Arkansas State is no friend to Memphis. Separated by 70 miles and 100 years of gridiron animosity, the two universities are loath to share or swap anything. That is among the many reasons why naming former University of Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen the new A-State Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics is intriguing.
“I truly believe A-State is a special place with a premier athletic and academic identity, and I’m looking forward to being a part of the bright future here,” said Bowen in a statement, “Arkansas State and the Jonesboro community are a perfect fit for me and my family.”
Whatever the reasons for Bowen accepting the gig, the appeal for Chuck Welch and Kelly Damphousse is easy to spot. Bowen, who helmed San Jose State before landing in Memphis, has legit bona fides, having pulled the Memphis football program out of John Calipari’s blackhole and transforming it into a routine New Years Bowl contender.
“Tom Bowen continued to rise to the top because of his experience of almost 15 years as a sitting AD and his very strong track record of managing and leading university athletics departments,” explained Welch in a press release. “From fundraising success, to student-athlete academic success, to fiscal management, to facilities and program growth, Tom Bowen has excelled at every level, and we are extremely excited about the future of our athletics program under his leadership.”
Much like the hire of Butch Jones earlier this year, the Bowen hire smacks of bottomline mentality. Under Bowen, Memphis radically transformed its football infrastructure while maintaining acceptable (if not championship caliber) results in basketball. It was Bowen who ushered Memphis from CUSA to the Big East (lol) to the AAC. It was Bowen who hired Mike Norvell …and Tubby Smith, which was quite the drama.
Bowen’s AD tree is especially fruitful, with former acolytes now acting as AD for Buffalo, North Texas, Utah and San Jose State. He is, as one insider told me, “Well thought of in the athletic community.”
But with a duffle bag of impressive achievements comes additional baggage. While former A-State AD Terry Mohajir was an easy schmooze with fans, Bowen is known to keep his distance. Furthermore, a “scandal” involving a female staff member of the Memphis basketball program preceded Bowen’s clunky exit. To be honest, the accusation is quite thin on fact and weighty on gossip. You can read the crux of the issue here, and judge for yourself.
While the past is not dead or even past, it’s the future of the Red Wolves athletic program that is at stake here. The university has seen great success in some areas, and depressingly alarming slides in others. There is a softball program to launch, a new direction in football to guide, and a bowling program to FINALLY deliver a national championship. Bowen will likely be charged with pulling the baseball program out of the Bronze Age. There’s plenty of work to be done.
So strange that a former Tiger be the one to tackle it.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story claimed that Bowen hired Justin Fuentes. Both arrived to Memphis in 2012, but Fuentes preceded Bowen. The editorial staff regrets nothing. NOTHING!
PHOTO CREDIT: A-State Athletic Department and Mark Taylor