For Today’s Monday Wire we have a special feature. For over a year the staff here has been kicking around the idea of doing sit down with AD Tim McMurray and getting some questions that several fans and alums have for the head Lion in our Athletic Department. Hat tip to Russ and B.Minor for the good questions and there idea, and of course thanks to Tim for taking time to answer these question in great detail.
TLW: Are there any plans in the near future for improvements to the west side of Memorial Stadium?
TM: “Absolutely. We are always assessing ways to improve our fan experience and game day environment in all of our spectator venues. As some Lion Wire fans reading this article may remember, we added chairback seats just prior to the 2017 championship season, along with the renovation of previous storage space into a donor and lettermen function space called We Are Lions Lounge. We have also dramatically improved the aesthetics and heritage displays to celebrate student-athlete success and championship performances by our football and track and field program. Specifically, we have recently engaged with Populous, a Best in Class sports architecture firm to assist us in a comprehensive five-year Intercollegiate Athletics Master Plan. While in the early stages of this comprehensive process, it is already proving to be an invaluable resource that has us thinking about all aspects of our program from a capital improvement standpoint. The entire footprint of Hawkins Field at Memorial Stadium is very much part of that assessment and planning process. Stay tuned!”
TLW: “What is involved in filling out a schedule, especially non-conference?”
TM: “Great question! Painstaking question…but great one!. The one constant with the Lone Star Conference scheduling model over the last five seasons has been inconsistency. Here is a year-by-year summary of how our non-conference schedule has evolved: In 2015 when I joined the Lion family in October 2015, we were in year two of the Lone Star Conference playoffs, where the top four teams played an end of season “tournament” to determine the league’s NCAA Playoff automatic qualifier, since the league was down to eight teams and was nearly impossible to schedule four non-conference games. An example of that was when we played Sam Houston State in week nine of 2015 – that’s how difficult scheduling can be. For 2016-Once Western New Mexico, UT-Permian Basin and Oklahoma Panhandle State joined the conference in 2016, things appeared more solidified. We had league schedules built out for a two-year window, and we signed a multi-year non-conference contract with North Alabama (a Gulf South Conference power and multi-year NCAA national champion). However, in the middle of the 2016 season, Panhandle State announced they were dropping to NAIA status, so that disrupted scheduling again for the foreseeable future (we had OPSU in week five for 2017, so that was not an easy week to fill in a gap). 2017 With that gap of losing OPSU on our schedule so late, we made dozens of attempts to fill out an 11-game schedule for 2017. After much conversation, Colby Carthel and I decided we would not fill that week in the schedule, and it provided our student-athletes some rest and recovery time between a long bus ride home from Kingsville (after cleaning up Hurricane Harvey damage with the community in Aransas Pass) and another big LSC road game at Midwestern State. This particular year, that gamble paid off – we lost to MSU but did not have another blemish on a record and won 14 games…oh, and lifted the big trophy. In 2018 lifting the big trophy did not help our future football scheduling efforts, however. North Alabama announced during that 2017 season their intention to move to Division I. The only saving grace from that multi-year disruption to our future schedules was we had buyout language in the contract that secured us a buyout check. We were able to use those funds to secure future opponents that might require a guarantee.Our opening game in 2018 appeared in jeopardy (the North Alabama week), as no one was interested in playing the national champion in the opening game. A true Hail Mary came through in early May of that spring, however. Our friends at A&M-Kingsville joined us in finding mutual opponents for week five of that season, so we moved our scheduled LSC game to week one of 2018 and plugged in Lock Haven from the Northeast Conference (NEC) to week five. It was a true win-win, and we played 11 D2 games for the first time in school history. 2019 Our opening week opponent continued to provide challenging. After 178 schools across D2, D3, and NAIA said no thanks, we again went deep in the well and found Seleccion Nuevo Leon from Monterrey, Mexico. While the game is not considered for NCAA statistical purposes, it still gave our fans a chance to see our team, and our new coaching staff to establish their game day communication and protocols. Towards that missive, we were fortunate to get that 11th game. Securing games with Western Oregon and a return trip to Colorado State-Pueblo gave us 10 in-region D2 games. This has given the second strongest strength of schedule in NCAA Region 4 as of the time I answer this question. Playing 10 in-region games is a significant advantage for us. Over the next two years, we begin a two-year scheduling alliance with the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) – playing Simon Fraser (home) and Azusa Pacific (away), along with seven LSC games. Unfortunately, with the Division I announcement by a former LSC institution in Stephenville, we are left with a week six opening and a week three opening. We are diligently working on opportunities for the 2020 schedule, but it is a major challenge.The final points about scheduling – if you are not tired enough already – is that our competitive success provides a unique challenge in securing games, and our conference’s geography does not help any of our LSC schools in securing games. For example, our “region” consists of the LSC, the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Nebraska schools), the GNAC (California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada), and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC –Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and the Dakotas). In addition, the NSIC is what is termed a “closed conference”, so they only play conference games weeks 1-11. They have NO non-conference games. Further, the state of Texas borders New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana (Yes, I am versed in geography!). Louisiana has no Division II institutions, and Oklahoma and Arkansas Division II football playing-schools are all in the Great American Conference (GAC), so that means our scheduling options in our true geographic region are non-existent. Now back to your regular programming.”
