A Focused Terry Mohajir Achieves Early Success


Arkansas State University Red Wolves head football coach, Bryan Harsin, and athletic director, Terry Mohajir, were in Little Rock Tuesday, pressing the flesh, making the media rounds and revving up faithful fans.

All of the appearances exuded pride and confidence, but more than that, both of these Red Wolves reflected an attitude of aggressiveness and ambition.

Sometimes pride, confidence, aggressiveness and ambition come from a false bravado and come off to casual observers like bragging. Not with these two.

Both Harsin and Mohajir left the chest-puffery aside and outlined philosophies, ideals and plans that are well-rounded, grounded and rooted in reaching objectives through sound strategies and tactics. That’s not something you always get from coaches or athletic directors, but it is something we see from the more successful ones across the country.

It’s often called focus. Terry Mohajir has it.

From media appearances to talks with fans, Mohajir is straight forward and consistent. Take for example what he said Tuesday evening at a fan gathering on the deck of Cajun’s Wharf overlooking the Arkansas river in Little Rock: He wants to build a national brand. Arkansas State is not some little school in a sleepy town in northeast Arkansas. He needs support from fans.

Talk is cheap, right? We all remember “next level” and all that other coach-speak rah rah.

Well, Terry Mohajir doesn’t stop with the platitudes or mission and vision statements. He drills down with details – schedule quality opponents and beat them; schedule home-and-home games with nationally known opponents; win conference titles; improve facilities; improve the fan experience (see quality opponent scheduling); expect supporters and fans to buy-in with money (see scheduling home-and-home games).

These aren’t new positions from Mohajir. He told us in January his plan, explained here by Jeff Reed.

Some of the key takeaways from that interview are the same ones he discussed in Little Rock Tuesday evening with an enthusiastic crowd on that deck.

“I am trying to change our mindset at Arkansas State,” Mohajir said in January.

“We want to be strategic in who we play.”

“We have to expand our brand nationally,” he said. “We have to be smart; we can’t play too many [money games]. We have to have a good balance.

“If we can build our season-ticket base to the level we need to build it to make up for a $900,000 game – and that is a big increase – that is a lot of season tickets. We can make up some in fund raising. We are going to continue to evaluate that. We can get some home-and-homes if we can continue to build the season ticket base package.”

“We are in the competition business, just like GM and Ford are in the transportation business. We want to win, and we want to be as good as we can possibly be. If we are ever going to grow this program we have go to set our sights high.”

On a completely personal note, I am a product of Arkansas’ delta. To this day I love the land of east Arkansas, its people, its cultural relevance and significance to our state and nation. I don’t like the delta’s mosquitos, and I don’t like the decades-long suffering most of the region’s residents have endured.

With that, I will say this: Mohajir’s drive to succeed is a small yet important piece of a puzzle to improve the delta. Sports are often the face of a school, like it or not. The flagship campus of the Arkansas State University system in Jonesboro is the largest four-year institution of higher education in the Arkansas delta. Universities are economic drivers for large areas and sports can pay dividends, too, especially when athletic departments are run by people of vision and a sensibility to bigger pictures and long-range plans.

Mohajir’s efforts may well be focused on sports. That is his job. But I see a more important reason to root for his success.

Anything that assists in raising up the poorest area of Arkansas – through travel spending (nationwide sports-travel is estimated at more than $182 billion, and the delta could use some of that dough), increasing college enrollments and equipping delta residents with college opportunities and degrees – makes the whole state better. And while a football schedule may seem trivial, and it certainly is not a cure-all for the delta, building excitement, stimulating the flow of money in the region and using sports to put a positive face through a “national brand” on the area are good steps.

Sportsman of the Year? We know it’s only the end of May. We know there aren’t really campaigns for such things, but if there were, a case for Mohajir on the shortlist could be made because of his consistent focus on his strategies, carrying out clear tactics and moving toward accomplishing his stated objectives. These aren’t pipe dreams for the Red Wolves’ athletic director. These aren’t just talking points. The unofficial announcements of Tennessee on the football schedule in 2014 and a home-and-home series with Miami, plus the formally announced home-and-home football games against Missouri are evidence of his success in implementing his plans.

And quite frankly, the hiring of Bryan Harsin last December to take over the football program is another insight into Mohajir’s methodical approach and focus.

Harsin reflects his boss in a lot of ways – he clearly states his plans; he is direct; he is aggressive; he’s personable; he is focused.

Only time will tell how successful Terry Mohajir will be in moving Arkansas State, the Red Wolves, the boosters and the fans together toward his objectives, but as things stand today, he’s doing what he says needs to be done and the early results must be reassuring to those who say “Howl Yes.”

They are also refreshing for fans of the Arkansas delta.

Simon Lee is the publisher of Sporting Life Arkansas.

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