Shafer eager to get started

Thursday, December 18, 2008
ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Southeast Missouri State University announced John Shafer as its new athletic director Tuesday.

John Shafer hasn't been through Cape Girardeau very often. He hasn't been exposed to Southeast Missouri State all that much.

And yet he's heard that the person really in charge of the university's struggling athletics department is his boss, president Kenneth Dobbins.

"I don't know that to be true," Shafer said. "I don't believe that to be true. I believe Dr. Dobbins and the administration are allies [for athletics]."

Shafer on Feb. 1 -- or sooner -- will begin developing that relationship with Dobbins and others in hopes of rebuilding the university's athletic program. He was announced Tuesday as the athletic director and was available to the media by telephone from his office in Auburn, Ala., on Wednesday.

Shafer received the offer Monday and accepted without hesitation. He signed a contract that pays $120,000 annually through June 2012.

He succeeds Don Kaverman, who was terminated Oct. 9 with 120 days' notice and remains on administrative leave until Feb. 7. Shafer will inherit a situation where the football program has had two winning seasons since jumping to Division I-AA in 1991, and only one since 1995; the women's basketball program earlier this year received an NCAA penalty and had to vacate victories for two seasons, including the OVC championship and NCAA tournament appearance of 2005-06; and the men's basketball team now is under the NCAA microscope with its coach on administrative leave.

The program has seen an erosion of its financial support and concern about having facilities at a level to be competitive in the Ohio Valley Conference.

"This isn't a quick fix," Shafer said. "This is something that's going to take time, take a commitment and a recommitment. A commitment on our part and a recommitment of the people that have left the program -- people who aren't buying tickets anymore and that aren't financially contributing to the university. We've got to recoup those people. That will be our goal."

Shafer said during his public forum last week that he had heard the talk about Dobbins' involvement in athletics. He asked rhetorically, "Do you think if he ran the department, we'd be in the NCAA problem that we're in now?"

On Wednesday, he talked about what he expects from the relationship with Dobbins.

"While we may disagree on things, he'll hear me out and I'll try to make an educated, articulated presentation that is viable," Shafer said. "I'm sure we'll disagree on things, but that doesn't mean I won't be back again, and back again, and back again, and maybe the climate changes in the meantime or I do a better job of presenting it."

Shafer admitted his run of four-plus years at Ole Miss came to an end in 2002 when he and the university leadership no longer were on the same page. He is credited for a period of increased fundraising and facility improvements and a successful run on the field at Ole Miss.

"I'd rather not comment on it," Shafer said about his resignation there. "I'd rather talk about the positives with Southeast."

The positives that Shafer plans to accentuate?

"I thought from the beginning that Dr. Dobbins is an ally; I believe with all my heart," he said. "I believe that it's a great town, the Show Me Center is a showplace. What I do is look at the positives as much as I can. We can articulate the negatives all day. I want to get positives that are workable and we can get to work as a whole -- coaches, student-athletes, staff, everybody -- headed in the same direction."

The direction in the immediate future will not be easy for Southeast and other institutions that rely on public funding.

"I think this is by far in my lifetime the most trying time economically," said Shafer, 62, whose 25 years in athletic administration include 17 years as a senior associate AD at Georgia and 19 months as the AD at Eastern Kentucky from 2003 to 2004. "It will be a challenge, but it's not something we can't overcome because we'll do it as a university family.

"Everybody is going to be facing the same challenges. That won't put you at a competitive disadvantage unless you don't take the steps to combat the economic situation. We will have a plan to -- the university as a whole -- to get the job done and make sure we get the job done to still provide resources."

In fact, one of Shafer's initial tasks as the athletic director will be putting in place a strategic plan as part of the university's strategic planning initiative. He said he has taken part in such planning at Georgia and Ole Miss, and was involved in the start of the process at Eastern Kentucky.

He said it generally takes one year and includes input from many sources.

"You have to be as candid as you can about 'What can you do?' and 'Can you do it?' and 'How do you get it done?'" Shafer said.

Other pressing matters for Shafer include hiring an associate AD for external affairs and getting up to speed on issues.

While the men's basketball program is in limbo this year with Zac Roman coaching the team and Scott Edgar on leave, football coach Tony Samuel has completed three seasons of his five-year contract with an 11-23 record.

Shafer said he would have to examine the resources affecting the program, which this past season had 56 scholarship players of the maximum 63 allowed in Division I-AA football.

"If we're not doing all we can to help him, we need to do that before making an evaluation," Shafer said. "And once we do that, he will be successful. We've got to try to get on a level playing field with everybody else."

With many things waiting for him, Shafer said he's looking forward to taking over what he calls a "24/7" job. His last athletic administrator post was as the AD at Eastern Kentucky.

"This is what I do," Shafer said. "In fact, [his wife] Dianne said she can tell the difference in me already. The fire is still burning in my belly. I'm very competitive. I don't like to lose. Believe me, that will translate and be spilled over to the faculty, the staff, the coaches and the student-athletes to find a way to get it done."

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