BLUE MOUNTAIN • It’s common to hear coaches talk about their goal of preparing players for life.
It’s also common for that topic to be limited to a few minutes in a press conference setting.
That wasn’t the case on Wednesday at Blue Mountain College, where some of Mississippi’s most influential college athletics policy makers gathered at the Bigger Than Ball Foundation conference.
BMC athletics director Will Lowrey began the foundation 2½ years ago with a goal of helping coaches develop in the young men and women under them an awareness that life doesn’t end when the game does.
“At most coaching clinics they’re teaching X’s and O’s. This topic itself is not really hit upon enough in my opinion. This is an intentional effort for us to make sure that the message is being spread,” Lowrey said.
In an era when student-athlete welfare has become a buzz word, Mississippi State athletics director John Cohen, Ole Miss interim AD Keith Carter, Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain and Delta State AD Mike Kinnison shared stories about their vision for providing more than creature comforts and basic necessities.
“The student-athlete experience has become a thing that the media loves to talk about,” Cohen said, “but the student-athlete experience is not what they have now. It’s what will they have 10 years from now?”
While the budgets of the schools vary greatly, the challenges of preparing athletes do not.
There may be a sliding scale for the number of athletes involved – more than 350 at Ole Miss and MSU – but the goal for each one is the same.
One-on-one relationships are important everywhere, and athletics directors, while responsible for the big picture, are still important components in building the base of support that athletes require.
For most of them, the personal contact with athletes comes around the practice fields.
“We certainly want to win, but at the same time there’s something bigger than that. It goes back to how we want to treat our students, how we want them to leave feeling about Ole Miss,” Carter said. “Most of these students are going to go out into the real world at some point and have to be productive citizens and do the right thing. We want to prepare them for that.”
McClain, a Houlka native, played baseball under Kinnison at Delta State before becoming the school’s AD at age 30.
McClain and Kinnison both spoke of the importance of coaches having support from their families and, as McClain put it, an “inner circle” in order to help their athletes approach their potential.
As Lowrey seeks to grow the foundation, community service is part of the plan.
Wednesday, though, was about supporting coaches.
“Coaches hear the message that they must win every day. That’s part of the deal, but we want to be the voice behind the message that they’re making an impact ... especially going into this time of year,” Lowrey said. “You really can get caught up in the process.”