Year one on the journey

Katie Tolbert

On Nov. 12, 2012, a year, two months, and 11 days ago, Georgia Southern University hired Tom Kleinlein as its athletic director.

One year isn’t usually enough time for an athletic program to change as a unit, but the GSU athletic department has made so many changes inside and outside of the program in just a year’s time under the leadership of Kleinlein.

“When I first took this job, clearly getting our university to the highest level of football was a goal, not only of mine, but also the President’s. And we felt like we had to move our university onto a bigger stage, to give us a bigger opportunity to tell our story,” Kleinlein said. “I don’t know if we planned on it happening as quickly as it happened, but the opportunity happened right away. And, we were able to seize the moment when it occurred.”

Just within Kleinlein’s first semester here at GSU he has hired three new head coaches. Along with the coach changes, Kleinlein added both women’s rifling and women’s golf as two varsity GSU sports. Facilities have even been growing, expanding, and new ones have even been built.

The expansion of Paulson stadium directly effects the athletic department and Kleinlein’s plans for the future of GSU athletics, but they are also focusing on what else is going on around the community and are using it as an advantage for the program as well as the university.

“How we use the university golf facility is we talk about it as a game-day experience for us in football. Where people can come here and not only go to a football game Saturday night, but they can also come and play golf on the university course. Its an atmosphere where they walk in and feel an excitement and feel a connection to the university,” Kleinlein said.

On more recent terms, Kleinlein has been at the forefront of GSU football, with its SportsCenter-worthy victory against the University of Florida, followed by its heartbreak of former head coach Jeff Monken leaving.

“That vision on SportsCenter, that thought, that theory triggers someone to say, ‘Hey, what’s this Georgia Southern about, and they start looking it up. And, they may gain interest in our university,” Kleinlein said. “So, for me, the Florida win was not only about talking about our program, and how good our football program has been in the past, and how good it was this year, but also about our university and getting exposure to our university.”

Kleinlein’s most recent influential change was the hiring of new head football coach Willie Fritz. Kleinlein had several coaches from big name university’s show interest in this position. He was told that this pool of coaches was a lot larger and broader than the last time this position was open.

“I think when you’re looking at someone when you’re hiring them, for a position, I always say the best indicator of future success is past success. And, he’s won everywhere he’s been. So, I’m bringing someone in here that not only has a philosophy on how to win, but he’s shown that that philosophy works for different places,” Kleinlein said.

Although Kleinlein has made many changes and opened several doors for GSU, he does have plans for year two under his leadership and is constantly working with his staff to improve what the students and fans experience when they come to a sporting event.

“I feel pretty successful, I feel pretty good about where we are positioned. Not because of the work that I’ve done, but because of the work that our staff has done. I think that was the biggest thing for me, was to get in here and get a staff that understands how I think, how I work, and how I see our university,” Kleinlein said.

“And we, as a whole, can take that vision and extend it out to our university. I think you can expect to come into Paulson Stadium and see a stadium on our first home football game that looks a lot different, a lot more excitement.”