Northern Michigan University Athletic Director Ken Godfrey has been busy lately, hiring a new coach for the NMU swimming and diving program and concerning himself with the future of the PEIF pool. NorthWind Sports Editor Kyle Whitney recently sat down with Godfrey for an interview.
Kyle Whitney: How did you finally decide that Bob Laughna would lead the swim team?
Ken Godfrey: We had to do a national search, do advertising in different national publications and locally and everything like that. It probably took about a month or so to complete the whole process. We interviewed three different candidates and Bob was, by far, the top candidate.
KW: What part did Laughna’s history with the program play into the decision to hire him?
KG: Him being familiar with the program, with a lot of the swimmers and things like that, adds a lot to the program.
He lives in Marquette, he knows the situation with the pool-the uncertainty with the pool and everything like that-so he knows what he’s getting himself into. It’s no big surprise to him. He has volunteered with the swim program for many, many years and has done a great job with that. He loves swimming.
He retired a few years ago and did a lot of traveling and everything like that, I guess he got that out of his system and found that he really wants to go back and lead a program that he feels should be very competitive, as I do.
KW: Laughna loves NMU swimming and diving, you say. Do you think the pool situation inspired him to take the job, in a way?
KG: I think in his decision, very much so. Nobody wants to see this program be cut or anything like that. I called him up when I found out that Jon was going to leave and I really didn’t think he’d be interested in it. I thought, ‘Oh, you know, he likes his freedom and he likes to be able to travel and everything like that.’ I could tell just in his voice that he had that passion and vision for the program and I said, ‘I need to talk to you right away’ and he came in the next morning.
KW: Was Wilson’s resignation a surprise to you or was it expected?
KG: I was more or less expecting it. His wife got a job in the Madison area and that played a major part in it, too. It’s hard to have a marriage that is 250 miles apart or whatever.
I think there was a lot of different factors that played a part in it and I think his moving down to Madison is in the best interest of himself and his family.
KW: Wilson feels that the NMU Athletic Department was not willing to make a commitment to the pool, one way or the other. What are your thoughts on this?
KG: We have committed for one year, even if we have to use a pool nearby for practice and things like that. Again, it’s a year-to-year thing and that’s all we can do right now.
We do have a committee that is looking into a fund-raising effort. You know the state of the state, as far as the economy in the state of Michigan. We’re going to have to raise the money and we’re not talking a couple hundred thousand. We’re talking millions of dollars and I think it’s very important that people realize that it’s a major undertaking to raise that kind of money.
KW: If the program is cut in the future, how long will the swimmers be able to rely on their scholarships?
KG: For the academic year. A scholarship goes for one academic year. They have to be renewed every year. So no matter what happens, they’ve got that scholarship for one year. Again, we’re looking at it as, ‘somehow, some way, we’re going to keep this program going.’
KW: How important is it to decide quickly whether or not the program will be around for next year?
KG: It’s not that simple to make that decision. Again, we’ll probably be getting more consultants in to look at the pool. We want to keep that program going as long as we possibly can. If we have the hope of trying to raise money, I think that helps to recruit.
It’s not just a problem of offering scholarships. If you want to get the top-notch student-athlete, you have to assure them that there is going to be a future in the program. Right now it’s very hard to recruit that way and it’s hard to run a program that way.
KW: Talk about the recruitment pains in a situation such as yours.
KG: I think right now we have 23 or 24 people on the swimming and diving program, which is more than we’ve had in the last couple of years. I guess the numbers don’t worry me.
It’s continuing the program when the seniors graduate. It is difficult to recruit a top-notch student-athlete when the future of the program is uncertain.
KW: If you eliminate a sport such as swimming, do you need to-according to NCAA regulations-replace it with another?
KG: No. We are above the minimums in both men’s and women’s sports, as far as Division-II.
What we have to watch is the numbers, as far as female and male. The numbers have to mirror the ratio of the general student population and right now we’re well within those boundaries. I guess I’m not too worried about that.
We are looking into different sports to add if we have to cut swimming. We want to have a backup plan to show that we are preparing for that. Again, I guess I’m still optimistic that we will have a swim program here. I hate to say it, but I hope there is somehow, some way that we can raise money for a new pool.
KW: What does that backup plan consist of?
KG: Right now we have to look at the ones that are offered in our conference.
There is women’s golf that we can add, but that’s not the numbers.
There’s softball that we can add, but that’s a lot of logistics. Where we’re located up here-we do have the dome-I’d say probably tennis.
Again, we used have a women’s tennis team that was successful, but we don’t have a venue-on a day like today where it’s raining-to play tennis outside.
There are a lot of factors that will go into what we will offer. We are trying to look into something that is offered conference-wide, as far as scheduling and things like that. Up here it is difficult to schedule non-conference games.
KW: You say you’re optimistic about raising money for the new poo-
KG: I’m trying to be optimistic, okay? Again, we’re talking a lot of money. It takes a major plan to raise that kind of money. Again, its not a couple hundred thousand dollars. It’s millions of dollars.
KW: The swim community is dedicated, but small. How difficult does it become to raise that kind of money when you’re not talking about a major sport with a major following?
KG: When you’re only talking about the swim program, yes, it’s not that many, but it goes back a long ways. They have a rich tradition and history and everything like that. At one time we had a men’s and a women’s program here. I guess it’s not just those people that you can look to to raise that money.
There is a community here that I think appreciates the pool and the use of the pool, from the young to the very old. If you watch the use of the pool, there is a wide variety of users and I think there are a lot of those people that will get on board as far as fund-raising and everything like that.
KW:Focusing on the team now, how important is it for the girls to put everything aside and concentrate on this season and how difficult is it to encourage a team that knows you may cut them?
KG: It is difficult, but I met with them last spring and when they came back this fall. It’s also very important to do their very best. If you have a successful program it just adds fuel to the fire as far as fund-raising.
I give those women a lot of credit; they really seem to have the right attitude. It is difficult to not have that in the back of your mind and I’m sure they do. What I saw down there in that meeting room when I met with them is a lot of determined young women that are ready to do the best they can for the program.
KW: What is the immediate future that NMU swimmers coaches and fans can look forward to?
KG: I think we have a very competitive program. We have some good young divers. Our dive coach Andy Ward has done an excellent job with the divers. Bob, I’m very optimistic that he will do a good job. Believe me, he will work those young ladies. They will probably be worked harder than they have been in a very long time, but that’s what it’s going to take-alot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears-in order to make it successful.
If it’s successful, again, it makes it easier to raise money and I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s just a little more impetus to get it going.
Q-and-A with former swim coach Jon Wilson