|Chancellor Steve Ballard introduced ECU's new athletic director.
ECU becomes the third UNC system campus where Jeff Compher has worked. He cut his teeth at N.C. State University and had his first AD job at Western Carolina University. Those two stops account for 17 of his 30 odd years in college athletics.
Compher comes to Greenville from Northern Illinois University, a member of the Mid America Conference, where he served as associate vice president and director of athletics for the past five years. His salary at ECU will be $415,000.
Compher, 53, is a native of Baltimore, Md. He played football and majored in psychology at James Madison University in Virginia, graduating in 1980. He received a master's degree in counseling and student personnel services from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania in 1982.
Compher worked at North Carolina State for 13 years. He was assistant director of Housing and Residence Life from 1982-86. From 1986 to 1992 he oversaw student-athlete support service areas, was a liaison with the academic support program and supervised student-athlete housing and dining facilities. He then became director of the Chancellor's Circle in the Office of University Development from 1993 to 1994. From 1994 to 1996 he was an assistant to the chancellor at State. He coordinated media contacts and was a liaison between the chancellor and the faculty and staff.
In 1998 he left for Vanderbilt University in Nashville to become senior associate director of athletics. He supervised NCAA compliance and academic support. He also managed annual giving, media relations, marketing and promotions.
He left Vanderbilt in 2000 he became the athletics director at Western Carolina University. During his tenure at Western Carolina, the Catamounts' athletic operating budget increased by 42 percent, and the budget for athletic scholarships rose 113 percent.
In 2004 he left Western for the University of Washington in Seattle to become its executive associate athletic director. He left Washington in May 2005 to become the director of athletics at NIU in DeKalb, Ill, which is about 30 miles west of Chicago.
Northern Illinois won a school record four Mid-American Conference championships in 2011-12 with football, men's soccer and volleyball bringing home titles in the fall, and men's tennis securing the league crown last spring.
The Huskie football team won its second straight conference football crown in 2012 and, after winning 12 consecutive games following a season-opening loss, NIU became the first Mid-American Conference team to play in the Bowl Championship Series by earning a berth in January’s Discover Orange Bowl. NIU lost to Florida State, 31-10.
Compher and his wife, Cathy, have two sons, C.J., who is 20, and David, 17.
East spoke with Compher in April before he began his new job on May 1. A condensed version of that interview follows:
Pirate Club director named
Jay Batt is the new senior associate athletics director and executive director of the Pirate Club. Batt, who was the associate athletics director and executive director of Maryland’s Terrapin Club, began his new job April 30.
He succeeds Dennis Young Sr. ’69, who retired last year after leading the Pirate Club for 15 years.
“We are confident he will make a great addition to the university as we move into a new era of ECU athletics,” Chancellor Steve Ballard and incoming Athletic Director Jeff Compher said in a joint email distributed to Pirate Club members. “During this time of constrained fiscal resources and rising expectations, East Carolina University will continue to move forward with a more closely integrated fundraising and engagement operation as we strive to navigate the challenges ahead.”
Batt joined the Terrapin Club staff in 2009 and has served as executive director since September 2011. He directed its 2011-12 annual fund drive, raising more than $9 million in scholarship support, representing a 12 percent increase year over year.
Batt holds bachelors and master’s degrees from North Carolina, where he was goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team from 2000 to 2004. His wife, Leah, is from Raleigh.
“It is an exciting time to be a part of ECU athletics,” Batt said. “I look forward to working with Chancellor Ballard, Jeff Compher and the Pirate Club board of directors to take Pirate athletics and the Pirate Club to even higher levels of success.
“My family and I are thrilled to be coming back to North Carolina and to be part of Pirate Nation.”
Will you be bringing any staff with you?
No. If you know anything about my transition to NIU or at Western, I didn’t bring people with me right away. I want to assess the staff and organization there before any personnel decisions are made. Unless there is a vacancy that needs to be filled right away, then I will take some time. I have no plans to make any additional moves.
Had you met or worked with Jay Batt, the new Pirate Club president, before?
No. I have not known of him, but once I met him and had a chance to be around him, I said wow, he is someone who can bring a fresh set of eyes to the Pirate Club. I think he is innovative and progressive. He is a former student athlete, and I think that brings a good perspective.
Chancellor Ballard said recently that ECU will be moving forward with a “more closely integrated fundraising and engagement operation” between the university and the Pirate Club. From your perspective, how do you balance the sometimes conflicting goals that any university has with its booster club?
