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Alford brings vision for athletes, fundraising and FSU’s athletics future

Michael Alford has been the confident salesman, flashing a smile when meeting Florida State alumni over the last 16 months as the president and CEO of Seminole Boosters, Inc. But on Friday his voice at times seemed to wrestle with the emotions of the moment, even though he steadily made his way through his seven-minute prepared remarks. 

There was one set of remarks that will likely resonate across the campus as FSU’s new athletics director expressed a vision not only of remodeled or newer facilities but of happy and fulfilled young men and women.

“We will embrace high standards that keep student-athletes in every decision we make and the focal point in all we do,” Alford said. “We’ll set plans in place that have them leaving FSU with a meaningful degree in the left hand and a championship ring on the other.”

That dual vision, of diplomas and titles, should resonate with everyone from college professors to coaches to boosters to athletes. And in many ways it will carry on what FSU has done in achieving top-10 finishes in the Director’s Cup while also earning high GPAs in the classroom.

Alford’s versatile resume is one that made him appealing, a candidate who had experience in pro sports but is often viewed as a college administrator at heart. With experience at schools like Alabama, Southern California, Oklahoma and Central Michigan, where he spent three years in the athletics director’s chair, Alford has a view of college sports as someone who has risen from his days as a college baseball player at Mississippi State to one who married a college coach, has daughters who have competed in collegiate athletics and sees the demands of each.

He may not have been the first choice, but President Richard McCullough clearly felt Alford was the best fit for FSU athletics now and into the future. McCullough declined to address the search in any substantial detail but said he was overwhelmed with positive feedback from alumni and boosters about Alford’s selection.

“Michael is an absolutely amazing person,” McCullough said. “And he’s done an absolutely outstanding job with the Seminole boosters and has accomplished so much in a very short period of time. He has strengthened the organization in an absolutely outstanding way by bringing together the athletic department and the president’s office as we all work together toward a shared purpose and a common goal. …

“He is an amazing fundraiser and he’s been doing that for a very long time. But he has also managed elite athletics programs and recruited outstanding coaches.”

FSU hired a search firm, DHR and Glenn Sugiyama, the same group that helped administrators key in on Mike Norvell during the football search two years ago. In the end, the search took them not far from the Moore Athletic Center to Alford.

“You can’t be excellent if you don’t know what excellence looks like,” Board of Trustees chairman Peter Collins said. “And we wanted people that knew what excellence looks like. Mike spoke to that point. So that was paramount. Second was requisite experience. There were some people that we talked to that, prior to talking to them, I really wanted to like. But you walked out of the room with them thinking this is not the right time, not the right person, maybe not the right fit.” 

While reports by the Osceola and nearly every other outlet that covered FSU indicated McCullough’s search on Wednesday had landed on Louisville athletics director Vince Tyra, that clearly fell apart on Thursday. McCullough said he offered the job to Alford on Thursday.

“He immediately accepted the job, literally within two seconds,” McCullough said to laughter.

McCullough said he made phone calls to inform some alumni and boosters of the hire, and he often heard screaming back at him in approval. “It really affirms that he is the right person for us,” McCullough said.

Alford will begin his first day as FSU’s athletics director on Jan. 4. It remains undetermined how long current athletics director David Coburn will stay on during the transition, although his contract runs through June 30, 2022.

Dr. Mike Brady, who was a pitcher at FSU and is now a marketing professor as well as the school’s faculty athletics representative, shared his appreciation for Alford’s view of developing young men and women.

“I really like the fact that he embraces all of what it means to be a student-athlete with the emphasis on the student part of the athlete and I think he understands that being a former student-athlete himself,” Brady told the Osceola. “He has some daughters who are also the same, so I think he understands it from an internal perspective as well as from his role both former and future.”