Sulphur native Bruce Hemphill was introduced as McNeese State's athletic director on Thursday. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 2:56 PM
If McNeese State’s search for a new athletic director was like a football game, it was apparently a blowout by halftime.
Sulphur native and former LSU football letterman Bruce Hemphill was introduced as the ninth athletic director in school history Wednesday in front of a packed audience in the Jack Doland Field House. The post was vacant for less than a month.
“I am honored and humbled to be selected as your athletic director,” Hemphill said. “I grew up with this great university. So many memories of sitting up on the hill here at games, watching us — I have to be careful how I say this — kick USL’s behind. Watching Jolie Blonde sway back-and-forth ... this is my home, and this is where I wanted to be.”
Hemphill was the only finalist brought to campus after five other candidates were interviewed via Skype or telephone.
When the job opened after Tommy McClelland’s departure to Louisiana Tech in mid-July, McNeese president Philip Williams said McNeese would bring multiple candidates to campus.
But Williams said the responses from search committee members and other participants made it evident Hemphill was the cream of the crop.
“I said, ‘We need some competition. Keep looking for applications,’ ” Williams said. “Meanwhile we decided there was no reason not to invite the No. 1 person at that point to conduct interviews.”
Hemphill’s on-campus visit sealed the deal.
“We had dozens of comment cards. I got letters. I got phone calls,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just the number of references or the content of what was said. It was the quality of the people serving as references. People I respect and trust. The kinds of individuals endorsing him were top-drawer.”
Interim AD Bridget Martin; coaches Brooks Donald Williams, Matt Viator and Dave Simmons; McNeese chief diversity officer Michael Snowden; faculty member Michael Soileau; softball player Kim Kennedy; and community representatives Willie Mount and Harry Hank made up the search committee.
Williams said he considered bringing in additional finalists to go along with his initial pronouncement, but decided such a move would be patronizing to those candidates.
“I decided, ‘Why am I forcing this beyond its logical conclusion?’ We’ve found our man,” Williams said. “You could artificially prolong the process. But when the community and your gut says, ‘This is our guy,’ overwhelmingly, you run the risk of embarrassing a candidate who isn’t going to get the job. At the end, why do that?”
Williams called Hemphill’s hiring the easiest personnel decision he’s ever made.
“The process has been remarkable. Unique in every respect,” Williams said. “Clearly this person was the right fit for McNeese at the right time.”
Hemphill brings a Southwest Louisiana upbringing, along with experience as a coach or administrator at major NCAA Division I programs LSU, North Carolina State, North Carolina and Wyoming.
“What are the odds of another candidate who grew up watching McNeese athletics, understands the region, and also has experience at Division I schools of high quality and meets all of my criteria?” Williams said.
Hemphill was most recently the athletic director at a Class 4A high school in North Carolina before taking early retirement to return to Sulphur for family reasons last year. He said he isn’t daunted by the challenge of returning to college athletics thanks to those who mentored him and the staff McNeese already has in place.
He cited former LSU football coaches Charlie McClendon and Jerry Stovall, late NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano, current Texas football coach Mack Brown and current ACC commissioner John Swofford among the influences from his previous stops.
Hemphill doesn’t have immediate plans to make any sweeping changes, saying his initial vision is to “listen, learn and lead.”
“We’re going to hit the ground listening,” he said.