by Doug Ireland
As of Feb. 7, Northwestern State Athletics is losing a quarter century of experience but gaining a fresh perspective in the athletics director’s office.
Longtime AD Greg Burke is departing the role he’s handled with style and much accomplishment. A two-month national search produced his replacement, 43-year-old Kevin Bostian, a North Carolina State graduate who had never visited the 318 area code until he became a finalist for the Demons’ position.
Calling this a quantum shift is like saying NSU is eager for football success. The Demons haven’t had a winning season since 2008, an agonizing span that new president Dr. Marcus Jones is determined to halt.
Burke is moving across campus to a role that fits him very well – as a fundraiser for the NSU Foundation, which supports the overall mission of the university. He will also doubtlessly serve as an excellent resource for his successor as Bostian gets a grip on the situation he’s taking on.
“Kevin is going to build on the legacy that is in place,” said Terry Moore, a Shreveport financial advisor who was one of 10 people on the advisory committee screening candidates and interviewing five semifinalists. “People assume since there’s change, that so much is wrong. No. It’s just time for another person to take the hammer and nails, and build on the many strong points in place.”
There are, however, some obvious challenges, none more glaring than the football funk. It’s not that Bradley Dale Peveto (2009-12), Jay Thomas (2013-17) and now Brad Laird are bad head coaches, but they have been unsuccessful. Some of that can be traced to the normal ebb-and-flow of coaching, but much more of the struggle has its roots in off-field obstacles such as institutional inflexibility and most of all, not enough financial support from inside, and out.
Enter Bostian, who has been a very successful fundraiser with a modest amount of administrative experience in upper-level roles at NC State, Georgia Southern, East Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, South Alabama and for the past two years at UNC Greensboro. There, he spent three months last fall as interim AD, a stint in which he hired a couple of coaches and oversaw the entire department instead of just overseeing a sport or two as he had done previously there and at other stops.
“That experience confirmed to me that I could do this job,” he said on Jan. 20 after his introduction to supporters and media on the NSU campus.
It is a role he has craved since he was 16 years old. Growing up in Durham, N.C., the home of Duke University, two pals were the children of John Swofford. Their daddy had become athletics director at the University of Virginia when he was 34 and then vaulted into the even more powerful role of commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, where he attained legendary status. Bostian was justifiably impressed with Commissioner Swofford, and that ignited a dream that was realized when he fielded a call from Jones on Jan. 18, offering him the NSU post.
The search process was noteworthy. For the first time in the university’s history, dating back to 1884, Jones employed a search firm to run the selection process. Kyle Bowlsby, a 34-year-old whose father Bob is the influential commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, steered NSU’s hiring process that drew 80 applicants and nominees. That field was soon reduced to 50, then 25, and that’s when the advisory committee got involved.
Relying primarily on Bowlsby’s recommendations, the field was pared to about a dozen possibilities, then the committee and Bowlsby decided to interview five. Afterwards, they recommended three to Jones as finalists – none with any tie to NSU, Natchitoches, or the surrounding area.
“I was really proud of the university for going to a nationwide search process, and I was really happy that on the committee were business people, former athletes, and representatives of the faculty and student body as well,” said Moore. “Everyone brought something to the table.”
“We need to measure twice and cut once, and we did that in this process,” said another committee member, former Demon baseballer Kenny Knotts. “It takes time to do it, but it’s definitely going to benefit Northwestern.”
Jones, who had the interim tag removed from his title in early November, stated several times in his hiring process that he realized the university had to better support its athletic program to attain success, and committed to additional funding. As an NSU VP, then as the No. 2 man in the University of Louisiana System, he oversaw budgets. In the ULS role, he got to see how other peer institutions handled it, and doubtlessly learned ways to bolster the Demons.
Now it’s up to Bostian to find out what’s needed, in specific areas and amounts, to spur a turnaround for football and solidify wobbly basketball programs, the three highest-profile sports, while also aiding the other 11 NSU teams. Track and field, baseball, softball, tennis and soccer are all very competitive in the Southland Conference, but all of the sports can benefit from better finances and perhaps revised approaches.
One vital piece that Burke has been striving for about four years is construction of a badly-needed modern strength and conditioning facility serving all the teams, and an overdue renovation of the sports medicine setup. With the current state budget surplus, and well over $1 million in private funding raised by Burke and staff, there’s optimism that a state allocation could happen in this legislative session.
That, and the energy created and resulting support generated by Bostian’s new administration, could be catalysts for the resurgence of NSU football and the entire athletic program. That’s certainly what Jones has in mind.