When will KSU get a football team?
The answer is the fall of 2015.
“We are a major university in the South,” Papp said, “but, sometimes, a university in the South is not recognized without football.”
Kennesaw State’s recognition will grow with the introduction of a football program, which was green-lighted by the Board of Regents’ approval of the university’s student athletic fee increase Wednesday.
Papp added he’s both excited and relieved.
“It’s been a long process,” he said during Thursday’s news conference at the KSU Convocation Center. “We had to reach milestones all along the way, and if there ever was a time when we didn’t reach a milestone, we were set to shut it down.”
Those milestones included a solid business plan, support of the student body and gaining the support of a major sponsor. That final hurdle was cleared Thursday with the announcement of a 10-year, $5 million agreement with Fifth Third Bank for stadium naming rights and sponsorship of the Kennesaw State athletic department.
Now, the Owls can begin building their football program, with the first head coach likely to come within the next six weeks.
That is the plan athletic director Vaughn Williams discussed Thursday, and he said there is already plenty of interest in the position.
“Over the last couple of days, I have gotten probably 30 unsolicited emails and resumes with interest in the job,” he said.
Williams said he has received nearly 100 of such emails and resumes over the last year as the progress toward bringing football to KSU trudged on. Williams is now charged with sifting through them all and finding the right guy to lead the Owls onto the field in the fall of 2015.
“My preference will be someone from Georgia — a native son that has done good work and works well with the student-athletes,” he said.
Williams said the job has been posted, and he expects to begin the interviewing process as soon. He said he has a short to medium list of candidates in mind, and he has been putting his list together over the last 12 or 13 months. The job is expected to pay somewhere in the range of $200,000 to $225,000.
One person who will likely help Williams in the coaching search — which will be done without the help of a search firm — will be former University of Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley.
Dooley, who was the chair of Kennesaw State’s football exploratory committee, said he would offer whatever input Williams asks for when evaluating potential coaches.
But Dooley reiterated that one name would not be on the potential list of candidates — his.
“I’m here to help, not handicap,” he said.
Some names sources close to the program say have come up in conversation with KSU officials included Dooley’s son, former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, and three others with experience as a college coach — Jim Leavitt, Brian VanGorder and Andy McCollum.
Derek Dooley and McCollum would fit Williams’ idea of native sons of Georgia taking the program’s reins — Dooley from Athens, McCollum from Marietta — but Dooley’s name may be crossed off the list as he was recently hired as wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.
Williams, however, said previous head-coaching experience — or the lack there of — is not necessarily a deal-breaker.
“Previous head-coaching experience does not matter,” he said. “It’s an advantage. It’s always good that they know how to manage and lead people, but if you’ve seen my previous coaching hires, head-coaching experience wasn’t there.”
Kennesaw State men’s basketball coach Lewis Preston, and his women’s counterpart, Nitra Perry, are both first-time head coaches.
When the Owls and their coach-to-be kick off in 2015, they will do so as a member of the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision.
Kennesaw State will need to find a new conference to play in, as the Atlantic Sun, its current affiliation, does not sponsor football.
“I’d love to be in a conference that’s in the South,” Williams said. “I think that is very important for us — very important for our alumni, very important financially — for travel and those type of things. The Big South, Southern Conference and Ohio Valley seem to be the best and most natural. We have to see what’s out there.”
Regardless of where it lands, unless the university wants to pay a $200,000 early-exit penalty, it cannot leave the A-Sun after the 2014-15 school year, provided it gives the conference the required two-year notice soon.
Matt Wilson, the A-Sun’s senior associate commissioner of championships and operations, confirmed the process and said that it was what Belmont faced when it moved to the Ohio Valley this year.
Wherever the Owls do play, Papp, who had the vision of bringing football to campus, has high expectations for his new program.
“I expect us to win a couple of national championships in (the) FCS,” he said.
When the exploratory committee came out with it’s report in 2010, it suggested the football team should begin in the FCS and then make a jump to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference like the Sun Belt, Conference USA or Big East — three conferences that would benefit from entering the Atlanta television market.
Papp downplayed that idea Thursday.
“I’m totally satisfied playing at the FCS level,” he said. “If we do jump to (the) FBS, that will be the next university president’s call. I’ll be long gone by then.”
Papp expects to remain as president at KSU for up to another five years.
In addition to football, Kennesaw State will have to add additional women’s sports to comply with Title IX requirements.
Sports under consideration include sand volleyball, crew, equestrian and competitive cheerleading. Additional scholarships could also be added to existing programs, including the recently launched women’s lacrosse program.
Kennesaw State administrators said ticket information will be revealed early next month. The athletic department will offer a plan for season tickets, and it will launch a letter of intent program and priority points system over the next couple of weeks.
More information can be found at KSUOwls.com.