A Spotlight On Towson Athletic Director Mike Waddell
It’s Sunday morning and I send a direct message via Twitter to Towson athletic director Mike Waddell. It’s probably not the most conventional way to request a five-minute interview that will turn into a half-hour, but Waddell isn’t the most conventional A.D. Minutes later, Waddell messages back: “Call Now,” along with his cell phone number. And seconds later, another message: “6 minutes response time. Lol.” Think of Waddell as a first-responder – the fire-truck bowling down the street, sirens blaring, a crisis to confront. His emergency here is public relations. The most accessible athletic director in Division I athletics – unofficially, at least – lives to market the once-sorry program that he’s helping turn around in a blink. His impact since taking over Towson athletics in September 2010 is far-reaching, but let’s just focus on basketball, which, as he notes, is “the one sport that can be a revenue generator” in the Colonial Athletic Association.
After a 26-point win over James Madison on Saturday, Towson is 10-9 and 4-1 in the CAA. The school hasn’t had a winning record this late in the season since 1999-2000, which, technically, is last century. Bill Clinton was still in the Oval Office, not at the Golden Globes. The Tigers are not eligible for the CAA Tournament or any postseason play this season because of academic sanctions which go back to the previous regime. It’s a shame too, because Towson could be one of the best stories in college basketball. After a 1-31 season, the Tigers are one of the top teams in the CAA. Who knows if they’d win the league title, but CBS would practically explode if it had the chance to craft one of those feel-good segments you see every March. Inevitably, that segment would have to start with the vision of Waddell.
Following the 15th consecutive losing season for Towson hoops, Waddell said goodbye to coach Pat Kennedy. He looked at his own athletic program, at the coaches in charge of the sports that were succeeding, and aimed to fill the men’s basketball opening with a gritty, like-minded candidate. “Who are we going to bring in who can grind the way these people grind?” Waddell asked himself. The A.D. says the first person on his wish list was Pat Skerry, then an assistant from Jamie Dixon’s staff at Pittsburgh. Skerry grew up just outside of Boston and has the hearty accent to prove it. More importantly, he expected success and knew there wouldn’t be shortcuts to attain it. Waddell hired Skerry, who hopped into a kitchen lacking any utensils last season. Year One was an expected disaster, but Skerry has quickly brought in enough talent – including three Big East transfers – to now compete.
The roster isn’t home grown, but it looks scary good for the future. Barring the unforeseen, only fifth-leading scorer Bilal Dixon will be gone next year, which could be a new era for Towson basketball. In addition to boasting a deep roster featuring do-everything forward Jerrelle Benimon and flourishing guard Jerome Hairston, Towson will open a sparkling 5,200-seat arena, it will be eligible again for postseason competition, and it will have the CAA Tournament in its backyard for the first time. George Mason, Delaware and Drexel will again be among the favorites to win the CAA next year, but Towson will be more than just a dark horse pick to claim its first Colonial title, at First Mariner Bank Arena in Baltimore.