Derek Waugh’s first day as athletic director at Dalton State College was more about broad ideas than specific plans.
And while it may be months before details are determined on the makeup of the school’s athletic program, which is relaunching after decades of dormancy, an enthusiastic Waugh gave every impression Wednesday that he’ll make getting there an enjoyable ride.
“This is athletics. It’s supposed to be fun,” Waugh said during an introductory press conference on campus. “I don’t think anyone’s watching the Super Bowl because they have to. I want us to have a blast in terms of doing this ... I love generating enthusiasm, so it’s something I truly look forward to.”
Waugh, who was announced as the school’s AD last week but officially started Wednesday, drew applause and laughter more than once while addressing a mostly full Goodroe Auditorium.
Seated on the stage next to Dalton State President John Schwenn, with the school’s Roadrunner mascot, Rage, standing a few steps to his left, the 40-year-old Atlanta native and Marist School graduate told the story of how he had “supported” athletics in this area years ago as a high school baseball player, striking out mightily several times against Dalton High during the state playoffs. He joked about how Schwenn impressed him by naming Waugh Street for him even before his arrival.
But Waugh — hired after a little less than a year as the assistant athletic director Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., where he spent the decade prior as the men’s basketball coach — is serious about building Dalton State’s athletic program in what he believes is the right way.
“As we are starting this, I do not want to have to go back and redo anything,” said Waugh, who was a basketball standout during his playing days at Furman University and went on to graduate from law school at Wake Forest. “So I want to make sure that we do things in a first-class manner right from the get-go, and I’ll make sure that we’re not starting (sports) until I’m comfortable that we can win conference and national championships, and potentially move up to the NCAA.”
Initially, plans are to apply for membership in an athletic conference in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics). Dalton State’s programs will begin with funding from the student athletic fees that have been collected since last semester, but Waugh said advertising and booster support will also play a big role along the way.
The school previously had intercollegiate athletics beyond the club level when it was known as Dalton Junior College, and that incarnation of the athletic program included a basketball team from 1968-78 that gained regional, state and national acclaim for its success under coach Melvyn Ottinger.
Also the school’s first athletic director, Ottinger said the school had golf and tennis teams that he coached, although he did not actively recruit for those sports, instead putting together teams only when students already on campus were interested in competing.
If anyone knows what challenges Waugh will face in starting an athletic program, it’s Ottinger.
“In order to start all of these sports, he’s going to have to be a fundraiser,” Ottinger said. “He’s going to have to be available for any kind of talking to any club, any church — any place they want him he’s going to have to go. Athletics today ... if you want to win, you’ve got to have money for facilities and coaches. It’s going to be tough, but he’s got a lot of enthusiasm.”
Asked about whether basketball will be one of the first sports for the Roadrunners, Waugh reiterated what he told The Daily Citizen last week, saying that sport — for women as well as men — would be given priority, with an eye on playing in 2013-14. But decisions about what sports are added will depend on what’s feasible in regard to facilities and finances, he said.
Because of that, Waugh talked about the advantages of individual-based sports, and he also mentioned the role “emerging sports” (he used crew’s success at Stetson as an example) could play in getting students already on campus involved.
“I want total student involvement,” he said. “From participant to fan to everything that goes into athletics. I’m going to do my best to make sure that we have the most student-friendly department in the country.”
Waugh said he hopes to have news on what sports will be added by late spring or summer. But simply having an AD on the job is a big step for Schwenn, who is glad to see one of the goals he’s had since took over at Dalton State in late 2007 being met.
“To me, athletics rounds out a good collegiate experience,” Schwenn said. “We’ve all been on other campuses with athletics, and I think all of us have benefited. We’ve seen what they do for a campus and a community. But they also offer a lot to our students, and I want our students to have the same opportunities as on other campuses.”
Waugh, whose salary will be $87,500, was selected by Schwenn after being one of four candidates invited for an on-campus interview from a pool of more than 70 applicants. A search committee headed by Dalton businessman Ken White also included Ottinger; Sandra Stone, vice president for academic affairs; Katie Pridemore, a math instructor; Garrett Burgner, director of campus recreation; Christian Veve, a student representative; and Jodi Johnson, vice president for enrollment and student services.
Others interviewed were Paul Cantrell of Maryland’s Salisbury University, and former Kennesaw State men’s basketball coach Tony Ingle, a Dalton native who played for the Roadrunners. Ingle — mentioned by Waugh as one of those who helped steer him toward the job — later withdrew his name for consideration. Amy Champion, the athletic director at the University of New Orleans, withdrew from the process before being interviewed.