Our view: Some advice for UND's new AD
Herald editorial board
UND has a new athletic director, and by all indications, he plans to hit the ground running.
Bill Chaves comes into the position from Eastern Washington University, where he has been AD since 2007. He officially starts his position at UND on March 1.
Athletics play such a large role in this community that Chaves, simply by taking office, becomes one of the most influential figures in Grand Forks. He inherits a department that won a national championship in men's hockey two years ago and saw recent national tournament appearances in volleyball, men's basketball and women's basketball. The football program had a down year in 2017, but qualified for the playoffs the year before.
President Kennedy told the Herald on Tuesday that when Chaves arrives, he will urge him to listen, work on a strategic plan, renew a series of contracts of department employees, begin fundraising and rehire an open assistant athletic director position.
That's a good list. And with that in mind, here is our advice to Chaves, based on our own conversations with him, as well as listening to others talk with him during appearances Tuesday.
■ Take small steps to achieve progress. This is a sports-minded community, wild about the hockey program and casually loyal to the other major sports. Great change in a short time tends to rankle the faithful, and without support of the loyalists, progress will be difficult.
■ It's been a tumultuous time, thanks to the nickname controversy and recent cuts in the department. With no offense intended to outgoing AD Brian Faison, Chaves must be the salve to help heal those wounds.
■ Build the football program. The right pieces already are in place, thanks to a popular head coach and a task force that's been organized to improve the game-day experience of fans. But work remains, evidenced by less-than-sellout crowds at the Alerus Center and a lackluster response from some fans during even the best seasons.
■ Lead the charge into a new conference. Chaves told us Tuesday he's excited about the upcoming move from the Big Sky to the Missouri Valley Conference for the Fighting Hawks' football team. So are we, since we believe the proximity of opponents will instantly boost interest.
Chaves was urged by boosters Tuesday to insist UND host NDSU immediately when the new league scheduling is set. Since UND, by then, will have played two straight games in Fargo, it makes sense that the Hawks host the Bison immediately when UND joins the league.
■ Work the fundraising channels to continue improvements to UND facilities. Kennedy said the same on Tuesday, and he's right. Whereas UND has some incredible facilities — the Ralph, the Betty and the High-Performance Center — work remains, especially at Memorial Stadium. Recruits notice these things, and without the best facilities, UND can't hope to consistently sign the best young players.
Chaves comes from an area (Spokane, Wash.) where his university isn't necessarily the highest in the athletics pecking order. If he can find success there, we see great opportunity for him here, where UND dominates the scene.