I think that's a great question. The last thing we want to do is to take away from that passionate spirit that the Pirate Club has. We will continue to work with their leadership, work on our projects together and to work on the primary goal, which is to raise money for scholarships.
We need to communicate across all three of our foundations. We need to be sure we can coordinate our efforts so that during peak times of the year a donor isn’t solicited several times. It looks confusing to a donor when they say. ‘I just talked to so and so from this group and now you’re talking to me.’
So I think it’s important that we integrate our information on people. The most important thing from my perspective is, we continue to fund our scholarships and we continue to look at projects and put people in the stands. Secondly, we need to be good partners with the university and the other foundations.
How do you feel about selling the naming rights to athletic facilities?
I think it’s something you need to look at. But if you do look at that, as you go down that road, you must make sure you value it correctly because if you’re going to have a partner like that over a long period of time, you have to value that so that you don't say a few years later, ‘why did we do that,’ and have buyers’ remorse.
What are the two or three most important things that ECU needs to do now to prepare to move up to a BCS automatic qualifying conference?
We need to be doing a lot of talking within the conference, so that we get things organized from a scheduling philosophy. Will we have conference divisions or not, how would that work? But let’s not lose focus that this year we are in C-USA and we want to win all those games. We don’t want to look too far ahead.
Let’s make sure we stay focused and do the best job we can and take some championships with us when we do move into this new conference, the AAC.
But I think we’re on our way (to demonstrating ECU sports teams can compete in a BCS automatic qualifying conference). Both (football and basketball) had such a great year this year, especially basketball which had been the BCS problem.
Should ECU revive its men’s soccer program?
I think we should assess the history on why that decision was made, and what impact it would make on us financially and gender wise (to revive men’s soccer). I’m not sure that would be something I would take on right away. As those questions arise, certainly if those decisions were made for a reason, then I have to respect that initially.
You have a track record at NIU, Western Carolina and the University of Washington of building sports facilities. What are the capital projects you think ECU needs to address?
The first thing I want to do is to build some championships. Competitively, we need to do better. And in the classroom I want to build some championships there, too. But in bricks and mortar, I want to work with people, so I will spend some time talking with people. The Olympic Sports facility is second to none and we should be very proud of that and the expansion of the football stadium. There are opportunities down the road to prioritize our needs and then think about bricks and mortar.
The one thing we still need to do is complete the basketball practice center. I know we’re getting close, financially, but we need to complete that.
At the end of your first year in this job, what do you hope people will say about you?
I hope they will be saying that Jeff is making progress toward the departmental goals. That he is moving forward with his strategic plan. That he has gotten out to meet a lot of people and that he knows the student athletes and the coaches and has become a familiar face around the department and the community.
One of the things I want to do is connect with the students on campus, to send the message that our success is contingent on their participation and support. To me college athletics is different from any sports, and it’s because of the students, the band, the whole spectacle around the event.
Your youngest son, David, is going off to college this fall. Which school did he choose?
He picked South Carolina. He applied at ECU and was accepted. And he was torn for a while because he enjoyed the (ECU) campus community. Both boys said, ‘we’re coming for most of the (ECU) home games.’ They like the excitement around football. David got to go to one of the CIT games and enjoyed it. But kids often want to go somewhere out of their parents’ shadow, and I think that’s what David did.
You lived and worked in Greenville during an early part of your career. Tell me about that.
We did live in Greenville for about 18 months. My older son C.J. was born in Greenville. I left higher education for a while and went into pharmaceutical sales, and the company wanted me to live in Greenville, and I like living in a college town. I worked for Sanofi Winthrop. I sold contrast imaging materials, like when you get a heart cath. Before that, I was in athletics at N.C. State, and Todd Turner came in and started hiring a lot of his people. He wanted me to take a position I had already had and had mastered, so I started thinking about expanding my horizons. I was getting married and wanted to be financially OK, and somebody said ‘you would be good in sales.’
Won’t it be a little intimidating to have Terry Holland looking over your shoulder?
First, I totally recognize the impact Terry has had on ECU. He and Ann are wonderful people, I enjoyed getting to know them. What’s so great is he is such a gentleman, so gracious. He has offered his assistance, but he understands what transitions are like. I look forward to picking his brain and talking with him. I said, ‘Coach, if you see me getting ready to run over a big pothole ahead, please let me know.’ And he will. We both care about the same things.