Compher looks back on his career at NIU


Former NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher at a news conference in 2011.

By Brian Earle

Over the last five years, Director of Athletics Jeff Compher has tried to live up to his mantra: “We Develop Champions; In the Classroom, In Competition and In Life.”

Compher accrued unmeasurable success and a number of accomplishments at NIU, not only athletically but also in the classroom. The NIU football team was ranked top 12 in the country in NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate in each of the last four seasons. There have been seven Academic All-Americans, two National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes and an NCAA Woman of the Year finalist since he took over.

“As I look around and I see other programs, and then I compare it to what we’ve been able to do, and I’m just really in awe of how they have rallied around this kind of academic and balanced philosophy of competing,” Compher said. “Knowing that [academics] it’s an expectation when they come here and that they are going to be held accountable and that they like it and that they really want to do well academically and they see that as important as winning championships.”

Athletically, Compher has been involved with a number of successful NIU programs, most notably in 2012 when football, men’s soccer, volleyball and men’s tennis won MAC championships.

“I think when you go back and you think, in the previous 11 years, you’d have to go back that far to just get that many championships, and we did all that in one year,” Compher said. “It speaks to how special that year was for us, and that’s something I will never forget.”

Individually, football has received the most praise in Compher’s stint as athletic director, especially with its historic invitation to the Orange Bowl.

“To me it just confirmed how good of a program we are and that we can compete on a national stage,” Compher said. “To see us out there in that light, it was so gratifying for everybody because I knew how hard people worked, and when you know that and then you see the results of their hard work pay off with something of that magnitude, that’s where you feel proud.”

Despite all the success academically and on the field, Compher’s biggest contribution to NIU athletics may be the deal he made with the IHSA to have NIU host the high school football state championships five times over the next 10 years.

“I mean, think about it: Every football program in this entire state is going to say, ‘We wanna get to DeKalb,’” Compher said. “And so to have that as a goal every other year is pretty special… And that’s so important for us, and obviously our community recognized how that can benefit out athletics program to have that kind of a prominence within our state.”

Compher had no fear of change at NIU as he helped stabilize it as a successful athletic program. He has done that by hiring 14 head coaches and culminated his tenure with the building of the Chessick Practice Center. As he moves on, Compher sees nothing but green pastures for NIU.

“Just continued growth and success, there’s too many good people here for that not to continue to happen,” Compher said. “I just continue to see it moving forward in a very, very positive way. I think our football program is certainly the engine that drives the train for us athletically, but all the other programs I see as moving up and getting better and having an opportunity to win championships.”