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Keith Carter: ‘We’re Striving for Renewed Energy in Ole Miss Athletics’

By Adam Brown
Sports Editor

Athletic Director Keith Carter came here on a basketball scholarship in 1995 and, 25 years later, climbed the Rebels’ ladder to become the overseer of all Ole Miss sports. In a very humble way, he reflects on the experiences he gained from his predecessors and how the process of listening and learning helped make him the AD he is today. Hottytoddy.com sports editor Adam Brown got the chance to sit down with Carter to talk about his road to the helm.

Keith Carter came to Ole Miss in 1995 and worked his way up the ladder to become the university’s next athletic director. Photo by Josh McCoy.

Brown: How has the transition been from working in the foundation to becoming the interim AD to now?

Carter: My aspirations have always been to be an AD. I guess my thought was, as I have worked through it all these years is, I thought I might have to leave Ole Miss to go somewhere and become an AD and come back someday. When Ross (Bjork) left it was kind of an abrupt end to his time here. Obviously a great opportunity for him, then Chancellor (Larry) Sparks asked me to move into the interim role. I accepted right away and was excited about the opportunity. It was a pretty dramatic change just overnight. Being in the chair all of a sudden you realize people are coming to you for answers and decision making. A lot of things cross your desk that didn’t before. I learned right away that the volume of the workload was going to be more and more intense. Having that opportunity was so valuable—to have that experience and to get the six or seven month time period to learn on the job—and I think it set me up well to get it on a permanent basis.

Brown: From being a player to becoming the athletic director, what does it mean to you?

Carter: It is awesome. I came to Ole Miss in the mid-’90s and did not know a lot about this place. I quickly learned to love Ole Miss and Oxford – everything about this institution and the people and everything that makes this place great.

As a student-athlete, I didn’t realize what it all took to make everything happen. We had to have fundraisers to help us raise money for scholarships and ticket sales to help with operating revenue. As a player, you show up and play the game, get a meal after and fly home on a charter airplane and you think that is all part of the process.

Now I have come full circle and understand the process of what it takes to support our student-athletes and to support our coaches. To get an opportunity to do that at my alma mater is a blessing and something that I am really looking forward to.

Brown: What is like scheduling games for different sports as the Athletic Director?

Carter: There are so many new things now that I am being a part of. Fortunately, Ross was really good to allow me and a few others to be involved pretty intimately in the decision-making process, and I had oversight on scheduling even before I got into the athletic director’s chair.

As for football scheduling and basketball scheduling, we’re kind of working through some of those things and it has been fun. Now as the AD you are working with your head coach and other institutions to try to find great matchups that are fun for the fans and great matchups that our coaches are comfortable with. It has been good. I think we have some pretty cool matchups and are working on some others as well.

Brown: Being a part of the coaching search for coach Kermit Davis, how did that help you as you went through finding coach Lane Kiffin?

Carter: Very, very valuable with the process for Coach Davis. I learned a lot in that one working with a search firm and being confidential is so, so important – making sure that there are no leaks in the search. If a coach’s name gets out there, sometimes they get a little nervous…especially if they are a sitting head coach. So, the importance of a search firm and working with confidentiality. Working with agents and having good relationships with those guys. Thankfully being able to work with them in other capacities before I became AD was good.

I think we had a really good football search. Maybe just one or two little leaks that got out there. We ended up with a great coach. Ultimately, we were able to accomplish what we wanted to and what we said we were going to hiring a coach that was going to bring excitement and energy and someone that could galvanize our fan base. I think we have done that.

Brown: Tell us about the energy and excitement that was in the Pavilion on the day that Coach Kiffin was introduced.

Carter: It was amazing. I could tell when I walked into the tunnel and walked back to the back as we were preparing that there was a buzz. I could tell that there was going to be a great crowd and a great event. When I came out of the tunnel on to the floor and looked up, I was amazed at just how much support and excitement there was. Over 4,000 people were there in the Pavilion that day.

Again, I think that validates our hire and validates that Coach Kiffin is the right choice. Everybody is excited and ready to get going.

Brown: How do you see baseball progressing over the next few years?

