The University of Memphis introduced Tom Bowen this afternoon as the school's new athletic director, to replace the retiring R.C. Johnson, effective June 18th. A search committee chaired by Alan Graf (CFO at FedEx) recommended Bowen to university president Shirley Raines. Bowen will succeed Johnson (who has served as A.D. since 1996) one academic year before the Tiger program joins the venerable Big East Conference.
Bowen comes to Memphis after more than seven years in charge of the athletic department at San Jose State University. Prior stops include an administrative role with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and a stint as associate athletic director at the University of California from 2000 to 2002. He's a 1983 graduate of Notre Dame and has a master's degree in administration/education from the University of San Francisco. Bowen will turn 51 next month. He and his wife, Mia, have three children.
Chief among his tasks will be improving a football program that has gone 5-31 over the last three seasons under coaches Tommy West (2009) and Larry Porter (2010-11). San Jose State had some success on Bowen's watch, reaching a bowl game after the 2006 season and recovering from a 1-11 season in 2010 to go 5-7 under coach Mike MacIntyre last fall. Bowen noted today that the Spartans won nine games in 2006 with just 67 scholarship players. His first football season in Memphis will be alongside rookie coach Justin Fuente, hired last winter to replace Porter. In 2008 San Jose State was one of 12 Division I universities honored for Overall Excellence in Diversity.
"The search committee and I wanted someone who could continue the progress of Tiger athletics developed over the last 16 years under the leadership of R.C. Johnson," said Raines. "Tom Bowen was the unanimous choice of the committee."
A few of Bowen's remarks from this afternoon's press conference at the Hardaway Hall of Fame:
Goose bumps. I'm so excited to be here. I'll try and control my excitement to get through this press conference.
I'm humbled and honored to follow in R.C. Johnson's footsteps. I'm very excited about the opportunity that lies before us. It's great to be a Tiger.
What made the Memphis job appealing?
Having a chance to really look at the University of Memphis and what's taken place here, both prior to getting into the Big East and where you're going. I want to be a part of that. The success of the young coaches here. And the academic component, which is very important to me. The academic success of my student-athletes [at San Jose State] was priority one. The vision is a championship ring on one hand and a diploma in the other. When I was first contacted by [the search firm], I figured there were a lot of guys more qualified than me, but I wanted to be considered. So I'm humbled and honored to be selected.
What's prepared you to reach this level?
I spent the last seven-and-a-half years at San Jose State, an FBS school. Building a football program and repairing an athletic program that had fallen on some very difficult times financially, competitively, and academically. I spent some time with the San Francisco 49ers and at Cal-Berkeley. I feel very confident I can come in and continue the legacy and leadership of your previous A.D.
What are some of the biggest challenges you see, especially with the football program?
Well, I see some challenges I'll be able to get into when I officially start [in June]. I had a chance to meet with Coach Fuente, and he's a very good football coach, with a very good staff. And some hard-working young men who are ready to defend their home turf.
What did you do to turn the football program around at San Jose State?
It was a process of uniting a city, a university, an academic community, an alumni base, and some former great players. We were going to focus on doing it the right way: be good students first, athletes second, and make the university proud of us. We started an external campaign and tried to visit every high school in California, telling them we were alive and well and playing football at San Jose State. I hired Dick Tomey, one of the finest gentlemen in football. We linked arm and arm and committed ourselves to building San Jose State football back to where it used to be.
Bowen mentioned "100-day benchmarks" as part of his process for running an athletic department. He said specifics of such a plan will be shared when his new role becomes official in two months. A member of the university's search committee declined to comment on specifics of the search or Bowen's credentials, noting a gag order from Raines.