TLW: “What is the biggest challenge you face as Athletics Director?”
TM: “This question took quite a bit of reflection. Philosophically, that question changes for me on an annual basis, and there is a high degree of intentionality in that comment. My first two years (2015 and 2016), I spent a tremendous amount of time on the people aspect – getting to know our campus and external constituents and – most important – making sure we had the right people on the bus and that they were in the right seat. Rightsizing operating and recruiting budgets for coaches, building out stability mechanisms for our coaches, and enhanced branding were also challenges. Without a doubt, the facility and capital needs for our department is the largest current challenge, and we have to be innovative, nimble, and responsive in providing our student-athletes Best in Class facilities. On a more direct level, an unanticipated challenge for me was having three different presidents in my first 33 months at A&M-Commerce. Each of them – Dan Jones, Ray Keck, and Mark Rudin – have been advocates for our student-athletes, and each brought their own unique leadership style. Under Dr. Rudin’s leadership, I am enjoying the continuity we have begun to establish and his genuine gift for engaging with our students. Bottom line- it is a true privilege to serve as director of athletics for our tremendous campus and student body. “
TLW: “What accomplishment or accomplishments are you most happy with so far?”
TM: “Anytime you have over 400 student-athletes in your program and your cumulative department GPA has stayed over a 3.0 for four years, I have to start there. However, lifting that national championship trophy on December 16, 2017, will forever be a memory. Not many in our profession are fortunate to get to win the last one of any season, and the road our football program took to get there was both magical and memorable. Seeing Luis Perez (Harlon Hill) and Garrett Blubaugh (NCAA Elite 90) bring home the pinnacle individual awards in D2 football to give us the first NCAA football “triple crown” that year spoke to our comprehensive academics and athletics success. Watching our track and field programs develop depth and competitive success each year has been special– with at least two event national champions each year. We have also watched our women’s track and field program grow to over 50 participants, and that is nearly triple where it was in 2015. Seeing Jason Burton and Jaret von Rosenberg take their programs up a notch each year is a testament to their leadership. Volleyball and Softball’s meteoric rises have been special, and they are a big part of our astounding 40 NCAA postseason appearances for our department since 2015. And, I firmly believe, our best times are still ahead!”
TLW: “What other long range goals or improvements do you see?”
TM: “We are currently engaged with Populous on a five-year Intercollegiate Athletics Master Plan, and that will help us assess, manage, and strategically engage the next chapter in our athletics capital improvements. We have to build an events center – no one debates that. However, we also must modernize many of our facilities for football, track and field, and others to maintain our success. We have built a program that represents our campus, our region, and our alumni base in a Best in Class manner, and we must continue to invest in our most precious resource – our 444 talented student-athletes.”
Thanks again to Tim for taking the time to communicate to Lion Nation. He has been a great friend to the site and to all of us and we cannot say how much we appreciate what he has done for our Alma Mater Dear.