Milton Overton does not officially clock in as athletic director at Georgia’s third-largest football-playing university – Kennesaw State – for a little more than a month yet. So anxious was he to get going, though, he held his introductory news conference Thursday.
By his appointed start in mid-December, we’ll know if the football Owls, currently ranked 23rd in FCS, have stuck the first toe into a playoff bracket. And there may be some further clarity concerning their coach, who is an increasingly sought-after asset.
It is an interesting time to be atop the KSU athletic org chart. Back when he played the line at Oklahoma, from 1991-95, Overton could squat 750 pounds. That’s light lifting now. He still is as broad as a two-car garage door. But this athletic-administration thing requires the hoisting of large ambitions.
At KSU, aside from the normal issues of fundraising, building winning programs, keeping the academic lamp lit and raising the general profile of its athletics, Overton is going to a place where the cheerleaders have been the biggest news. When five of them took a knee during the national anthem in late September, quiet Kennesaw State got all kinds of notice. University president Sam Olens just announced that, after a banishment out of sight during the anthem, they will be allowed back on the field before Saturday’s home game against Charleston Southern.
Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we alienate? Go Owls!
So, of course, you have to ask the new guy’s view on the case of the controversial cheerleaders.
And being the veteran administrator that he is – Overton’s career has stretched from addresses both large and modest (Alabama, Texas A&M and most recently Florida A&M) – he is going to treat the topic like it was a process server with rabies.
“That’s such an important topic that you have to be on the ground first before you engage in that,” he said. “Right now, my focus is on being the athletic director. If I have to address that once I start, I want to be on the ground and get started before I weigh in.
“Here’s what I do believe: President Olens is working hard to do the best he can to make that work for everybody. The great healer is time. My dad was a disabled veteran (a former Marine who died two months ago). Obviously, I have a great respect for the flag, also have great respect for human rights and people having the right to protest.”
More directly related to one of the pillars of his job, is he worried about the flap affecting fundraising?
“No, I’m not,” Overton said.
“I believe the focus is going to be on the mission of the institution. This is a great institution. There are a lot of great things happening. We’re going to focus on those things.”
On the field, there is the question about holding onto Brian Bohannon, the fifth-year football coach who gets almost reflexively mentioned as a top candidate for the vacant Georgia Southern job. He runs the triple-option kind of offense they favor down that way, and he was an assistant with Paul Johnson in Statesboro. Connections are natural.
Overton is in no apparent hurry to push KSU football into FBS status – “I always believe you have to dominate your conference before you step forward; not just win it, but dominate it for a little bit of time,” he said. Nor is he eager to engage in any kind of coaching search right now.
“No athletic director worth his salt is not going to always focus on making sure that the great coaches stay,” Overton said.
“You do that by developing relationships with them, making sure they feel appreciated. I can assure you of this, I’m going to do that with all our coaches, and particularly coach Bohannon. He’s doing a great job. We’ve already talked several times. I’m a football guy. I believe I’m in a position to know what he needs to win championships. I’ve been around championship at the highest levels. There won’t be a time he won’t believe I have a passion for helping his team be successful.”
Much of his mid-management experience dealt with technology, from video boards to marketing to charting athletes’ academic progress. He’s one of those guys very comfortable with algorithms. Years ago, he started a company that specialized in software solutions for athletic academic support.
FAMU gave Overton the chance to flesh out the human side of the job as a full-titled athletic director. He inherited a troubled program – one with multiple teams just now coming out of probation for underachieving academically. In two years in Tallahassee, both grades and finances improved, making him someone KSU hired without the use of a search firm.
Coming from the poor side of Fort Worth, Texas, Overton employs his back story as a personal testament to the power of college athletics.
“The only reason I’m here is I had God-given athletic ability. Now, I come from a tough background – bars on the house, gang-infested neighborhood – and if it had not been for opportunity to get a college scholarship I would not have been able to go. That’s why I believe higher education is the great equalizer. That’s why I’m passionate about what we do,” he said.
As for Kennesaw State specifically, the attractions were both professional and personal, Overton said.
At KSU, he saw a program that “has no ceiling.”
And Kennesaw is 100 miles closer to Tuscaloosa than is Tallahassee. Which is a factor given that his two sons live there with their mother and have middle school and high school games that need watching whenever possible.
It’s Overton’s own youth as an athlete and competitor that seems to surface now and again, especially when answering a question about the big-picture approach he intends to take with the new job.
“I want to make sure we’re in position at any point in time that we decided to go higher or bigger that we’re ready to go. We’re not just competing to be the best FCS program. We’re competing to be the best program. I want to be the best all the time,” he said.