Q&A with Ed McLaughlin, VCU’s new athletic director

VCU’s new athletic director talks about his decision to come to VCU, what being in the Atlantic 10 will do for the school, and how the program will thrive.

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This story first appeared on RichmondBizSense.com, Richmond’s leading source for business news.

The new Ram on campus isn’t shy about his aspirations for VCU.

Virginia Commonwealth University recently introduced Ed McLaughlin as its new athletic director.

McLaughlin spent six years at Niagara University and has worked at Merrimack College and American University. He started at American on the same day the school left the Colonial Athletic Conference in 2000.

Twelve years later, McLaughlin is taking the reins at VCU with the Rams fresh off two high profile NCAA tournament performances and a transition from the CAA to the Atlantic 10 Conference.

BizSense caught up with McLaughlin last month to talk about the future of VCU athletics and why he has his eye on a national championship.

Below is an edited transcript.

QAfter six years at Niagara, what drew you to VCU?

AI knew VCU, and I knew some of the culture at VCU. I knew Shaka Smart a bit as well. His energy, his enthusiasm, his ability to see that there are even more things we can accomplish — those all drew me here. And, quite frankly, the move to the Atlantic 10 piqued my interest as well. The chance to take a group that has done some really incredible things and make it really special, to me, was very exciting. The move to the A-10 really helps that along.

QWhat will the move to the Atlantic 10 do for VCU, both on and off the court?

AIt will give VCU larger national exposure, be it on television [or] whatever forms of communication people consume. It puts us on a larger platform. It gives us a much larger scope of where we’ll reach. We’ll play games in places like St. Louis, Ohio, New York City and places we haven’t been before.

The other side of it is, if you look at conference RPI [rating percentage index], it’s certainly a highly rated RPI conference. And that ability for us to not only win championships but to get at-large bids for our teams is something that is attractive. You have to be in the NCAA tournament to win it.

QWith a recent $4 million Siegel Center upgrade, a new contract for head coach Shaka Smart and a $10 million practice facility on the drawing board, VCU is investing heavily in the men’s basketball program. What are your goals for Rams basketball, and how will you get there?

AThe key to success in any area is being able to have the resources to support it. Our ability to build a practice facility will be important to give our student athletes a wonderful experience, because that’s what keeps you in the loop to get good recruits going forward.

The recruiting class Shaka Smart has coming in is fantastic. And I know that will continue because of the continued support, because the Siegel Center is jammed at home games and so hard a place to play. Those things are really critical for us moving forward. But I do think we can be an elite-level program. I firmly believe that. I think we can have some fun chasing a national championship.

QVCU men’s basketball had a couple of NCAA runs recently. What is the key to making VCU a perennially high-achieving team, and not a George Mason-esque, one-and-done Cinderella?

AI think keeping Shaka is a big part of it. Believe me when I say he is one of the people that made me most excited about this place, because he’s so excited about VCU. But your ability to recruit student athletes is solely based on your student athlete experience. We have to make sure for our basketball programs that we provide as great of an experience as any student athlete gets in America.

That’s all those different pieces. It’s supporting them in academics and life skills, it’s giving them great places to practice so they can get better, it’s making sure they have good accommodations on the road so they’re prepared and ready to go play games and it’s also making sure that the Siegel Center is a really hard place to play. Home court advantage is big. It really is.

QVCU has made great strides in fundraising over the past few years. How will you work to maintain that momentum and produce the resources you’ll need to support the athletic department?

AWhen you’re an AD, the biggest thing these days is being able to raise money. And as large of a city as Richmond seems, it also seems very much like a tight-knit small community. So being able to reach out to folks and do a lot of one-on-one meetings — all the moments that you can reach out to folks and talk about VCU in small groups are really critical. You can talk to the masses all you want, but the real fundraising gets done person to person or in a small setting that can be intimate and you can really build a relationship. My ability to build relationships is going to be critical.

We’re also going to drive up some annual fund money. They’ve done an amazing job of doing that already, but we’re certainly looking to drive up the annual fund money to make sure we can pay to do the things we need to do everyday.

QMoving away from men’s basketball, what else is there to be excited about at in Rams athletics?

AThere’s a bunch of things. I look at our women’s basketball program, and newly hired head coach Marlene Stollings is going to be great. You look at what she did at Winthrop in one year, turned that program around, and you get excited about it. And she’s a good person. She’s going to do the right things, and her student athletes are going to carry themselves the right way.

As I look across our other sports, I think there’s a huge upside. I look at our soccer programs: We have talented coaches there and some demonstrated success. I look at our baseball program. Certainly what our men’s and women’s tennis programs have been able to do is incredible. And [tennis] Coach [Paul] Kostin, he does it right. There’s no question about that with the success he’s been able to create.

And I look at all of our Olympic sports and say, “We have to put them in the same position that we’ll put men’s and women’s basketball in” in terms the ability to really create sustainable success on the field, but also academically and in the community.

Burl Rolett covers small business for BizSense. He can be reached at Burl@richmondbizsense.com

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