It's tough at the top. Bruce Hemphill should know.
The McNeese athletic director is going into his seventh athletic year leading the Cowboy athletic department. He's faced criticism – justified or otherwise – for a number of issues – perceived or otherwise – that those in his position usually receive the most flack for.
Hemphill sat down with the American Press for a Q&A at 2019 Southland Conference Football Media Day and asked him about things ranging from his health (he suffered a heart attack in June) to why the athletic department made some of they changes they made and the effect that LSU has or doesn't have on McNeese game-times.
David Berry: Before I get to sports, I know you had a medical episode (Hemphill confirmed it was a heart attack). How are you feeling right now?
Bruce Hemphill: Thanks for asking. (I'm) much better. As I tell people, I'm getting back to abnormal. (The return of) stamina and strength will be gradual, but it's coming.
DB: This year, there's a lot of excitement (for football) with the hire of a new head coach. What's been your point of view on the outside excitement on the program?
BH: One, there is much excitement. Not only because of the excitement coach Gilbert is bringing, but the excitement from the players. I think opening the season with Southern is huge. Not only because it'll be his first ballgame, but also because of the rivalry between the two. The way that it ended many years ago, a hurricane stopped the game from being played. Having this game open up the season, the excitement that it's bringing between the two universities is fantastic.
DB: With the changes brought to home side and sideline of Cowboy Stadium (from the east to the west side) and the change of kickoff times for the last three home games (from 6 p.m. up to 4 p.m.) what has been the general feedback on those two moves?
BH: First, with the sideline, the first question that we got when we first talked about switching sides was, we never understood why it was that way to begin with. We're probably one of the few universities in the country that was doing it that way. So we looked at it like that it's a chance to be on the home side like everybody else. To be out of the sun, also, will be a big advantage for us. So now on the other side, it will be the visiting team, the visiting fans, visiting band. We've given our fans plenty of opportunity, if they want to switch sides, to come back to the home side.
As far as the game times, we knew that early August and September are going to be very hot. So we knew we wanted to keep those games at six. Coach Gilbert and I and (McNeese State University president) Dr. Burckel talked about the last three games knowing that last year, when we played Lamar at (3 p.m.), that was our second-biggest crowd of the year. So always looking at ways to increase the fan experience and increase our fan base.
DB: How much, if at all, does the athletic department factor in LSU football start times when it comes to determining McNeese football start times?
BH: No we don't (factor that) because of obviously the weather in August and September. No matter what time LSU is playing, we know we need to play at six. And by the second half of the season, LSU has not set their game times. But we need to have our games set.
DB: From an entire athletic department standpoint, what in your opinion is the state of the athletic department?
BH: We're making progress. We're getting better across the board. I think one of the things you'll see in the hiring of coach Gilbert, coach Schroyer, keeping our coaches, is our increase in the McNeese brand across the country. It's known more and more, not only through social media, but winning. We're continuing to make progress, obviously graduating our players. Winning, and having a great experience for our student-athletes as well as our fans.
DB: How is fundraising going for the athletic department at this moment?
BH: With the state limitations that we have, the southwest delegation has done a great job of increasing the brand of McNeese over in Baton Rouge. But we've got limitations. That's why we've got to depend on now, more than ever before, on private donations. I think the big way you can see it now is what we've done facility-wise. That's the number-one thing recruits want to see, is the commitment that the university has made towards athletics.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org