Alnutt focuses on fostering relationships as Southeast Missouri State's athletic director

Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Mark Alnutt was hired as the director of athletics at Southeast Missouri State in April after working at the University of Missouri. (ADAM VOGLER)

Mark Alnutt only was reunited with his family in Cape Girardeau last week. They moved into a house after he spent the past couple of months first living in a motel then a campus apartment.

Alnutt said that actually wasn't a bad situation because it left him plenty of time for his task at hand -- settling in as Southeast Missouri State's new athletic director.

"I missed them, but it gave me an opportunity to do things," said Alnutt, whose wife, Kate, and their four children ranging in age from 1 to 11 remained at their home in Columbia, Mo. "It's been a whirlwind, but I say that in a positive way."

Alnutt, who most recently served as senior associate athletics director for administration at the University of Missouri, was hired by Southeast on April 20 and officially began his new job May 21.

The 39-year-old Alnutt, who is leading a college athletic department for the first time, recently took some time to talk about his first two-plus months on the job and what he envisions for the future.

"It's been busy, but I've really enjoyed it," said Alnutt, a former Missouri football player who spent the last 14 years at the state's flagship university in a variety of roles and was in administration since 2005. "It's been exciting. I've been doing a little bit of everything."

Alnutt, a native of Kansas City, Mo., and a self-described "people person," has tried to make himself as visible as possible since beginning his duties at Southeast.

Alnutt said he has made several trips to St. Louis to meet with alumni while focusing on getting to know as many people as he can in Cape Girardeau and the surrounding areas.

"It's all about getting out and meeting people, whether it's the mayor, the president of the chamber of commerce, donors, alums, speaking to various groups," Alnutt said. "I've been to St. Louis, getting their view of our department. I want people to get to know me, and I want to get to know them.

"That's how I was brought up, as a people person. That's how I worked at Mizzou. The more visible you can be, to the student-athletes, the staff, the community ... they know you're not just working out of the corner of your office. I want people to know what Southeast athletics is all about, how we can make it better and how they can help us make it better."

Alnutt, who was given a five-year contract by Southeast, knows getting out and meeting with people is as much about drumming up financial support as it is about seeking support in general.

"You're going to have so much institutional support [financially], which we appreciate, but we need so much more," he said.

Alnutt said plans are in the works for the upcoming school year to create some type of caravan where coaches and administrators travel to communities to spread the word about Southeast athletics.

"You'd love to go to a community and have somebody write a nice check," Alnutt said. "But even if we don't get any money out of it, I want people to say Southeast took the time to talk to us. Building that grassroots support is so important."

While getting out, being visible and making connections has occupied a big part of Alnutt's early time on the job, he said his first order of business was to meet individually with every member of the athletic department.

"You can't get to know them in a 30-minute meeting, but I thought it was very important to get to know them and their family as much as possible," he said. "I wanted their input. I wanted to know what they thought about the department, the strengths, the limitations. That gives me an ability to set priorities, give me an idea of what I need to work on."

Alnutt, Southeast's first African-American athletic director, said he strives for a well-rounded athletic program that maintains high academic standards and prepares students for life after athletics. He said Southeast already is doing a strong job in that area.

A school-record 200 athletes were recognized this year for achieving a 3.0 or better grade-point average. That mark represents more than 62 percent of all Southeast athletes. Nineteen athletes registered perfect 4.0 GPAs. Eleven of Southeast's 15 intercollegiate athletic teams recorded a GPA of better than 3.0.

"That's excellent," he said. "It shows me the coaches are recruiting the right student-athletes."

Southeast has had consistent success in some sports while struggling in others, and Alnutt understands the challenges of changing that reputation.

"Any time you take a job, you can be in the low of lows or the high of highs," he said. "Right now I think it's a midpoint, but there are good people here who are passionate about athletics."

Alnutt said the goal is to be at least solid in every sport, but he acknowledges that it's important for the university to succeed in the high-profile revenue sports of football and basketball.

"I'm not taking away from other sports, but football, men's basketball, women's basketball, those three sports generate revenue for the rest of the department," Alnutt said. "We have to get people involved, get those season tickets up. If those sports do well, all sports feed off it."

Southeast football had arguably the best season in program history in 2010 when it won its first Ohio Valley Conference title and earned its first playoff berth on any level.

But Southeast football has had just three winning seasons since moving up to the FCS level in 1991.

Alnutt said he likes what seventh-year coach Tony Samuel has done with the program, but he can't do it alone. Alnutt said it takes financial support from the university and community to have a shot to succeed consistently.

"It's up to a collective team of folks to allow coach Samuel to be successful," Alnutt said. "Once we get a handle on that, I would hope the roller coaster ceases. ... It happens at other programs. ... I'm not putting it all on coach Samuel."

Southeast men's basketball has made significant improvement since fourth-year coach Dickey Nutt took over a floundering program on NCAA probation, while second-year women's basketball coach Ty Margenthaler is in rebuilding mode after he took over a struggling program.

"Coach Nutt is very energetic, passionate. They've made great strides," Alnutt said. "From the conversations I've had with coach Margenthaler, it seems like he's on the right road."

Alnutt said Southeast athletics faces plenty of challenges, including being on probation with the NCAA until June 17, 2013, but he believes people are going to like what they see in the future. He hopes he's part of the reason why.

"I know people are going to follow your program based on wins, but I want them to follow our program on my passion," he said. "I'm very passionate about what I do, and I'm very passionate about Southeast athletics. I think we can accomplish a lot."

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