O’Dell gets priorities in line

By Jeff Kirik

This is the second of a three-part series on new NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell.

Gerald O’Dell knows that the miracles many people are expecting from him can’t happen overnight.

O’Dell has started the task of turning around the Huskie athletic department, but he is taking a systematic approach to the process.

The former Minnesota assistant athletic director has spent his first couple of weeks on the job gathering information. His schedule is filled with meeting after meeting with NIU officials. This allows him to evaluate the people he will be working with before deciding if changes need to be made.

“For this transition to take place and to take place smoothly,” he said, “we need to utilize the best resources we have here, and that’s the people. The best resources we have are the people that are already here.”

One task O’Dell has been working on since he has been on the job has been defining NIU’s mission for intercollegiate athletics. He said NIU needs to have a definite direction to point its athletic program in, and he and his co-workers have spent his first three weeks defining that direction.

“The mission of intercollegiate athletics at Northern Illinois University,” O’Dell said, “is to provide opportunities for male and female students to be successful athletically, academically and socially, without compromising the integrity of the institution.

“Additionally, intercollegiate athletics shall function as an integral part of the university. I think that says what we want to be and how we want to do it.”

In addition, O’Dell said he had certain priorities which he had set which he felt would help set NIU on its way to the mission.

The top priority is to meet, get to know and evaluate all the people in the athletic department, including coaches, equipment managers, the sports information office and many others. After he has done that, a mission will be set for each branch to tell each unit what it is “accountable for.”

The second priority is to develop a promotions and marketing unit. O’Dell started this task when he hired Mary Mihelich, his former assistant at Minnesota, to direct that program.

O’Dell sees the next priority as the creation of an athletic development program, which will be a fund-raising unit. He said this program would work directly with the university foundation to generate revenue for scholarships.

“That means taking whatever fund-raising programs we have, right now, in place and integrating those into one functioning unit,” he said. “Most major athletic programs in the country have strong development programs.”

The next priority on O’Dell’s list was to “evaluate the total athletic program and restructure it.” He said that every phase (scheduling, coaches, budget, etc.) of every sport would be evaluated to see where improvement is needed.

The final high priority to O’Dell is the development of an academic compliance program.

“All that means is that we want to evaluate our academic program for athletics,” he said, adding that each student-athlete would be checked thoroughly before being given a scholarship and then tracked for progress while at NIU. “Our role is to not program them to fail academically.”

O’Dell said the reason this priority came as far down as it did was because “we do such a great job here academically now with our student athletes.”