The big news affecting the Bobcats’ football team on Thursday didn’t happen on the turf, or inside Peden Stadium.
Instead, it was the proclamation from Cutler Hall in which OU President Duane Nellis announced his pick for the next Director of Athletics at Ohio University.
Julie Cromer, who has more than two decades of experience in college athletics and has helped oversee two different Power 5 football programs, will be Ohio’s next AD. She’ll assume leadership duties of the department on Aug. 31, the same day as the Bobcats’ 2019 season opener against Rhode Island.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich, the oldest FBS coach in the country and about to embark on his 15th season with the Bobcats, was on Ohio’s search committee that ended up with Cromer on the list of four finalists.
And while Cromer probably wasn’t his top pick among the four finalists — that would have been Jason Grooms, his former ops director at Ohio now at Vanderbilt — Solich was surely able to end up with an AD he felt comfortable with.
Cromer, at both Indiana and most recently at Arkansas, helped direct football programs in two of the biggest conferences in the country. She’s worked in huge, sprawling athletic departments, dealt with ‘big’ personality head coach coaches (hello Bret Bielema), and proven to be a steady, heady and capable administrator.
All of which should coincide nicely with Solich and the Ohio Football program, which are currently the best the men’s side of the department have to offer.
One thing clear from Ohio’s search for AD, this time around anyway, was the need for a candidate with extensive football experience. All four of the finalist had it in spades, and all four had some of it at the power conference level.
In theory, they would know what it takes to elevate a program, and to fund it.
It’s a clear signal that Ohio may soon be re-investing more heavily in the football program. Solich, to his credit, has crafted a winning program in Athens, and helped pave numerous facility upgrades with his willingness to mine his reputation, contacts and stature to get things done.
We’ll know soon enough if an administrative change at the top will help nudge the Bobcats even further. It seems that’s the intent, but there is something that Cromer, and in truth whatever candidate Ohio settled on, will have to account for.
And that’s of course money.
At Arkansas, Cromer’s department brought in more than $130 million in revenues (in the latest figures compiled by USA Today). Indiana, Cromer’s other stop of note, had revenues of nearly $123 million.
Over the same period, Ohio Athletics produced revenues of just over $33 million.
It’s not gap, it’s a chasm. What worked at Arkansas or IU, may not at Ohio. It’s one thing to bring in someone who knows how to oversee a football program, and another who can do so without hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal.
Fund-raising, or ‘identifying new revenue streams’ if you prefer, will be at the forefront of what’s expected of Cromer. Exactly how that, plus elevating the Ohio Football program — and every other athletic team at OU for that matter — fits into the equation remains to be seen.
But for now, Solich has a senior administrator who knows the job and knows how to get things done. While Solich’s relationship with former AD Jim Schaus didn’t exactly deteriorate, it was slightly strained at the end as Solich’s program started to feel it was being taking for granted.
With the new hire, Ohio seemed to signal that football is, and will remain, an important part of what the department wants to be know about moving forward.
And now with Thursday’s notes from a morning practice inside Peden Stadium. Of note, media availability for Friday’s practice has been canceled due to the coinciding introductory press conference with Cromer. I may or may not have a blog update on Friday.
In either case, another intra-squad scrimmage — and fan appreciation day — is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. inside Peden.
— The Bobcats were pack in full pads on Thursday, and the roster continued to be managed with rest concerns in mind. For example, on Wednesday it was backup OT Felipe Fernandez who was held out of practice. On Thursday, Fernandez was back in action but it was fellow backup OT Samson Jackson who was given a rest day.
— QB Nathan Rourke returned to action on Thursday after a ‘rest day’ on Wednesday. He took all the normal throws/reps that he usually does. He did suffer a rare interception, however, in 7-on-7 drills. OLB Jeremiah Wood deflected a ball that safety Jamison Collier tracked down for a pick.
— CB Jamal Hudson, RB Julian Ross and WR Shane Hooks saw a big increase in activity this week, but all three were held out on Thursday. Appeared to be simply a recovery day for all three.
— OL Steven Hayes and Kurt Danneker (ankles) remained out. DE Amir Miller (wrist) remains out, and WR Drew Keszei (shoulder) remained out despite ditching a shoulder harness.
— WR Jerome Buckner was held out for an unspecified injury.
— Cornerbacks were thin again on Thursday. Hudson, Marlin Brooks, and both Ilyaas and Xavior Motley were non-participants. The starting tandem was Kel Davis and Tariq Drake.
— PK Louie Zervos and (for now) walk-on understudy Tristian Vandenberg went through a series of scripted kicks. Zervos was perfect throughout and finished with a 49-yarder facing north. Vandenberg was nearly perfect, but his 49-yarder fell no good to the left.
— Ohio remains true, so far, to its pledge to incorporate more tight end throws. On Thursday, in about 48 team snaps, TEs were targeted with 10 throws. Some of that is based on the current day’s priorities, but the Bobcats have been making more of an effort in that department.
— DE Chukwudi Chukwu had another impact play, batting a Kurtis Rourke throw at the line of scrimmage. The deflection set up an INT by DT Marcus Coleman.
— DE Vonnie Watkins, a redshirt freshman, is a guy to watch in third down packages this season. He’s a gifted rusher, and forced Nathan Rourke into a would-be sack today, that could earn some reps that way this fall. He’s not there as an every-down player yet, but he’s long, springy and a natural off the edge.
— I haven’t talked much about the linebackers in camp yet. With limited live-hitting action it’s a harder position to judge. But the group has been among the healthiest of the entire camp — I’m not sure a single LB has missed a practice yet — and is deep. The trio of Jared Dorsa, Eric Pops (Will) and Dylan Conner (Sam) seem to be penciled in as the starters, but T.J. Robinson (Will), the aforementioned Wood (Sam) and Bryce Houston (Mike) are three guys who may have earned bigger roles with their showings in camp so far.