TheWolfpackCentral - The Wolfpacker's Debbie Yow interview, part I
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The Wolfpacker's Debbie Yow interview, part I

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Yow leaves NC State in a far better place than what she inherited.
Yow leaves NC State in a far better place than what she inherited. (Ken Martin/The Wolfpacker)

Next week will be the final one of Debbie Yow’s nine-year, successful tenure as Director of Athletics at NC State. Army AD Boo Corrigan will take her place starting April 30.

In the Learfield Directors’ Cup, a yearly competition measures colleges’ success across all athletics, NC State was No. 89 the year before Yow arrived.

For the 2017-18 school year, it finished a program-best No. 15.

During Yow’s time, she started the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame, spearheaded a $35 million renovation of historic Reynolds Coliseum, oversaw the construction of the Close-King Indoor Practice Facility for football, and negotiated lucrative contracts with adidas and Learfield Sports for apparel and multimedia rights, respectively.

She has also hired a roster of coaches that have collectively made NC State nationally relevant in many sports where it was middle of the pack or bottom-feeders in the ACC before.

Yow sat down with The Wolfpacker for an extensive interview last week to reflect back on her time at the head of NC State athletics. Here is part I of highlights from that conversation.

What did you identify as the challenges NC State athletics was facing when you first got hired?

“The culture would be one way to say it, and the other would be the sadness here, even here in this building, W-B [Weisiger-Brown]. A sense of being forlorn, just unsure of our capabilities and pretty sure bad things would happen.

“It was just starting down that long road to help change that. Not that I can obviously change it by myself, but help change that.”

What did you do to change the culture?

“It’s all about who you hire, and whether or not they do a really good job for NC State. We had several people in senior management that were retiring and were terrific people. David Horning is one that I see still at the gym. He was great for one year for me, and then he left. I had Sherard Clinkscales and Chris Kingston, who were both terrific for us.

“The mainstays ended up being the two deputy AD’s — Michael Lipitz, the deputy AD for internal operations, and Chris Boyer, the deputy AD for external operations.

“Most of the staff follows under one of them. The coaches are spread among seven supervisors to be sure the coaches get the attention that they need.

“The senior management, and [senior associate athletic director for communications] Fred Demarest are on a group called ‘The Cabinet.’ We meet every two weeks and talk about all kinds of things and issues. It works for us.”

Did it take a while for the athletic department to buy in?

“There was no overt effort to not buy in. It was more of an ‘I’m not sure I believe you that we can rebuild.’ You have to remember it isn’t like we were never talented or successful. It had just been a while, especially across the board.

“There was no subversion of what we were trying to do. It was just an ‘I think I’ve heard this before. I don’t think or I don’t know if we can do that.’”

Where have you seen NC State grow the most?

“The culture has certainly changed. We have a coaches’ meeting every month during the school year. If you are recruiting, then go. If you are here, we want you at the meeting.

“There are usually 60-70 people in attendance. The head coaches are the only ones that sit at the main table. They tease and congratulate each other for finishing well at the NCAA championships, winning the ACC or beating a big rival. It’s everything to me to see that.

“There was a recent survey done of the 15 schools in the UNC system. They anonymously measured employee work engagement and satisfaction at every campus for every unit.

“Initially, I was not a fan of this, but then we got the results. On the campus at NC State, out of all the units, athletics tied for No. 1 in employee engagement and satisfaction. Now I like the survey.

“They are going to do it every other year. They won’t do it in Boo’s first year, but they’ll do it his second year.”

You have a track record at NC State of hiring excellent coaches.

“If you have the right coaches in place, you are going to win, but it might take time.

“For example, we recently beat Duke in men’s tennis. Our record up to that point against Duke was 2-74. I know head coach Kyle Spencer well, because we hired him twice.

“We hired him at Maryland, and they discontinued the program. We eventually found him at SMU and brought him to State. He’s an Olympian, and he’s fantastic.

“We have this mantra where we say, ‘Resources have to match expectations.’ There is that step, and that has never ended.

“Every day money is a topic. There just isn’t enough to meet all the needs and wants. I want to be sure the needs are covered. After that, it gives you pleasure to give them what they want, when possible.

“You also have to remember football and men’s basketball pay the bills. They come first, and they get more of what they want, sooner than some others.

“It’s a pragmatic approach. It takes so much less to meet the needs and wants of an Olympic sport than it does football or men’s basketball. We’ve been able to do that as well.

“We have to be smart with our money. If we waste money, it makes me sick, because there isn’t enough of it.

“The fact that the ACC Network is coming on board now is helpful, but it’s not going to change our situation for a while. We need to get down the road with the ACC Network before there is enough revenue where the athletic director can relax and take a deep breath.”

What was your approach on making hires?

“A number of them were cold calls. An example is our wrestling coach Pat Popolizio, who was at some place called Binghamton.

“I said, ‘Look at the top 25 teams in the nation for somebody that doesn’t belong.’ Binghamton was No. 5 in the nation.

“Somebody said, ‘Binghamton, where is that?’

“‘I think it’s in New Jersey,’ somebody else said.

Somebody said, ‘No, it’s in upstate New York.’

“And I said, ‘Call the guy. I want to know who he is even if I can’t pronounce his last name. Just call him and get a read on the situation. Is he a Binghamton graduate?’

“When they finally got up with Pat he said, ‘Who are you?’

“That’s how we do it sometimes.

“It’s the way we found the head of compliance, Carrie Doyle. When I was an AD at Maryland I used to talk to her on the phone — she was in charge of reinstatement of student athletes and then she was a major infractions officer.

“I said, ‘Go find this woman named Carrie Doyle, I have no idea where she is. She did not go with the NCAA when they moved from Kansas City to Indianapolis.’

“And they found her at New Hampshire. She was head of compliance. We had never met, and she was, I think, my first hire in senior management.

“We brought her in for an interview, and I explained the vision for what we wanted to do ... It fit her, fit how she thinks about compliance, which is so meaningful to her. She’s been here ever since.

“When I came home to NC State we basically had 1.5 compliance officers, and I knew that was not nearly enough.

"They were also off the main hallway. If you wanted to talk about something that was sensitive, would you really just walk into the main hallway into the compliance office? Everybody could see you coming!

“We created this suite in the backside of the building for them. There are six people down there now, including the administrative assistant.”

You have emphasized the Director’s Cup standings.

“We want all ships to rise.

“We would be a miserable athletic program if two of our teams out of 23 were highly successful and the other 21 were not. That is not a formula for success over the long haul, or for a productive work environment.”

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