By Dave Ruthenberg
CNHI News Service
TULSA – The University of Tulsa’s new director of athletics likely knew he had to hit the ground running. If not, he soon realized it after attending his 187th “meet and greet” style event last week when he met with members of the sports media.
Dr. Derrick Gragg was named the Golden Hurricane’s new athletic director in March and officially came on board last month and there hasn’t been much down time since for the easy-going, affable Gragg.
But don’t be fooled by his calm demeanor. Gragg, who came to Tulsa after spending the past seven years as the athletic director at Eastern Michigan University, appears to have a firm grasp on the challenges at Tulsa and may be uniquely qualified to steer TU through its transition after this season from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference.
In fact, Gragg sees that right now as his top priority.
“I think that is the biggest task, along with getting out and interacting with a lot of the people that support (Tulsa), along with the community,” he said. “That, and really being one of the faces of the program. Your head coaches need to do that as well, but as the main leader of the university athletic department, I need to be visible.”
Being visible in a state dominated by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State athletics can be a daunting obstacle, but Gragg’s experience at Eastern Michigan set him up to face such a challenge.
Located in Ypsilanti, Mich., EMU’s football stadium lies a mere seven miles from the football stadium at the University of Michigan, where the Wolverines regularly play in front of 112,000 people, attract the lion’s share of media and generally take up all of the collegiate athletic oxygen. What it doesn’t use up, Michigan State takes in the rest.
That left very little press coverage for a Division I program that struggled to get 5,000 people to its football games, rarely garnering more than a paragraph or two in the major newspapers.
Despite its obvious disadvantages, the Eagles still managed to win 23 conference championships during Gragg’s seven-year tenure, though success in football and basketball continued to elude the program.
Gragg’s experience at EMU made it mandatory to understand the importance of marketing, something he plans to apply at Tulsa, which averaged 20,020 fans per game at 30,000-seat H.A. Chapman Stadium in 2012.
“Having a marketing director that will focus on attendance and on promotions, rather than having to piecemeal everything is important,” Gragg said.
– Dave Ruthenberg is the sports editor for the Enid News and Eagle.