Boise State Athletic Director Mark Coyle, who accepted a new job at Syracuse after three and a half years as a Bronco, told the Idaho Statesman on Thursday that Syracuse’s reputation for excellent academics and athletics and the age of his children (his oldest, 13-year-old Grace, starts high school in 2016) made this the right time to move. He met with the Statesman on his last day as a Bronco. He officially becomes the Syracuse athletic director Monday but will take two weeks to move his family across the country and report to his office July 20.
Here is the bulk of our Q&A:
Q: What made Syracuse and this timing right for you?
A: “First off, it’s very difficult to leave Boise State. This place has been awesome. We love the community and we love being a part of Boise State and what it represents and what it stands for. From a timing perspective, our oldest is going into eighth grade this year. My wife and I talked about that we didn’t want to move our kids when they got into high school. ... The more we learned about Syracuse, the more it felt like a really good fit for us. So it made sense for our family to make the move at this time. And plus it gets us a lot closer to a lot of our family, which is all on that side of the country (Chicago, Iowa, New Jersey, Boston, New York City).”
Q: How many schools interviewed you?
A: “It’s difficult to say because I had schools and search firms reach out to me. My name popped up at other places that I did not have conversations with. Boise State is such a special place and has such strong brand recognition in collegiate athletics that as we had success, and especially in the spring when our basketball teams won conference championships, my name started circulating more and more.”
Q: What was it about Syracuse that felt right for you?
A: “I love the fact that it has a strong academic background. You can ask my mom back in Iowa. When I told her I wanted to be in college athletics, I said I always wanted to be an AD at a school that has a strong academic background and a strong athletic background. And I think Syracuse has both those fits. I like that part of it. ... We felt like Syracuse was such a special opportunity, the chance to be in the ACC. Those things are attractive.”
Q: You’re leaving for a Power Five school. Former football coach Chris Petersen left for a Power Five school. How much is that gap still an issue for Boise State?
A: “I don’t know if I look at it that way. ... Boise State has such a unique and innovative brand that I never viewed it as non-Power Five and Power Five. I do think the resources are different. There’s no doubt the resources are different. But I never looked at it as I’ve got to get to a Power Five (school). My take was on, ‘Where is the place that I can get our kids through high school and find the right fit for our family?’ ”
Q: So you’re expecting to be there for a decade?
A: “It would be exactly 10 years for all of our kids to get through high school there. As you know, these jobs are hard. We would love to have that opportunity. I hope we can do that.”
Q: What are you most proud of from your time at Boise State?
A: “I think what I’m most proud of is I replaced a gentleman (Gene Bleymaier) who was here for a long time. When I got here, there was a lot of anxiety amongst the staff – ‘Who is this guy coming from Kentucky?’ I’m very proud of how the staff responded to me and very appreciative of how they responded to me. Those results are shown in the five conference championships (in 2014-15), 18 out of 19 teams setting their highest GPA, over 72 percent of our kids are above a 3.0, record fund raising. All those things, the athletic director gets the credit for that, but it’s a staff that’s doing all the work.”
Q: If you had stayed, what were the major challenges ahead here?
A: “The next couple things we were looking at were on the basketball side for men’s and women’s basketball, what can we do to enhance the game-day experience. We’ve got the new video boards going in (for 2015-16). Those are going to be awesome. But then also we have a swimming and diving program that excels at a high level. We were going to have to look at that: What can we do for that program to help it continue to grow? We compete off-campus at the (YMCA). Are there any options to compete on campus?”
Q: President Bob Kustra mentioned that he wants a baseball program. How far did you get with that idea?
A: “Dr. Kustra approached me more than a year ago and said he wanted to add baseball. We have had conversations with gender-equity consultants from a Title IX perspective. We also have researched other baseball programs in the West. We’ve put together budgets, we’ve put together what staff would we have to add. That ball was rolling. Now (new Athletic Director Curt Apsey) and Dr. Kustra will have to move that forward. Dr. Kustra is very passionate about baseball and very passionate about Boise State and is really excited about that in the future.” (Note: The gender-equity consultant didn’t find any “red flags,” Coyle said, but did recommend investing in facilities for the existing women’s programs.)
Q: You were scraping together every dollar to support the existing programs but Boise State is a bit of an oddball in Division I in not sponsoring baseball. How did you view the idea?
