Things to Like About Jim Harris – From the Bird’s Nest
Friday, the Executive Committee of the Ragin' Cajun Athletic Foundation announced the hiring of Jim Harris to be the organization's first Executive Director.
Harris will be charged with raising dollars. Lots of dollars Tens of millions of dollars. While that figure certainly won't be reached right away, Harris is faced with quite a challenge, especially with the oilfield in the shape it's in right now.
But there's going to be more to Harris' job than just fundraising. There are organizational things that need to be done and those things have to be on his front burner.
Different people are going to have different opinions about this hire. There will be some who love everything about this man. There are others who have already decided Harris was not the best candidate for the job. TIme will tell.
But on first gaze, there's a lot to like about the 36 year old graduate of Indiana, who has also earned two master's degrees from Ohio University. Here's what catches my eye:
FRESH FACE, FRESH IDEAS--One of the biggest criticisms of this University is the tendency to hire people they know and/or people in their comfort zone. Between the time of the hiring of Terry Don Phillips in the 80s and the hiring of Scott Farmer in 2007, there was no one coming in that had been to other places and therefore, no one with any fresh ideas. Harris isn't a Cajun...or a Louisianian. He may not have every single idea that's needed...but he'll have plenty more than if a local had been hired.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT...AND THAT...AND THAT--Sometimes we have a tendency to look at someone and say "well, he's been to (insert name of big school here) so it's a great thing. Not always. Sometimes hires from bigger schools find out they can't live with a mid-major or low-major budget, or, in this case, trying to raise money from the school that isn't the big dog in the state. Harris raised dollars at Indiana...but then did it at a school that had one dominant (Ohio/Ohio State) and another that had more than one (South Florida/Florida/Florida State). That diversity will benefit the University of Louisiana.
HE'S WORKED WITH SYSTEMS WHICH BENEFIT THE GIVERS--One of the biggest criticisms of the way the RCAF and the University has handled giving is they have almost totally concentrated on the RCAF General Fund when it comes to rewards. This simply isn't fair, especially to those who make several donations sports-specific. (You think the track program doesn't need people who write checks specifically to track? Or golf? Or volleyball?) Givers, especially those who don't give a lot to the general fund but give a lot more than that to individual sports, have clamored for a "point system" which takes all giving into consideration and rewards givers accordingly. UL has come up with a point system, but it's imperative they do it the right way. Harris can take the plan that's on the drawing board and separate the wheat from the chaff, the good ideas from the not so good ideas. Then the plan needs to be implemented. Because most of the work on the plan has already been done, this should happen sooner rather than later. His previous experience (again, at three different levels) will be invaluable.
HE HAS EXPERIENCE IN RESEATING--Until he mentioned it on Friday, virtually no one has talked about how important this is. I'll go a step farther, it's absolutely critical. Why? Because it's imminent. The Cajundome will have a totally new seating configuration by the 2016-17 UL Basketball season. It is hoped the "new" M. L. Tigue Moore Field will be ready as well...again, with a new seating configuration. And, when Tier II of the master plan is implemented for football, the west side upper deck will be no more. There are season ticket holders in those upper chairbacks, which means...yes...reseating. Harris will have a huge task ahead of him in this regard. He has to balance the needs and desires of the long time season ticket holders, and, at the same time, use levels of giving to give some of the best seats to the biggest givers. And he has to do it in a way that makes sense and disappoints the fewest number of people. This is going to be a massive undertaking and one that is critical. But the dude did it with Indiana basketball. Impressive.
IMPLEMENT THE SCIENCE AS WELL AS THE ART OF FUNDRAISING--If you talk to people who fund raise for a living (and I'm not talking about the raffle or bake sale) they will tell you fund raising is an art...but it's also a science. I haven't talked to enough people with that kind of experience to really know the difference (and therefore it will be one of my first questions when he appears on Bird's Eye View Monday afternoon at 3pm.). This knowledge will not only help the RCAF, but will also be critical and heretofore unknown facts that will make the fundraisers that are already in place better than ever.
HE CAN HELP THE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT--While Harris technically will work for the RCAF, he's got a working knowledge of how college athletics works. He'll be another face, another voice and most importantly, a man who has worked in athletics at both Power and Group of Five Conferences. His experience should help when it comes to organization, branding and having a pulse not only on the present, but the future of college athletics.
HE KNOWS HOW MUCH MONEY IT WILL TAKE TO COMPETE IN A NEW CONFERENCE--He's been in the MAC. He's been in the AAC. He has an idea of what kind of budget boost it will take to go to the next level. We think we know...but that doesn't mean we're right. Again, his experience should help make the school a more than attractive candidate when the next realignment phase comes around.
Harris has much to do. And, as everywhere, Cajun fans will be impatient and want it yesterday. But if Harris can take his knowledge and experience and make Louisiana better, especially when it comes to budget and philanthropy, it will be worth the wait.