Since being hired in 2011, athletic director Mark Coyle has continued the strong tradition of Boise State athletics, while laying the foundation for future success. Coyle sat down with The Arbiter to discuss the latest movements in the Athletic Department, as well as college athletics on a national level.
Q: Originally got your bachelor’s in English before getting your masters in teaching. How did you end up in Athletic Administration?
A: Well I did my undergrad at Drake University, I also played football there, and truthfully, I wanted to be a English teacher, coach and athletic director at the high school level. When I went to Florida State to get my masters, I kind of fell into the athletic administration side and just kind of fell into it. Knock on wood, I moved myself up that way.
Q: Did you ever foresee yourself becoming a college athletic director?
A: I would be lying to you if I said I did. When I was working at the University of Minnesota as the director of marketing and I was elevated to associate athletic director, that’s when I really started thinking about being an athletic director and that being something that I wanted to do. I really enjoy spending time with the student-athletes and watching them compete. I really fell in love with it at that time.
Q: A lot has changed for a program that’s enjoyed, for the most part, a lot of consistency. Is that just the nature of college athletics today?
A: Boise State has such a great tradition and a lot of history. Obviously a lot of people know about the football program with it being so dominant over such a long period of time. One of the things I learned when I got here and when I was interviewing for the job, was they have a lot of success in a lot of different sports. In the two and a half years I’ve been here, the gymnastics program has been in the top 25, our wrestling program has had a lot of success, our swimming and diving programs have won 4-out-of-5 championships, men’s tennis has won three straight conference championships and they’ve been to post-season play.
Sometimes I don’t think the public realizes that we’ve had a lot of success across many of our sports. In our track and field program, our women just finished eighth in the country, I think Boise State has such a solid foundation that it helps with that consistency moving forward.
Q: Was that one of your goals to try and make the public more aware and not be seen as just a football school?
A: Obviously, we talk about this a lot of the time, you need football in order to be a successful program. It doesn’t matter—wherever you are, having football being successful is such a key part because it drives so much of your revenue with the ticket sales and revenue. I was very fortunate working at Kentucky and Minnesota where those were broad-based programs, and when I had the chance to interview for this job with Bob Kustra, I talked to him about how I wanted to have a broad-based program, where a young man or young woman has Boise State written across their chest and they’re competing for this program. I want to make sure we do a great job of giving them a great experience. Having a broad-based program is definitely important to us.
Q: Coming from Kentucky where basketball is such a big part of the program, was it kind of a culture shock to come to Boise State where football was the main driving force?
A: No not really. It’s funny, obviously Kentucky has a rich tradition with basketball, but in the last five years I was at Kentucky, our football team went to a bowl game. There are similarities however. Kentucky had that strong basketball tradition, Boise State had that strong football tradition, but the fan bases are similar. So when I got to Boise State I wasn’t caught off guard.
Q: When you were hired, you said one of the first things you did was make a list of potential replacements for Chris Petersen. Do you have a list for Leon Rice now?
A: (Laughs) I have a list for all of our coaches. Obviously, Leon and I have talked a lot and I think it’s a great compliment. It shows you that what he’s doing here is the right thing. Making the NCAA tournament was awesome, but what I’m most proud of is our basketball team keeps having a higher and higher grade point average. I think we’ve had our highest GPAs and APR the last two years with that program. That’s awesome. That’s what I get excited about. Leon is doing things the right way, and obviously coach Petersen was doing things the right way. I can promise you coach Harsin will be doing things the right way. That’s part of the process of doing things in this business.
Q: The past few years, we’ve seen a decrease in ticket sales at the now Albertsons Stadium, how much does that worry you?
A: I think it’s a big concern across the country. In fact, I read an article this morning that West Virginia is down season tickets, Michigan is down season tickets, Ohio State is down, so it’s not just a Boise State issue. I think it’s a changing demographic and the students are such a big thing in what we do. When we have 5,000 students in that stadium, that throws so much energy in that stadium, and that’s the future. How we kind of look at it is, how can we engage our students and get them involved so when you all graduate and still want to be a part of our program.
Q: As Boise State grows a larger alumni base, is it the goal to keep those alumni engaged in the athletic program?
