A new era began at the University of Delaware on Wednesday, as Eric Ziady was officially named the school’s new athletic director during a festive press conference at the Bob Carpenter Center. Ziady, who becomes just the fifth man to hold the position in the last 62 years, comes to Newark via Boston College, where he worked since 1998.
During his tenure at BC, Ziady learned at the foot of one of the most highly respected athletic directors in collegiate athletics. So it is an incredibly encouraging sign for Blue Hen Nation that Gene DeFilippo had this to say, through a University press release, about his former pupil.
“Eric Ziady is one of the finest athletics administrators I’ve ever been around,” said the former long-time Boston College AD. “He is incredibly bright and enthusiastic and was an integral part of our management team at Boston College. Within a very short period of time, everyone in the Delaware athletics community will realize what a great selection the University has made. We are all very excited for Eric and his family.”
Now of course DeFilippo was not going to say anything unflattering about Ziady as he walked out the door, but the he did build a staunch reputation over the years as an incredibly outspoken and blunt administrator. There is little evidence over the years of DeFilippo saying things he does not believe.
On top of DeFilippo’s glowing endorsement, a closer examination of Ziady’s resume makes it easy to see why Delaware made him their man.
For starters, he recently negotiated a six-year, multi-million dollar sponsorship agreement with Under Armour which covered all 31 BC sports programs and provided financial support for the athletic department. The sponsorship was the largest in the history of Boston College Athletics. Not coincidentally, Delaware also holds a sponsorship agreement with Under Armour, and would likely love to strike a deal anywhere near that zip code with the national apparel company.
Secondly, he was the senior associate athletic director at a top-tier BCS conference school with a $60 million annual budget and ranked second in the nation with a 97% graduation rate for its athletes.
And perhaps most importantly, Ziady has a strong background on the business side of collegiate athletics. He has twice served as a member of the NCAA’s certification subcommittees for fiscal integrity.
“Eric has a very strong background in financial administration and he’s a proven revenue-generator,” said university president Patrick Harker while introducing Ziady.
Considering Delaware’s desperate need to raise funds in order to build the facilities necessary to compete at the highest level in modern collegiate athletics, Ziady will need to be an adept fundraiser. And based on his background, that seems very likely.
As a result, this seems like a wise hire by Delaware. If Ziady can achieve the same kind of results he got as an underling at BC, the Delaware athletic department could grow into one of the strongest in the country at the mid-major level.
On top of Ziady’s impressive resume, I was struck most by two other areas of focus during Wednesday’s introductory event.
First was the mention of Ziady’s role in Boston College’s conference flip in 2005. One of the administrator’s chief responsibilities at Boston College was seeing the Eagles through their transition from the Big East to the ACC. Considering the recent upheaval inside the CAA, it seems telling the Hens would select someone with that kind of experience on his resume, a fact Harker did not shy away from on Wednesday.
“He understands the conference landscape,” Harker said. “And can help us navigate the thought-process of conference alignment and realignment.”
It is an excellent move by Delaware, which may very well be faced with a difficult decision in the near future on whether to continue to call the CAA home. Why wouldn’t you want someone who has been through the process before, and knows what has to happen from a preparation standpoint for a school to be ready to switch conferences if it has to?
At the same time, it cannot be welcome news for the folks working at the CAA office in Richmond. Just as the league seems to have restored stability and geographic balance with the additions of Stony Brook and Albany, one of its pillar institutions is championing its new athletic director’s experience in conference realignment. My guess is Tom Yeager may have popped a few antacids after hearing of President Harker’s remarks.
The other major thing I noticed was how whole-heartedly Ziady seemed to understand the need to be embraced by university alumni and supporters.
Bernard Muir brought many positives to Delaware during his tenure as AD, but one of them was not building a warm bond with the fanbase. Some of it was not his fault. Anyone who raised prices was going to be met with resistance, but many Blue Hens fans will argue (and a ton of them have shared with me this exact sentiment) that had the situation been handled with more tact, they would not have felt so unappreciated or undervalued.
Ziady must find a way to ease that sense, and bring back the many season-ticketholders who have decided to find something else to do other than head to Delaware Stadium or the Carpenter Center during autumn Saturdays and winter evenings.
“It’s going to be an on-going challenge,” Ziady said about his need to rebuild some relationships with alienated UD fans. “Obviously I need to come down here, I need to spend some time listening and I need to spend some time learning what the environment is down here. Engaging in the community; there are many facets to that.”
“I’m going to build a great team and we’ve got a great team,” he said about his support staff. “And I’m going to be out with them every day in the streets on the front lines.”
Clearly the man at least understands there is repair-work that needs to be done. He seems to be up to the challenge. Between that and his other skills, Delaware appears to have the right individual to move its athletic department into the future.
Perhaps it was Harker who said it best. While going through a list of the characteristics he was looking for in his new athletic director, one of his requirements was “[s]omeone who’s well-known and well-respected in college athletics. To put it simply, someone with clout.”
In that respect and many others, it seems like Harker found his man.