Several months ago basketball analyst Debbie Antontelli ’86 returned to NC State’s campus to interview Athletics Director Debbie Yow, football coach Tom O’Brien, men’s basketball coach Sidney Lowe ’83 and women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper. The culmination of those interviews make up a 30-minute original program, Spotlight: NC State Athletics, that debuts Friday at 10:30 p.m. on Fox SportSouth and on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Carolina. Fox describes the program this way:
Spotlight: NC State Athletics showcases the beginning of a new era for North Carolina State University invoked by the recent appointment of Debbie Yow as the Wolfpack’s Athletic Director. The longest tenured athletic director in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Yow comes to NC State from Maryland with the goal of providing the university’s athletic department with the resources necessary to compete at the highest level. . . .
Spotlight: NC State Athletics highlights the impact of Yow’s presence on campus and features interviews regarding her arrival with three of the school’s head coaches — football coach Tom O’Brien, men’s basketball coach Sidney Lowe and women’s basketball coach Kellie Harper. Together, the group is building an athletic program for the future.
In addition to the premieres, additional airings are Oct. 23 at 10 p.m. on Fox Sports Carolina and on Oct. 26 at 4:30 p.m., Oct. 29 at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 30 at 6 p.m., and Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. on Fox SportSouth.
NC State: Why did you accept the AD position at NC State?
Debbie Yow: When the search firm called me about this position, I was lukewarm to it initially, only because the leadership [at NC State] had changed so much. I know that who is leading the university has to be a solid component to the athletics director’s ability to focus on what needs to be done to make progress. But when I met with [NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson], I basically flipped in my opinion of the possibilities here. I told my husband [William Bowden] that this was different and that Chancellor Woodson had a compelling vision for NC State and was a dynamic leader—and would stay at State. I was inspired by Chancellor Woodson’s vision for NC State and his understanding of the importance that athletics could play in elevating the overall image of the university and, most importantly, the pride that our alumni feel in NC State. It was clear after meeting with him that he respected the role of intercollegiate athletics as part of an outstanding university.
One of the things that happens when you’re not successful, whether it’s on a college campus or in the private sector, is that you get fearful and you have the tendency to become paralyzed. You’re afraid to make decisions because you’re afraid you’re going to fail. Once you realize that not every decision is going to be a home run, you get freed up in your spirit. The worst thing we can do is to be paralyzed and to be afraid to make choices and decisions. We’re going to make some decisions and advance this program. And if there are changes that need to be made, we will make those changes. So you need to be free in spirit, and I felt Chancellor Woodson understood that and that he is a bold decision-maker. In his short time here, he has already made some bold and prudent decisions for Wolfpack Nation. And as I said, the other part of my decision to come to NC State was my long-time affection for the Wolfpack.
Describe that affection.
The whole time I was at Maryland there were universities we competed against in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) that I would have loved to beat as badly as possible. I can’t say that was ever the case with NC State. Certainly I wanted to compete and win, but it was different for me with NC State because I felt, in a sense, that I was competing against my own family. My parents burned the highway up between Gibsonville and Raleigh, and I have had a special bond with NC State for the past 34 years. For me, coming here was truly like coming home. I can’t imagine having ever gone anywhere else. Otherwise, I would have stayed at Maryland and retired from Maryland. It’s only this university that could have pulled me away. And Wolfpack Nation, they are dedicated fans. They are passionate and vocal. They are demanding fans. That’s all good, by the way. I’d rather have that any day than an apathetic fan base.
You’ve introduced a new slogan for the athletics department: Wolfpack Unlimited: Refuse to Accept the Status Quo. What does it mean?
The night before my introductory press conference, I talked with my husband about a concept that I felt would raise the bar for NC State athletics. Out of that conversation came the guiding concept of Wolfpack Unlimited: Refuse to Accept the Status Quo. That means that we can make exponential improvements here if we make good decisions and stick to our ethics and efforts. So that’s our motto, our guiding principle, and that’s what we’re going to do. This isn’t my first rodeo; I know what the road map has to look like, and we’re going to stick to it and we’re not going to lower our expectations or our goals.
What are your expectations and goals?
Right now we rank No. 12 out of 12 schools in the ACC for graduation rates. Our long-term goal is to finish each year in the top half of the ACC among the public schools in graduation rates. That will take time, because the graduation rates that are reported inany given year are for a freshman cohort from seven years ago. I’m not going to compare us to the private institutions because they’re a whole different setting. I also want to have Academic Progress Rates (APR) that are in the top half of the ACC public schools. And, this is a staggering goal: I want to finish for the first time ever in the Top 25 in the National Directors’ Cup. [Developed by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and USA Today, the Directors’ Cup report is released after the fall, winter and spring collegiate sports seasons and ranks programs based on each university’s finish in up to 10 women’s and 10 men’s sports.] In the last rankings, NC State finished No. 88 nationally and 12 out of 12 among ACC schools. We were at the very bottom among ACC schools. To get from No. 88 to the Top 25 is a sea change, and it will take some time. And finishing in the Top 25—for that to be acceptable and for us to feel terrific about it—has to include success in men’s basketball and football. It can’t be that we’re in the Top 25, but we’re not going to a bowl game and we’re not going to the NCAA Tournament. That can’t be. Those are our core goals.
What are the steps to reaching those goals?
There will be a restructuring of the department. We also have a very energetic and optimistic young staff. We’re not missing enthusiasm here; and there are a number of them here who are very talented individuals who will do better and better. But you would anticipate from a logical perspective that when you’re 40, you’re going to know a lot more than when you’re 25 or 30. That’s the component we’re missing: We need experience. And David Horning [who was promoted to senior associate AD in August] and I need help in mentoring them. So we anticipate adding some senior associate ADs who have done great things at other schools to help lead the way. That’s the leadership component that we have to bring to the table and to show them the way. Academi¬cally, there has to be a class-attendance policy and there has to be a way to transfer from one major to another without losing large numbers of credit hours. There are pieces to the puzzle that will need help from others outside of the athletics department at times to resolve. But it can be done. It’s one day at a time and one week at a time. We just have to stick with it. There will be bumps along the way, and how we navigate them will have everything to do with how successful we’ll ultimately be.
What’s driving you?
The thought of how happy Wolfpack Nation will be when we turn the corner and when we become a highly successful athletics pro¬gram across the board. To see our fans’ faces after extraordinary wins and when our programs are at the top in graduation rates—when they feel that sense of pride and when no one will have the right to make fun of either our competitive excellence or our academic achievements in athletics. Our fans deserve that, and they deserve those moments over and over and over again—not just one moment every now and then. I want us to be a player. We’re not in the game right now. I want to be in the game, and I want to win the game. We’re not there, but we’re building the foundation for that. And there’s no way we’ll ever achieve any of this with¬out a united front—Wolfpack Nation must lock arms and move forward together. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but I hope our alumni will think we’re heading in the right direction with the right leadership making the right moves and that they’re believing—that they’re growing in the belief—that Wolfpack Unlim-ited is more than a slogan and that it can become a reality for us.