Mark Alnutt proved one thing for sure upon being introduced Wednesday as the University at Buffalo's new athletics director: He is an outstanding communicator.
Alnutt riffed for 27 minutes on his background and philosophy, while showing off his personality and barely looking at his notes. The man has charisma coming out of his eyeballs.
UB hopes it's a characteristic that helps its athletic program build off what has been the greatest month in its sports history.
The 45-year-old Alnutt acknowledged he is stepping behind the wheel of a rolling bandwagon in the wake of the UB men's basketball team's NCAA Tournament upset of Arizona last week and the UB women's basketball team's berth in the Sweet 16 this week.
"I watched that game against Arizona, and I watched that game Monday night against Florida State," Alnutt said, referring to the latest women's hoops upset. "And I tell you what, I love seeing that logo on that ticker. I love seeing that logo on ESPN. People see that logo, and people are going to know who we are. . . . Horns up, go Bulls."
Alnutt replaces Allen Greene, who left UB in January to take one of the more prominent AD jobs in the nation, at Auburn University.
Alnutt comes to UB from the University of Memphis, where he was second in command in the athletic department for almost three years. Before that, he served a three-year stint as athletics director at Division I Southeast Missouri State. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in athletic administration at his alma mater, the University of Missouri. He played linebacker and tight end for Missouri in the mid-1990s.
Memphis plays in the American Athletic Conference, which includes Connecticut and Central Florida and is a step up from UB's Mid-American Conference. Memphis had an athletics budget of $48.4 million for the 2016-17 school year, according to federal documents. The Memphis football budget was almost $15 million. UB's athletics budget was $33 million in 2016-17, with a football budget of $7.8 million.
However, both the MAC and the AAC are in what's known as college sports' "Group of 5," the five conferences that play at the top level of college football but operate on smaller budgets than the "Power 5," which includes the Big 10, Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Pac 12 conferences.
That's one thing that made him attractive. He has experience helping run a program at roughly UB's level in a major metropolitan area. But his extensive time at Missouri gives him Power-5 connections.
The other element of his resume, which UB hopes is a benefit, is he helped run a successful fund-raising effort at Memphis, which is nearing the end of a $40 million capital campaign called "Time to Shine." That fund-raising effort has produced a $20 million basketball practice facility and will fund a football practice facility at a cost of almost $11 million.
Fund-raising will be a critical part of Alnutt's job, since UB can't bank on big budgetary increases from the State University of New York.
"My experience is there with fund-raising," Alnutt said during the session at Capen Hall. "At the end of the day people use the word fund-raising and they throw it out, but what's so important about that is relationships. I call it friend-raising. When you build those type of relationships and people trust you and people understand your vision and you're transparent with what you're trying to do, hopefully that's an opportunity to open more doors in this community so people will be able to support our athletic program."
On the heels of its recent success, UB could use a relentless, out-front evangelist to keep building its sports presence in Western New York.
The UB men and women's hoops teams have combined for five NCAA appearances in the past four seasons.
Meanwhile, UB's football team under coach Lance Leipold has been improving and is poised for a big year in 2018. UB is one of just six schools in the nation to have its men's and women's basketball teams make the second round of the NCAA Tournament and have its football team become bowl eligible. (The Bulls didn't get a football bowl invite despite going 6-6.) The others are Duke, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Florida State and Michigan.
UB also broke ground on an $18 million fieldhouse on Oct. 8. That's a project that had been high on the wish list of UB athletic directors for 20 years. It is being funded via $6 million from gifts to athletics, $2 million from football revenue and a $10 million bond.
One one hand, a lot of heavy lifting has been done for Alnutt. On the other, he has big shoes to fill.
"I like to use the word foundation," Alnutt said. "Here's the deal: Yes, the foundation has been set. But it's my duty and my responsibility to continue to make it grow, which is going to require heavy lifting as well."
"Mark is driven, innovative and thoughtful, and I have every confidence he will help the UB athletics program realize its full potential, competing with the very best in the nation," said UB President Satish K. Tripathi.
The next step for the football program is to start putting together some winning seasons.
"I want to be top of the MAC," said Alnutt of his goal. "I want to be that program that you have the opportunity to win championships year in and year out in various sports. If you're a heavyweight in the MAC, you get that national reputation."
Alnutt said all of the right things about his priorities, such as:
- "When you see here at the University at Buffalo where there's 12 consecutive semesters of the overall student-athlete body having a 3.0 GPA or higher, that's phenomenal."
- "I want to know more about how involved we are in the community, how we give back to the community. What are we doing with elementary schools? What are we doing with non-profits? What are we doing at the various community centers?"
- "We're going to do it the right way. We're not going to cut any corners. We're going to be as compliant as compliant can be."
He even made an unsolicited suggestion that he does not view UB as a springboard job. Danny White stayed 3 1-2 years at UB and Greene stayed just a little more than two years. Alnutt and his wife, Kate, have four children ages 6 to 16.
"It was key for me to be in a community where we can raise our four young kids," Alnutt said. "I had that stability when I was a young kid growing up in Kansas City. I first moved into my house when I was 3 years old. My parents sold that house when I was 40. . . . Coming to Buffalo, I want to give them a place they can call home."
If Alnutt does a great job, he's going to be pursued by big schools eventually. Tripathi said the prospect of finding a candidate who might stay longer was not a factor in the hiring decision.
"You definitely want people to have longer tenure," Tripathi said. "But what we really want is how have they worked? What have they done? You look at Danny, you look at Allen, they did a fantastic job. We'd rather have somebody excellent as opposed to just . . . So that wasn't really a major focus. But definitely he's a family man, he wants to be in place. It would be great."
UB hired Parker Executive Search to identify the top candidates for the AD job. Parker is a Georgia-based company that specializes in upper-level higher education positions. It is well known for placing university presidents, athletic directors and coaches. UB hired Parker when it found White as its AD in 2012.
Greene was hired by Auburn after consultation with Parker Executive Search. White was hired by Central Florida after consultation with Parker.
UB's 14-member search committee was chaired by Jonathan Dandes, a UB Council member and president of Rich Baseball Operations, and by Beth Del Genio, Tripathi's chief of staff.