A: A lot of times, athletics is kind of the elastic band between the alumni. When students graduate from Boise State, they’re here, they go to the football games and their classes, and then they go move on. Now you’re getting your first job and doing some of those things, and you sometimes lose connection with your institution, but the one thing that keeps you connected with your institution, in my mind, is athletics. Oh wait, the Broncos are on TV. They’ve got a football game or whatever it may be. We’ve worked closely with the alumni association; we’re excited with the new building that’s going in right across the street from the football stadium. We need to develop strong partnerships with them to keep them engaged.
Q: For now it looks like conference realignment is going to quiet down for a bit. Do you see Boise State potentially moving to a Power 5 conference sometime down the road?
A: That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t think conference realignment will ever settle. I think, obviously with the Power 5 and the NCAA government structure and some of the dialogue that’s going on at that level, I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear tomorrow if someone did this or someone did that with conference realignment. I think the key for us is we have to continue to grow and do what we’re doing. What I mean by that is, academically, 72% of our student-athletes are at a 3.0 or higher. We’re doing things the right way academically. Athletically are we competing at a high level, yes. We just have to continue what we’re doing and the university has to continue to grow and continue to expand. Those all help us if we decide to switch conferences, but we’re very happy with the MWC. We just need to keep on doing what we’re doing.
Q: Boise State has long been known for having their student-athletes succeed in the classroom as well as on the field. How do you maintain that standard of having some of the highest APR scores across the nation?
A: I think it’s the culture that’s been set long before Mark Coyle got here. I think Boise State has always taken great pride in our academics. We have a phenomenal academic staff that works with our student-athletes, we have a phenomenal partnership with campus. The professors work closely with us and our student athletes. I think that’s one of the great things about Boise State. It’s a big institution, but it’s small enough where you can know your professors and have that interaction.
When our coaches recruit kids, we talk about all of the time, they have to be able to fit in athletically and academically, because we want to make sure that when they leave this institution in four or five years, that they have that degree, because that’s going to help them so much more.
Q: It’s been Bronco Stadium for 43 years now, think anyone’s going to have trouble calling it Albertsons Stadium now?
A: (Laughs) I’m sure there is going to be some sort of transition. Albertsons has had a long-standing relationship with this institution, with the library that they contributed to on campus. We feel very fortunate to be in this situation. Albertsons is a lot like Boise State, kind of roll up your sleeves, work hard, very proud. We’re excited about the relationship. We’re going to start putting up the Albertsons Stadium signs here very shortly to make the conversion to Albertsons Stadium.
Q: When you were hired, you said fundraising was a big thing you wanted to work on. Was naming rights for the football stadium one of those things you wanted to work on?
A: Yes. We’ve been working on the naming rights for several years. There have been lots of different conversations with people before I was here, after I came, and again we’re very fortunate to be in this situation with Albertsons because fundraising is such a critical piece. When we’re able to generate those revenues that goes right back to our student athletes and they experience that we want to provide for them.
Q: What are some of the major goals you have set for the Boise State Athletic Department in the near future?
A: Again, I think we just want to represent this place in the right way. We take great pride in that. The Bronco Nation has been so good to us. We talk all the time that this program is bigger than any one person. It’s about our student athletes, our history, our tradition: we just want to make sure we continue to serve as a positive window for this university. When our student-athletes are on ESPN and they’re on the radio, FOX sports, CBS sports whatever—when people see Boise State across the country, we want to make sure they see it in the right way.
Q: The big thing with college athletics the past several years has been amateur-status athletes getting paid, do you see that providing a big shift in college athletics in the near future?
A: I don’t know if I would say big shift. Obviously the O’Bannon Trial just concluded and the judge is preparing to make a decision on that here the next month. I think collectively, you hear a lot about these NCAA government changes and the Power 5 want to do this, well I can tell you we want to do the same thing. We want to provide for our student-athletes. I think you want to have open and honest dialogue with student-athletes, with other factors just so we provide that first-class experience. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to a point where we pay the student-athletes, but I’m excited that we are focusing on the student-athlete. So much over the past few years has been about conference realignment and we have lost focus on the student-athlete. I’m glad we’re getting our focus back onto the student-athlete and provide a great experience for all student-athletes.