on what McNeese is and can be in the future in a nearly hour-long talk that wrapped up a day which featured six other meetings with groups on campus.
Hemphill is the first candidate to be deemed a finalist by the search committee, which is chaired by interim AD Bridget Martin.
“I am one of you,” Hemphill told the crowd of three dozen or so boosters. “I was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. I did not attend McNeese, but I grew up here with McNeese. … There’s an old saying that you always fight harder for your home than your friend’s home. This is my home. This is where I want to be.”
Hemphill worked as an administrator at North Carolina from 1990-99, then at Wyoming from 1999-2003.
He said a family decision prompted him to return to North Carolina, where he was a high school AD for nearly a decade. He moved back to Sulphur last year to help his mother after his brother passed away.
Hemphill’s experience in the high school ranks prepared him for some of the challenges facing McNeese in a fiscal sense.
“We had a budget of $980 from the county,” he said. “Everything else was through fundraising and ticket sales.”
Hemphill recognizes that fundraising will be his top priority if hired.
“I think it’s obvious to everyone that the state is in dire straits (financially) or close to it,” he said. “It’s gloomy. We can’t expect a quick turnaround. What we’ve got to do is look at outside revenue. Southwest Louisiana’s going to hit an economic boom, and we have to take advantage of it to be able to get what McNeese needs to be successful.”
One of the most popular debates within the McNeese fan base regards the program’s place in the Southland Conference and the Football Championship Subdivision. Hemphill addressed that during a question-and-answer session.
“Right now in the Southland Conference, as far as student fees, we’re last. As far as coaches’ salaries, we’re near the bottom,” Hemphill said. “We’ve got to be able to elevate ourselves to where we’re at the top of our conference before we can start talk about moving on.”
Hemphill also spoke of the importance of being attuned to the rapidly changing college sports landscape.
“The (major conferences) want to be able to pay student-athletes because they can. But also because everyone else can’t. It’s a separation from them,” he said. “Being able to stay on top of conference alignment and knowing what’s best for this university — being able to react to what the big boys are doing and where they’re headed (is important).”
Among multiple other issues, Hemphill mentioned the importance of increasing student participation in a world with multiple entertainment options, and endorsed the idea of an athletics alumni association.
He described his overall vision for the program:
“We want people around the state to say McNeese has ‘It.’ What is ‘it?’ Becoming self-sufficient. Having higher graduation rates. Having students around the state saying ‘This is where I want to be. It’s a great school and a fun place to be.’
“Being able to compete and win the commissioner’s cup for having the best all-around athletic program. That’s what we’re going to strive to be. But the AD can’t do it (alone), it’s going to take all of us.”