Since being named athletic director of Grambling State in February 2012, Percy “Chico” Caldwell has hit the ground running trying to maintain a department that has been hit with major state budget cuts.
No stranger to dire circumstances, Caldwell has navigated multiple athletic programs in gaining strong financial stability and major facility upgrades; so he is just the man to steer this once prideful program back to the promise land.
I sat down with Caldwell to talk about the state of GSU athletics and his future plans for the department.
How would you assess the state of the athletic department?
PC: The state of the athletics department here is in a state of uncertainty and concern. Grambling State University is located in a state where state appropriated dollars can be used to support athletics. However, state budget cuts have hit our athletics department very hard at the tone of over $2.1 million dollars in 2 years. There has never been a student athletics fee at the university and the reserve funds that were used to support athletics are no longer available. I am not sure where the missing funds will come from.
With your background in enhancing athletic facilities are there any plans to make renovations to Robinson Stadium?
PC: The Robinson Stadium is in dire need for renovation. To my knowledge, I am unaware of any immediate plans to renovate the stadium. However, given the state budget problems the stadium renovation certainly not be placed in front of academic building especially the need for a library.
Is there a time line for those plans?
PC: No current time line I am aware of.
This year’s football schedule doesn’t include the Port City Classic. Are there any plans in the works to restore the Classic? If so what (s) is on the radar?
PC: Yes, the plan is to restore the classic. The reason the Port City Classic is not on the schedule was due to the change to the SWAC Conference Master Football schedule. Grambling State and Alcorn State were schedule during the Labor Day weekend for the past two years. However, the SWAC schedule replaced Alcorn with Alabama A&M. Alcorn is 2 hours away, Alabama A&M is 7 hours away. Alabama A&M fans do not travel well. We are looking to free that weekend up to bring in an attractive team each year. The conference football schedule is on slate to revise the master schedule again in 2015. The plan is to create an opportunity to bring in an in state team like McNeese, Nichols State or Louisiana-Monroe and use that game as the Port City Classic.
How have you been received by the Grambling fans?
PC: I would say that how I have been received by the fans is mixed and for the most part has been good. It is tough coming in as a new AD behind some drastic budget decisions that had been made prior to my arrival, causing most of the teams to perform poorly. The AD is expected to fix things right away with less funding support than they had in earlier years.
What is being done on the athletic fund-raising front?
PC: The major fund raising effort underway is the “Tiger Pride 205 Project.” The 250 project is a strategy to influence alumni to work together and bring 6,000 alumni to donate $250 annually to athletics resulting in $1.5 million in year one. Since the area around Grambling and Ruston does not produce any large corporations, we have what we call “The Small Business Package” to influence them to commit to $2 to $5 thousand dollars. The first year goal is to secure 30 businesses.
What are some of your future plans for GSU athletics?
PC: Plan to raise enough funds to endow football scholarships, refinish the tennis courts, renovate the football locker room and weight room. Add new office space to the Assembly building to house all sports less football and (to have) a nice conference room large enough to hold meetings for the entire athletic staff.
According to NCAA reports, the SWAC is once again #1 in FCS fan attendance. What plans are in place to increase GSU’s attendance?
PC: We must invest in athletics again and produce a winning product on the field that fans want to see. We need to place more emphasis on creating a student centered environment around our games to draw more students to the games.
With a number of athletic programs struggling. Are any coaching changes on the horizon?
PC: The reason most of our teams are struggling has less to do with the coaching staffs and more to do with the lack of investments in the program. The athletics program has lost over 2 million dollars in state support in the last three years. There is no student athlete fee like other institutions. Alumni giving is very low. The results are less recruiting dollars, poor facilities to attract quality recruits and fewer scholarships to provide to recruits when we find good players. All of these issues can be solved if more commitments are made to invest in the programs. We can’t expect the coaches to be successful until the institution provides successful support.
What are your thoughts on the SWAC not participating in the FCS playoffs?
PC: I do not like the fact that our student athletes are not afforded the chance to compete for an FCS championship. I am hoping something will be done about that in the near future. It appears that the teams in the SWAC place a greater value on participating in classic games than competing for FCS championships.