O’Dell confronts job of AD restructuring

By Jeff Kirik

This is the last of a three-part series profiling new NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell. This segment focuses on the merger between men’s and women’s athletics.

When the external and internal review comittees filed their reports on the NIU athletic department last year, they both recommended NIU merge its men’s and women’s athletic programs into one unit.

Now it’s Gerald O’Dell’s responsibility to see that the job gets done right.

O’Dell said the merger of the two programs is an obvious move to ensure that all NIU athletics work together in one direction. He said having cooperation within the athletic program is the key to success.

“We all need to get on the same page,” he said. “Each unit within this athletic department should be able to support the other units in some way.”

Former men’s athletic director, Robert Brigham and former women’s athletic director Susie Pembroke-Jones will continue working at NIU. Brigham will function in an advisory position to help O’Dell with the transition and Pembroke-Jones will work as associate athletic director.

O’Dell has met with almost all of the staff members in NIU’s athletic program, and he admits that some of them expressed concern about the merger. He said the merger should be looked at as a team effort to reach a mission.

“I’ve had very little anxiety (about the merger),” he said. “There may be some anxiety out there, but it’s hard to imagine that there even should be anxiety.

“Realize that I am very sensitive to the needs of the coaches—to their concerns, (and) the athletes. I’m very sensitive to the constituents.”

An example of how the merger would affect the athletic department would be the changing status of NIU’s two fund raising programs—the Huskie Club (for men’s athletics) and the NI Club (for women’s). He said the two units will not be merged—rather, a whole new development program will be formed. He did say, however, that members of both the NI and Huskie Clubs will be used in the new program.

He said it isn’t his responsibility to align NIU’s sports in a priority list because that was done long before he ever arrived at NIU.

“There are already priorities established here, and they’re common-sense priorities,” he said. “Football is the number one sport based on budget. We have to have priorities.

“Our coaches are used to understanding priorities. Our top sports as far as recognition and emphasis right now are football, our basketball programs and our volleyball program.”

O’Dell mentioned three qualities he expected his co-workers to have during the change in the department.

“Number one, you have to be flexible any time there’s change,” he said. “Two, you have to be patient. But probably most of all you have to have vision.”

O’Dell is taking a systematic approach to evaluating how each phase of the athletic program will be affected by the merger. He said each phase will be discussed by a staff of administrators and department heads and then be judged to see if the merger will have a positive or a negative effect on it.

“We’re going to go through a systematic process of looking at all the departments, all the teams, we’re looking at what I call all of the auxiliary activities,” O’Dell said. “That could be the Hall of Fame, the facilities, the North Star Conference—the list is so long.”