I have said it from day one that Mike Bianco runs a great program. He does so many tremendous things. I look for this year to be a great year. I am excited about some of our young talent. Obviously (there are) some young faces on this roster relative to last year. That happens when you lose a lot of those guys who have been kind of the staples of our program. We have some great leaders coming back with some young faces as well. Pitching should be really good. I am excited I am going to get out and watch them practice this week. I look for them to have a great season, and obviously there is some young talent that should be good for us in the future as well, not just this year. We all know that Coach Bianco is going to have us right there and ready to roll. I am excited to get this season started.

Brown: What is your scope for the athletic department for the next five to 10 years?

Carter: I think for us we are trying to finish up our big capital campaign, just the final fundraising piece of that and we are getting close on our ‘Forward Together’ with a campaign that is important. We are going to be aggressive on that. Really, (we want) to touch on every program that we can. We want to make sure that we are giving every program the resources they need to recruit, win and train – all of those things. For the fans, too. We want to make those experiences better for them. Over the next couple of years, we will finish our smaller projects – the $2-$10 million projects. Then we will start planning for a bigger campaign at some point to build some bigger facilities, maybe do some things with our football stadium. We will see how those shape out.

I think in the immediate future we have to get our internal staff finished up. We are almost there on that. Then just get back to our day jobs. Coming off some of the things we have been through over the last four or five years, it is refreshing just to come in every day and focus on the things we can to get better rather than having to deal with some of the noise and clouds that have been around us. I see a renewed energy and I think people excited. For us, it is all about student-athletes. We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can every day to make sure they can have a successful time here at Ole Miss.

Brown: Going from the Tad Smith Coliseum to the Pavilion and having concerts and events come in, what does that mean for the athletics brand?

Carter: When we were planning the Pavilion I think that is what we wanted. We haven’t been able to capitalize on it as much, but we are hoping with events like the Globetrotters and some concerts I hope that we can do a concert this fall. Then, get into a rotation of where we are doing three or four a year. That is a goal of mine. We have some people working on that.

I think once people come in and see the building and the promoters and artists come they are going to want to come back. It is such a great building and now with the resort status, we can sell beer which a lot of promoters were wanting to make sure that we could do that for the revenue piece. I think that we are in a good place there and are going to push some of those as we move forward. It is great for Ole Miss and great for our campus. It’s certainly great for Oxford and we really value our town-gown relationship and what Oxford and Ole Miss mean together.

Brown: Tell us a little bit about the progress of beer sales.

Carter: It has been good. From a revenue standpoint, we didn’t blow anything off the charts but we made some good revenue. I think the most important thing is we implemented it in the right way. We made sure that we were prepared. We didn’t have many incidents from arrests or fights, those types of things that people felt we would. But, we really didn’t. What we learned in those three games we had in football are some things that we can tweak for next year. We can start to put in more permanent stands and infrastructure so the lines would run (more smoothly.) Try to get people in and out of the lines quicker so they can get back and watch the game. I think that was the most valuable part of having the three games this year in Vaught-Hemingway. We will know a lot more and have a lot more data for next year.

In the Pavilion everything so far has been great. We have a little more room to operate with no issues of people standing in lines. That has been really good. We will also implement in baseball in about a month.

Brown: After the announcement of head coach Lane Kiffin, did ticket sales see an effect? 

Carter: There was a lot of excitement. The day we announced him we opened it up for people to do deposits and the last information that I heard we have about 1,200 to 1,300 new tickets, and our renewals have started at the beginning of the year online and those are going well. The paper renewals will go out later this month so we anticipate a lot of excitement there. We’re hearing people talk about how they are getting back in this year, as we are going to get our club seats back or six season tickets back that we didn’t have last year. We really anticipate a nice push from a season tickets standpoint. We will continue to publicize and market those to get those out. I think when the deadline hits around March 31 we will be very happy.

Brown: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Carter: We’re excited about the renewed sense of energy. I am excited about our baseball, softball, golf, tennis and a lot of our spring sports that are about to kick off. This is an exciting time I know that the fall gets a lot of publicity because of football, as it should. The spring is really fun, too, as you have so many sports going and so many opportunities to come out and watch the Rebels. We are excited about that.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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