How Long Does It Take to Re-Build an Athletic Department?

By Steve DiMiceli

I get it. People want instant gratification. We love fast cars, and fast women in this country. We don't like to wait. We think about skipping the line for the ATM if there are more than two people ahead of us. We settle for Applebee's when Burg-a-tory's on book for a half hour. We tap our toes anxiously when the credit card machine takes a little longer than we're used to. We hit refresh when the browser on our phones isn't loading this blog entry fast enough.

We want what we want and we wanted it five minutes ago. When it comes to sports turnarounds, you can want what you want and in a timeline that you want it, but the reality of it is that building a franchise, department or even a program takes time. If you're expecting immediate returns, you're going to be disappointed.

Greg Amodio is entering his 9th season in charge of the Duquesne athletics department and at the moment he has little to show for his effort in terms of banners and trophies. He hasn't had a team win an A-10 championship since the 2005 men's cross country team and he was only on the job for a few months at the time.  Only two teams, 08-09 men's basketball and women's lacrosse this past season, have appeared in a conference championship game. 2011 football shared an NEC championship, but didn't get the automatic bid for the FCS tournament. Men's and women's basketball have a combined 6 NIT bids but no Duquesne team has gotten to the NCAA tournament under Amodio's watch. Patience is wearing thin and some fans and media members already gave up on Amodio years ago. Many more jumped ship after Ron Everhart was fired.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane. The athletic department was in terrible shape on August 4, 2005. Most sports were underfunded and only had a single, full time coach. The facilities were in terrible shape. Athletes shared a weight room and practice gym with the rest of the student body that was in poor shape compared to some high schools. There was still a sketchy Russian restaurant across the street from the Forbes Parking Garage and a run down four bedroom at the corner of Washington Place that cycled between different fraternities year after year. The AJ Palumbo Center had bleachers on three sides and an out of date score board and sound system. The Consol Energy Center was still just part of the promises laid out by one casino's bid and the Mellon Arena really wasn't an option for home games. Rooney Field was converted into a football stadium for three and half months in the fall, a spring training facility for baseball in the winter and green space or a funny place to pee after you climbed the 10th Street steps following a night on the South Side the rest of the year. At the time, the only scholarship football played on Rooney happened Friday night. Danny Nee was the men's basketball coach and his program was about to hit rock bottom. Only women's lacrosse, men's soccer and cross country were competitive. Football was winning but that wasn't what had people talking. To say the least we were in bad shape.

But how long does it take to turn an athletic department around? Let's look at what's going on with some other departments who have recently seen an explosion of success.

When you talk about mid-major success stories and rising programs, Stony Brook comes to mind. They're led by superstar AD Jim Fiore who took the post two years before Amodio was hired at Duquesne. Since then he's had 17 teams find their way to the NCAA post season including their improbable run to the College World Series. Stony Brook is a slightly different situation than Duquesne in that they compete in the much weaker 9 team America East Conference. Their rebuild and investment into athletics also began before Fiore arrived. Kenneth P Lavalle Stadium was completed in 2002, a year before he got the job. However, the success of the department under Fiore's supervision is undeniable.

Fiore appears to be the exception rather than the norm when it comes to speedy turn arounds, but even Stony Brooks success didn't happen overnight. It took until year seven until the school won multiple championships including a regular season share of basketball in 2010. In spite of all the progress they have made, the Sea Wolves are yet to capture their first Commisioner's Cup for the best overall athletic finish in the Am-East. They have finished second twice, but Stony Brook is still a work in progress. They recently opened upgraded training facilities and are in the process of renovating their men's basketball gym after the work stalled briefly for lack of funding. They are becoming a top department in the Am-East and with the departure of Albany and Boston University following this season, they are likely to be the top. Still after 11 years, Stony Brook is still not a big factor on the national scene though that appears to be changing. Men's basketball, and both lacrosse programs are very good. Baseball is unlikely to repeat its cinderella run anytime soon, but that run is unlikely to be forgotten either.

If Stony Brook is the quick build Boise St is the slow. In 1981, Gene Bleymaier took over a Boise St program that was only a couple decades removed from being a junior college. They played in the I-AA Big Sky Conference that included eight full members among them current D-I football schools Nevada and Idaho. Prior to his arrival, construction began on 12,000 seat arena now known as the Taco Bell Center. Bronco Stadium sat 20,000, but it didn't get it's famed blue turf until 1986. In 1988, an athletics facility was open. That year the men's basketball team went to the NCAA tournament, but the story of Boise St is really based in football. In 1997,  Bronco Stadium's capacity was increased again to 30,000 following their move to D-I the year before. In 1999, Boise St played in their first bowl game. In 2006, they went on their 13-0 run to a Fiesta Bowl championship. It took them 18 years from the time Bleymaier was hired until their investment finally took his mediocre I-AA program to a bowl game. It took 7 more years until they became a true national power.

In case you were wondering, Boise's men's basketball team earned their first ever at large bid to the NCAA tournament this past year.

There are many differences between Duquesne and the schools that I mentioned, but they were all basically starting out from nothing. Stony Brook recently jumped up from D- III. Boise State was a I-AA football school though they were not the only western school who took a similar path. Duquesne was in the college basketball wilderness after 25 years of losing. However, that 25 years of losing didn't change the expectations of the Duquesne fans once we started winning again. In an odd way, Duquesne has history working against us where any success for Stony Brook or Boise St was new and exciting. The Dukes have had some close calls in the years since Amodio has been hired but have yet to get over the hump. Two men's and women's basketball teams were capable of challenging for the NCAA tournament, but all four came up short. For the men, it happened very early on and it may have changed the timeline that Duquesne fans wanted success. Controversial decisions by Amodio to cut sports and the marching band have no doubt skewed expectations to compete sooner.

So based on some of the more profound turnarounds in college sports over the last 30 years, I would suggest that it takes somewhere from 9-15 years for an AD to turn a department around. Jim Fiore has taken Stony Brook further faster, but that doesn't mean Amodio is doing a poor job, just not an outstanding one. However, Amodio will need to show some success soon, maybe as soon as this coming season. It is worth noting that both AD's I highlighted did send teams to an NCAA tournament by this point in their tenure. For me, Amodio has another year, maybe two to show what he has. Before the end of the 14-15 academic calender, we need to see a regular season championship or NCAA berth in any sport to suggest that the department is still making progress.  If the department's stagnated, it would be reasonable to suggest that the same logic that applied when Everhart was fired now applies to Amodio. Like Everhart with the basketball program, Amodio would have left the athletic department in much better shape than he found it, but didn't take it far enough, fast enough to keep his job.  It takes a long time to turn a department around, but the doubters will keep getting louder and louder the longer Amodio goes without a winner. Nobody wants to wait any longer whether it's a realistic expectation or not. The pressure is on.