A: “You’ve got to find a balance. I think Boise State does a phenomenal job of maximizing our revenue – we have a $38.5 million budget going into (fiscal year) 2016. We do an awesome job of managing that budget and spending wisely. When you add a sport, you’ve got to continue to find that balance. A lot of programs play baseball and we have heard from a lot of people in the Treasure Valley – we have a lot of baseball talent here. Dr. Kustra has been a visionary in building this institution. This is another avenue to get people who are local to stay at Boise State.”
Q: How would you describe Kustra’s role in athletics?
A: “I use one word: supportive. In three and a half years that he and I have worked together, he’s involved, he pays attention, and I mean that in a good way. He recognizes what an athletic department can do for an institution. If you do it the right way and you have Fiesta Bowl wins, you get to the NCAA Tournament, you do some of those special things – that’s unbelievable advertising for the institution. Bob is unique in that perspective where as a president he embraces that. He sees the value of the branding and what that means for Boise State as an institution.”
Q: There’s outside speculation that he is too involved. Did you feel that way?
A: “He’s always been supportive of me and our program. These jobs are so competitive to get and I will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me and my family. He has a unique ability to see the big picture ... and he’s very creative.”
Q: What was your reaction when you heard Apsey would replace you?
A: “Excited for Curt. He and I worked together for almost three years. He obviously cares a great deal about this place. It’s home for Curt, and I was excited for he and his wife, Teresa. He deserves it and he’s going to do an awesome job here.”
Q: Any regrets? Anything you wanted to get done and didn’t?
A: “I wish the video boards would have been in (Taco Bell Arena) last year. We have worked so hard on the video boards for Taco Bell Arena. When that place is full, it’s an awesome environment. We’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work to help our basketball programs – from the Arguinchona Basketball Complex, which was finished right before I got here, to the renovation of the (auxiliary) gym ... more money for charters. But we didn’t provide anything for the fans. And I wish we would have gotten those video boards in. I joke with my wife that when they host the NCAA Tournament out here, if Syracuse is fortunate enough to get in the NCAA Tournament, maybe they’ll send me out to Boise so I can see the video boards. ... It’s going to change that building. I wish I would have gotten those video boards done a year ago. I tried.”
Q: Did you have a pet project you worked on?
A: “Being at Kentucky for seven years, being at Minnesota, Florida State and Miami – I’ve been around those high-resource (conferences) my whole career. I have unbelievable contacts – I know the commissioners of all the major conferences, I know a lot of the ADs. The big thing I felt I worked hard on was autonomy and how could I keep Boise State in that conversation. I’m very proud that when our coaches go on the road to recruit, when they’re going against Pac-12 schools, when they’re going against Big 12 schools, our coaches can say the same thing that those coaches are saying – and we have half the budget. ... When (football coach Bryan) Harsin is in a living room recruiting a wide receiver, he can tell that person: ‘You’re going to get cost of attendance. You’re going to get unlimited meals. You’re going to get fueling stations.’ A lot of our peers aren’t able to do that in the Mountain West. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on if we can get a naming partner for the stadium, I can take that money and help offset that. If we develop a strategic partnership here, we can do the fueling stations. ... Our lifeline is recruiting. You’ve got to get the kids here.”
Q: Any feel for what you’re walking into at Syracuse? What your challenges are there?
A: “It’s a program that has a strong history and tradition. It’s a program that’s very similar to when I walked in at Boise State, they’re going through some NCAA lack of institutional control. It’s a department that’s anxious because again you have a brand new AD coming from Boise State. When I was there last week it was so quick. I’m looking forward to getting with the staff and working with them.”
Q: How is your family handling the move? (He and his wife, Krystan, have three children.)
A: “Our kids are really good about it. It’s been surprising. Gracie asked me what their colors were and I said ‘blue and orange’ and she was like, ‘OK, I’m good.’ We showed a picture of the Carrier Dome when they played Duke to the boys (Nicholas and Benjamin), where they had 36,000 fans for basketball, and the guys were like, ‘OK, that’s pretty cool.’ This place is such a great community and they developed such really good friends. This week’s been hard because every night is a different going-away party for our kids with different friends. I don’t think it’s hit them yet. It’s going to be hard, but the kids have been awesome about it. And we’ll be back out here. There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll come back out here each summer and spend some time.”