O’Dell pitches for NIU AD job

By Jim Wozniak

Now comes the hard part.

Now that Minnesota Assistant Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell has finished making his case for NIU’s permanent AD spot, the search committee has the burden to decide the university’s athletic future in the next few days. Committee Chairman Nancy Vedral said the committee hopes to have a written recommendation to NIU President John LaTourette by Friday afternoon.

But Wednesday belonged to O’Dell. O’Dell answered a lot of the questions with a simple “I’d have to evaluate that.” At one point, people at the public forum might have wondered about how seriously he wanted the job when he said, “If I am offered the job and if I take the job…” But his main message was to define NIU’s goal, meet it and then solidify it.

O’Dell, 38, has been at Minnesota since 1984 as an administrator and spent the year before that as a Golden Gopher assistant football coach. He also has been an assistant at Iowa State for three years, Oklahoma (twice) for four years total, Mississippi State for a year and Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma for two years.

O’Dell received his bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State in 1971 and two years later received his master’s from Oklahoma. Both degrees were in physical education. He added that he was recently married.

“We’ve talked about concerns of development and fundraising,” O’Dell said of interviews before the public forum. “I know there are problems with a lack of identity. I’d like to see us enhance that identification. If you want sons or daughters to come here or people to give money, get people to identify with Northern Illinois.

“My philosophy is to have a well-rounded program. When I was at Iowa State, we had a very successful women’s program. We can market women’s athletics, but I don’t know if we can market it as well as football. If I’m offered the position and if I accept it, I will talk to people who have merged programs and see how they did it. I see a merger, not a submerger.

“I’m interested in the opportunity. I haven’t always had the opportunities to implement my own ideas. If I am the athletic director, I will tell them (people he is in charge of) what they can expect of me and what I expect of them. I think the mission should be defined by those in charge (LaTourette, vice presidents). I asked them, ‘Will I have that support?’ and got a ‘yes’ answer. I’m going to roll up my sleeves, and I expect others to do that.”

Other ideas O’Dell expressed included the following:

NIU is between a Northern Iowa and a Wisconsin. He said the football schedule is more balanced this year, but playing some of the teams NIU did last year is necessary if NIU wants to advance.

NIU does not have to concentrate on Chicago for resources but should not forget about it.

NIU should take full advantage of radio broadcasts of football games to promote the entire university, not just the athletic department.

While NIU coaches did not express their final choice openly, at least two coaches expressed a race between O’Dell and Russ Sloan, who is the first candidate to go before the forum.

“My opinion is swaying a bit,” wrestling coach Ed Vatch said. “I question the relationship a little bit between Sloan and the vice presidents, but I like the fact that he’s in a hurry to get to the top. O’Dell seemed to want to take his time. The character of O’Dell is very good. The coaches at Fresno State are very high on him (Sloan).”

Vatch said it might be more important for the new director to “get our own house in order,” which he indicated was a favorable mark toward O’Dell.

Men’s basketball coach Jim Rosborough said, “I’m going to really debate it. I really think Mr. Sloan and Mr. O’Dell would do an excellent job, but I feel badly that I wasn’t able to spend more time with him (Michigan Assistant AD Mike Palmisano). But his nervousness suggests that maybe we didn’t see his best side. I’m going to write down some pros and cons and pass them on to the committee and go from there.”