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Scratching out success
Question of the Day
Sounds familiar, right? The only twist: He was hired in 1970.
From time to time, the theme would come up. Interest grew in the 1980s and 1990s, but there was never a simple answer to the financial question.
“The dollars just didn’t come in,” Jarrett said. “It’s always been all about money. I was able to make the point, and people listened to it, that we didn’t want to take what money we had in our program and put it all into football and then have horrible basketball teams and other sports teams. If we were going to do it and it was popular enough as a sport, we had to get new money to make it happen.”
All the while, things grew rapidly in Hampton Roads, a sprawling series of cities in Virginia’s southeastern corner. That growth was reflected at Old Dominion in the mushrooming on-campus population and the construction in recent years of more dorms.
“The interest is certainly there, and one of the reasons is they’ve done so much to the campus,” said Tony Mercurio, a longtime host on local sports-talk radio station ESPN 1310. “They’ve added so many more beds and dorms and the Constant Center and really changed the campus drastically in the last 10 years. It’s great to have all these extras, but if you don’t have anything to do, they’re going to get bored to death and not stay there.”
Still, the dreams of local fans and the relative boredom of students weren’t enough to make a program a reality. Students would need to make some financial sacrifices, but much of the money needed to come from elsewhere.
That, it turns out, wasn’t much of a problem. The Monarchs long ago sold out the 16,000 seats available to the public, and fans quickly claimed the 24 luxury suites as well.
The Monarchs also needed to find an on-field leader for their program and chose Wilder, a former Maine assistant, more than two years ago. In Wilder’s spacious office sit two shelves of binders, 34 in all, detailing every facet of the team’s construction.
Everything in his year-old building, the Powhatan Sports Complex, bears Wilder’s imprint. He was ecstatic to earn one of the rare start-up jobs in college football, but he couldn’t entirely fathom the scope of his new responsibilities when, just a week into the job, he met with architects, contractors and other athletic department officials.
“They’re saying, ‘OK, coach, now tell us what you want,’ ” Wilder said. “It’s kind of one of those things where I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is a joke, right? There’s a camera around here somewhere.’ I was just trying to keep my poise at the time and thinking, ‘OK, can I have a copy of these blueprints?’ ”
Wilder did more than help design a building. He picked the minds of South Florida’s Jim Leavitt and Coastal Carolina’s David Bennett, spending two days with a pair of coaches who piloted start-up programs and learning he would be wise to recruit junior college players to provide an element of experience.
He decided to aim high - and chose those two words as the program’s motto. Reminders are everywhere, right down to the three glistening conference title rings he earned at Maine sitting on the edge of his desk.
“This program has our blueprint all over it,” Wilder said. “Good or bad, whatever happens, it’s ours. We started it.”
On a steamy July morning, some bricks, construction equipment and a filing cabinet sat at the entrance to Foreman Field, where workers are wrapping up a nearly $25 million renovation project. The workers spray metal bleachers, scrub sinks in a new concessions area and add touches to the spacious luxury suites.
About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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