From what it seems, Jon Gilbert, the Southern Miss Athletic Director as of Jan. 24, appears to be the man USM President Rodney Bennett was looking for.
He shows a sincere interest in understanding what all of the student-athletes experience on campus and plans to walk through their daily routines.
“[Gilbert has] a real sense of compassion and transparency and honesty,” Bennett said. “A real caring person that loves his family and shares the values of south Mississippi in particular. I was looking for a person with depth and breadth of experience with a real vision for what The University of Southern Mississippi could evolve into over the next 10 or 15 years. I feel confident that we’re able to get every one of those with Jon Gilbert.”
But hiring Gilbert for his character does not give the public a sense of what kind of athletic director he will be.
Former Athletic Director Bill McGillis has left Gilbert in almost a near-perfect situation, which may or may not put pressure on Gilbert to stay successful. If the athletics programs begin to fail, it will solely be Gilbert’s doing. Gilbert has also never previously held the official position of athletic director.
In the same sense, Gilbert has been molded to be an AD his entire career. His biggest positive is his experience working with every aspect in the athletic departments of the Universities of Alabama and Tennessee, where he crawled his way to the top through natural progression. He worked all angles from event management in the athletic facilities, athletic development, marketing promotions and multiple sport administration opportunities at Alabama.
Gilbert served as U of T Athletic Director Dave Hart’s number two, overseeing day-to-day operations. During this tenure, he helped Tennessee football find a resurgence, negotiated a $35-million contract deal with Nike and contributed to student-athletes retaining a 3.0 GPA average, which exceeds the NCAA requirement.
There are still drawbacks to consider. One of Gilbert’s biggest could be that all of his experience comes from the Southeastern Conference. Adjusting to the smaller budget of C-USA could pose a problem in knowing how to properly divert funds and keeping the athletic department fiscally efficient.
At the same time, Gilbert’s experience in the SEC gives him a foundation of how to create constant successful sports programs. His time being around legendary coaches like former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and Alabama head football coach Nick Saban hopefully showed him how to turnout successful teams year in and year out.
Gilbert’s contribution to the SEC’s success can hopefully be applied to Southern Miss athletics.
“The brand that Southern Miss has is profound across the Southeast,” Gilbert said. “It is something that I hold dear. There are a lot of institutions that have things that we don’t have, but I can tell you this: They don’t have our brand. That’s what attracted me to this community.”
Gilbert comes here untested but has the pedigree to do the job successfully. He comes here with numerous pros and cons and a high expectation from the fans. One can only hope he is a great addition to the University of Southern Mississippi.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Gilbert said. “I’m fortunate, I’m lucky and I’m excited to be here.”