It was an emotional whirlwind week for Michael Alford.
For most of that time, the CEO of Seminole Boosters, Inc., was not considered the top target as Florida State’s new vice president/athletics director.
Then, after a bizarre turn of events that few may ever fully understand, Alford emerged within hours as the “perfect pick for this job” and was introduced Friday as the university’s next VP/AD.
“I think he was the right guy the first time,” said DeVoe Moore, a local businessman, entrepreneur and lifelong Seminole supporter who was among the large crowd that celebrated Alford’s hiring.
“I don’t think you can find anybody better,” Moore said of Alford.
Tyra wanted more time, but FSU moved on
FSU Athletics Director David Coburn had informed new FSU President Richard McCullough earlier this fall of his intention to retire.
When Coburn publicly announced his decision Dec. 1, saying he’d stay until the end of the academic year in June of 2022 or step away earlier earlier if a replacement was named, President McCullough, new Board of Trustees chairman Peter Collins and Glenn Sugiyama of search firm DHR International had already started their quest to find a replacement.
Set to retire: FSU athletics director David Coburn’s tenure coming to an end, set to retire New Director of Athletics: Michael Alford realizes lifelong goal with introduction as FSU’s new Director of Athletics It was also revealed last week that President McCullough circled then-Louisville Athletics Director Vince Tyra as his top candidate. Other targets had interviewed, including Alford.
When Alford joined Seminole Boosters in 2020, it was widely anticipated he would succeed Coburn. However, Tyra was offered the job and had verbally agreed to accept the position, according to sources.
On Wednesday, in a special University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting, Tyra was let out of his non-compete and 30-day notice of termination clauses from his contract. He also tendered his resignation, which cleared the path to presumably join FSU.
On second thought….While many in the media have reported that Tyra turned FSU down, Tyra, according to
sources close to the matter, asked FSU leadership for extra time to make a final decision. FSU declined and quickly moved to secure a deal with Alford Thursday.
On Friday morning – as The Seminole Nation welcomed Alford – Tyra posted a letter to U of L fans on social media, telling them, “Thank you, Louisville, for having me as your AD. I am grateful for our time together and for the profound privilege of serving this community.” While expected to return to the private sector, where he has a history of success, Tyra said his intention was to return to the capacity of fan, regardless of his future endeavors.
But back at FSU, this much is certain. There’s no time to waste.
‘They wanted to get it right’
Alford always believed he was the right person for the job if given the opportunity. The search process can be difficult, bulky, prone to secrecy and conjecture. Alford surely had to be disappointed early in the process. There were concerns privately within the fundraising organization that Alford might leave if Tyra had signed a contract. But it’s not where you start,
it’s where you end right?
The head-spinning ending represents a new start for Seminole athletics. Alford said he leaned on the value of patience last week, talking to his mentors within the athletics and business industries. He was also in contact with FSU President McCullough, Collins and Sugiyama.
“We continuously talked throughout the process, answering questions. They wanted to get it right,” Alford said hours after his introduction that was attended by family and friends from as far away as Texas. “It taught me to be patient. I couldn’t be more excited to be given this opportunity.”
Those around Alford believe in him, too. They specifically cited Alford’s familiarity with the university, athletics, fundraising and challenges facing the department after serving 20 months as CEO of Seminole Boosters, Inc.
Alford also has a strong relationship with FSU football coach Mike Norvell, which bolstered his chances at landing the job. As the world knows, a winning football program is college sports’ golden goose. It helps pay the bills, improve facilities and breathes Seminole spirit into the department.
Yet, Alford must continue to strengthen this premier program’s culture of integrity and accountability. He must clearly communicate his vision to his staff. He must put in the same effort with swimming or volleyball as he does with football.
Andy Miller – Alford’s 45-year predecessor with Seminole Boosters – believes the decision to replace the retiring Coburn with Alford will be a seamless transition. Miller likes that Alford has experiences in both business and athletics. He has held leadership positions in sales and marketing and has cultivated corporate relationships across
professional and college sports. He also served as A.D. at Central Michigan before joining Seminole Boosters, Inc, in the summer of 2020.
“I think it was a great hire. He’s gotten to know our people, the culture and character of our people,” Miller said. “I think we have all the ingredients. Having everyone working together is important.”
A pivotal moment and payback for furloughed employees
Alford steps in at what could be the most important moment in program history. That’s not being melodramatic. That’s the reality of collegiate athletics.
There’s no need to rehash the seismic shifts, the billions of dollars involved and how the ACC lags significantly behind its peers in revenue. And, if a 32-team Super Conference dropped from the sky today in football, would FSU be included? It would be fourth-and-inches close.
Seminole athletics has its own issues, too. FSU hasn’t had stout leadership, communication and team-building skills from the AD’s office since Dave Hart’s tenure (1995-2007). The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the department as well.
Coburn had a difficult, unpopular and Herculean task during his three-year tenure as athletics director. He focused his energy on managing the budget, cutting expenses and making sure funding was being used for its maximum benefit.
It has been exhausting for everyone in Garnet & Gold. On Monday, however, Coburn also shared some holiday cheer. During a Zoom call that turned emotional for many, Coburn informed his employees they would be receiving back pay from furloughs and salary reductions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Talk about a wonderful early holiday present for the employees. The resilience of FSU athletes, coaches, staff and fans during the past three years must be commended. They made sacrifices and personified tenacity, loyalty and focus.
FSU is their family.
After mixed signals, decisive leadership required
Now it’s Alford’s turn to sit at the head of the table despite the mixed signals earlier in the week from a rookie FSU administration.
Alford’s upbeat, confident, energetic, transparent. He was emotional during his time at the podium Friday. He talked about improved alignment between the university, athletics and boosters; the well-being of student-athletes; and embracing excellence every day.
It doesn’t expect to be easy moving forward, but FSU athletics doesn’t need a caretaker. It needs an AD that sincerely cares and is committed – despite all the challenges and everchanging landscape – to the core of the student-athlete experience. Who will provide his coaches and their assistants the resources to be even more successful. And who will make The Seminole Nation proud. It will also need plenty of continued fan support.
“We’ve got such great coaches, we have wonderful student-athletes. We do things the right way,” Alford said.
And despite FSU’s intention to hold a national search, it may not have to look very far for Alford’s replacement at Seminole Boosters. Stephen Ponder – hired last August as the fundraising organization’s executive-vice president – is a former administrator at Ole Miss, Arizona State and N.C. State and also has private sector experience.
“Florida State is special,” said Alford, who can now exhale. “It is one of the special places in our industry that people earmark as a destination place. Tallahassee is a destination community. So, just to have that opportunity is just special.”
This article was originally published 8:25 a.m. ET Dec. 11, 2021 on Tallahassee.com by Jim Henry.