Within the first 15 minutes of his job interview with Towson president Maravene Loeschke, Tim Leonard knew two things: he wanted to be the university's next athletic director, and the school felt the same way about him.
"It was just this sense, it was like a sixth sense that came over me," Leonard said, eliciting laughter from an audience that had gathered at Johnny Unitas Stadium for his introductory news conference Friday morning. "I knew it was right."
Loeschke was similarly enthusiastic about Leonard, saying, "It is very clear to all of us that we have a champion who is going to help us make champions."
Leonard, a senior associate athletic director for external affairs at Southern Methodist University, replaces Mike Waddell, who left in May to become a senior associate athletic director at Arkansas. Leonard, who will begin his tenure Aug. 19, said he plans to spend his first two months getting a feel for the institution and soaking up input from administrators, coaches, athletes and boosters.
"My plan is to listen, learn and then lead," he said. "I don't like to get ahead of myself without having a chance to meet as many folks as possible. I want to listen and I want to learn from the people that have been here to understand what it means to be a Towson Tiger. I want to absorb that before I go in and start trying to make changes. I need to understand what has happened, why these issues were made before I got here. Once I understand that, then I'll start to instill some of the traditions that I've learned."
Leonard, who was an interim athletic director at SMU between May and August 2012, will likely need to work swiftly. Waddell, his predecessor, was credited for revitalizing a dormant men's basketball program, but he also drew sharp criticism over the school's awkward handling of trying to cut the baseball and men's soccer programs to deal with budgetary deficiencies and Title IX issues.
The baseball team earned a reprieve when Gov. Martin O'Malley amended his budget to include $300,000 to keep the program operating at least two more years and $2 million to help build a softball field to satisfy Title IX inequalities.
Leonard said he has already begun some preliminary research on finding more permanent funding for the baseball team.
"I'm aware of the decisions that were made," he said. "Dr. Loescheke and I have spoken about that. It's our plan to move forward with the plans that are already in place for that. I know I'm going to have to get to work right away on figuring out a solution on some of the financial models that need to be met, particularly with baseball. So I've already started working on that a little bit, and I'm excited to get out here and get going."
Leonard also has the task of raising funds for a university that is overshadowed locally by the Ravens and Orioles and battling the likes of the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Loyola for relevancy.
Leonard, who was in charge of fundraising and sales at SMU and helped double annual giving to athletics there since 2008, said Towson should not be concerned about competing with the professional franchises.
"We don't have the budget to go out and compete with the professional sports in this market, nor should I think we have to do that," he said. "We have our own niche here, and that's college athletics. It's a great experience, and we're going to find people that want to have that experience and let them know about Towson."
Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which chaired the university's search for a new AD, said 50 people applied for the position. The pool was narrowed to 12 and then six, who interviewed with the search committee and Loeschke.
Fry said the committee followed Loeschke's charge.
"She made it clear that she did not want to make a hire to maintain the status quo, but wanted to build on the momentum and the success that Towson athletics has enjoyed as of late," Fry said. "We are confident that with the selection of Tim Leonard, even better days are ahead for Towson University."
Tim Leonard bio
Hometown: Twin Falls, Idaho
Education: B.A. degree in communications from Boise State
Family: Wife Monica, daughter Hayley, son NathanCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun