It’s a busy time for the University of Miami athletics program.
Last week, the Hurricanes pulled in a top-15 recruiting class on National Signing Day. Track star-turned-bobsledder Lauryn Williams became the first UM alum in the Winter Olympics. Baseball begins its quest for a trip to Omaha this weekend.
Director of Athletics Blake James celebrated his one-year anniversary as AD on Saturday. James took over on an interim basis October 2012 before being named in a permanent capacity Feb. 8, 2013.
James spoke to FOXSportsFlorida.com via phone early last week about a range of topics, including the U brand and NCAA sanctions. Here is part 1 of 2:
FS FLORIDA: Is there ever a dull day at the University of Miami?
BLAKE JAMES: (laughs) Honestly, that’s one of the great things about the town. There never is a dull day. There is always something happening. I think that’s a credit to the program we have to the wonderful exposure and recognition we get not only nationally but worldwide. When you’re in that spotlight there’s always going to be something. Again, I think it’s a great benefit and opportunity for the young men and women who come here to hone their skills academically and athletically and strive for excellence in both areas. At the same time, it’s national and more worldwide spotlight that is constantly on. When you have that and you’re in my position that means you’re always busy.
FSF: And now it’ll be even more worldwide with Lauryn in the Olympics.
JAMES: She’s such a tremendous representative of our program and a wonderful person. For her now to have the opportunity to compete in the (Winter) Olympic games — couldn’t be happier for her, couldn’t be more proud of her. Obviously, I’m very proud of our program that we’re able to have a representative like Lauryn. I think it says a lot for all the men and women who come through here. It’s indicative of the type of kids we have at the University of Miami.
FSF: I think it was maybe 3-4 years ago now when the school transitioned so the U was even the logo for academics. Since you’ve been a part of the university, how have you seen the brand awareness develop over time where people not only recognize the U symbol but what the school and athletics have to offer?
JAMES: I started volunteering here in 1993. As I look back over 20 years, the U and athletics has always been one of the most recognized symbols in college sports. You credit the baseball and football teams in particular that really made the mark nationally. With that said, the amount of synergy that we have created through the adoption of the logo on campus and the great workings that we have going on in all areas of the campus has just elevated the program. Through that it’s made the mark even more recognizable and celebrated.
FSF: For you in particular, maybe even the athletic department in general, what’s the next thing you guys want to achieve and get done?
JAMES: I guess from a capital-project perspective, we launched the Football Victory Fund late fall period. Right after we opened the Schwartz Center it was important we went to the next step in continuing to rebuild our football program and our athletic program. I think through the Victory Fund, which includes a student-athletic complex (and) some other additions that will benefit all of our student-athletes — not to mention further develop our facilities for our program.
That’s really the next big thing. There’s a lot of things on the list. There’s a lot of things we need to do. For me, what’s important is we continue to scratch things off the list. That’s what we’ll continue to do as a program. If I had to put my finger on one thing right now and say, ‘What’s the next big thing?’ I would say the Football Victory Fund. But I would put an asterisk by that and say there’s a lot of things we have to do in order to achieve our goal of achieving excellence in academics and athletics and life.
FSF: How do you balance long-term and short-term goals? Obviously you have to have both, and sometimes the short-term goals can help lead to those long-term goals.
JAMES: I think it’s keeping focus on both. You want to have wins on both fronts. You need to have a plan and be working toward that plan. So achieving your long-term goals is critical to developing that plan. At the same time, you want to have wins along the way to build momentum towards what you’re doing. It’s a balance of making sure we’re doing what we need to do immediately. At the same time, it’s continuing to prepare and push for what needs to be done for the long-term success of the program.
FSF: Has everything finally settled (since the NCAA investigation)?
JAMES: It was a great feeling of relief. I think it’s a situation where having jumped in with both feet when I became athletic director in October 2012 I had a pretty good idea of what had happened and what the findings were through the process. Having worked in college athletics for 20 years (I had) a general idea as to where I thought things would play out. I do think the process was a little longer than any one of us would have liked. It was fair and the findings of the committee was fair and obviously there was just a sense of relief to realize what we had assumed was in fact true. We were able to move full speed ahead.
FSF: Which is a perfect hashtag to use. Has there been any further talk with the NCAA about scholarships?
JAMES: We haven’t had any discussions with them. Right now we’re focusing on the things that we need to do. We’ll continue to address those issues. At a time when there’s an ultimate decision made as to what we’ll do we’ll make some kind of announcement on that, but right now it’s continuing to do the things we need to do.
There was a lot that was in that report, and so it’s putting all the pieces in place. As we put the pieces in place we’ll continue to address different areas. One being the allocation of scholarships and the reduction we had received as a result of the findings.