Evin Demirel: Terry Mohajir Not Satisfied with Red Wolves… Yet


Visit Evin's Author PageNo college football program is hotter right now than the Memphis Tigers. The undefeated Tigers tout a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, a head coach who will soon be one of the hottest coaching candidates in the nation and a definitive win against Ole Miss that could propel it to a major bowl game.

That’s a lot of momentum for a program in a very fertile high school football area. And that momentum may only snowball if Memphis joins the Big 12 in the coming seasons, a move its leaders are aggressively courting. Should Memphis’ rise concern fans of Arkansas State, a program which has historically battled with Memphis for recruits in east Arkansas and the Memphis area?

Terry Mohajir, the Red Wolves’ athletic director, weighed in on what a Big 12 Memphis would mean for Arkansas State during a recent interview for Arkansas Money & Politics. “Any time you’re in a higher level conference, you’ve got a little bit more of a challenge in recruiting, but we are out-recruiting ‘Power 5’ schools now,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you are a recruit and you choose to go to a school because of facilities or conference or all that kind of stuff, that’s not a good decision. You need to go to a school where it’s going to fit you. You need to go to a school that’s going to help you be successful as an individual and we provide services that no ‘Power 5’ school does. That gives us a leg up.”

Mohajir shared his thoughts on Memphis, rejecting an overture from Kentucky, the future for student-athletes looking to better leverage their own platforms and more. The following excerpts are condensed and lightly edited for clarity:

Demirel: If Memphis were to become part of a ‘Power 5’ conference, what kind of potential ramifications would that have for A-State in terms of future home and home series?

Mohajir: I don’t think that there’s any change on the home and home. They’ve got to play somebody at home and home anyway. Might as well do it within an hour of their campus that can sell six to eight thousand tickets to the game. We just did a home and home with the University of Missouri, the two-time east SEC champions. We’re doing a home and home with the Miami Hurricanes. They’re one of the top ten brands in all of college football so I would think that whether it’s schools in the power five or the group of five, we’ve become an attractive home and home.

Demirel: Are you currently scheduled to play Memphis in the future?

Mohajir : We’ve played them for years. We are trying to work out a deal. We’re in talks to kind of figure that out. They chose to pause the scheduling partnership for a little while and we’re trying to work with them to see if we can get it back, to see if we can get it going again.

Demirel:  [A-State reporter] Jeff Reed told me that you guys were in talks for a home and home with Kentucky. True, right? 

Mohajir: Yeah, we were discussing… We discuss home and homes with every school in FBS… It’s not just Kentucky. It’s everybody… Kentucky talked to us about doing a home and home. They were interested. They got a new coach and then they decided not to do it. They came back to us and talked to us about doing a home game in Lexington with the other game in Nashville.

Demirel: Did you guys reject that one?

Mohajir :  Of course… Why would I do that? Why would I do that when we have a top ten brand coming to Jonesboro, Arkansas or the two time SEC east champs coming to Jonesboro, Arkansas? There would be no need for us to do a home and a neutral site game. You know, people do that all the time and I don’t blame them for doing it. It’s something where they’re trying to reach out and get into different other markets and they’re trying to find people willing to do it. I don’t take it as a slight or anything like that because it’s just people trying to be creative.

[At another point in the interview, we discuss what Mohajir thinks of LSU superstar Leonard Fournette’s decision to announce an auction of his own game-worn jersey for charity. I ask  what would happen if Arkansas State players also started leveraging their own fame for their own causes. As an example of someone with powerful causes in need of support, I bring up Allen Muse, a former receiver who endured and dealt with Hurricane Katrina, a heart problem and the suicide of his father]

Demirel: If Muse and some other players had, had stepped forward during the GoDaddy Bowl or somewhere then to announce they want to initiate a fundraiser for one of the causes, how would you have reacted to something like that?

Mohajir: It all depends on what it is. I would have been very supportive of it, you know. If he got a GoDaddy Bowl jersey that we were giving out to all the players and he was getting to keep it, and he decided to give his jersey to a charity to make money to help people in need, I would make sure from an NCAA standpoint we could do that. I would be supportive of it. You know what?  I’d be very supportive.

Demirel: Between all of the developments in the last few years with the Ed O’Bannon case, increased stipends, this situation where the NCA is allowing a player to profit – albeit for charity off of his own likeness – it appears to me that we’re at the beginning of potentially a significant shift in the power dynamic between the NCAA, its conferences, programs and – 

Mohajir : No. I don’t know if I agree with that. What’s bigger? The person running the ball or the brand that is running the ball?… You and I might be running the ball for Michigan and we’d have a hundred and ten thousand people cheering for us. We might not be any good but, you know what, we still have a hundred and ten thousand people cheering for us… Are those people supporting that individual or are they supporting the uniform or the brand that the individual represents?

Demirel: I would say for decades it was that; however, it’s trending in a different direction. At Ohio State, for instance, you had a superstar guard [D’Angelo Russell] who went number two in the NBA draft… [Even before he declared] he was getting tens of thousand more Twitter followers than the feed of entire Ohio State basketball program.

Mohajir:   Yeah and I agree with that but you’re proving my theory. But for the fact that he played for Ohio State, would he have that many? If that same individual played for Detroit University, would he have tens of thousands of Twitter followers? Probably not, right?… If someone recruits you to come to their school, they’re recruiting you into an absolutely dynamic marketing opportunity for you personally. They’re helping elevate you as an individual. The brand of that university helps elevate you as an individual.

Demirel: Regardless, you do have a trend there where you have players getting higher stipends. Now you have a guy in Leonard Fournette who is allowed to profit off his own likeness, albeit for charity, so given that trend, ten years from now will these superstar student athletes be getting a larger share of the hundreds of millions of dollars they’re helping generate?

Mohajir: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think so because they’re already getting a big share because of their scholarship, their tuition, their housing, their stipends, their [cost of attendance], their sports nutritionists, the strength coaches, the tutors, the education. I don’t see it happening.

Demirel: To wrap, last month you had a huge, significant game versus Missouri with the opening of the renovated stadium in Jonesboro. As you look forward to the rest of the football season, the rest of the school year, what are you most excited about on the horizon sports wise?

Terry Mohajir: We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re playing catch up and we’ve got to continue to get better as a football team. I have to continue to get better for the outside department as administrator. We need to be more organized and we need to be more efficient. We need to raise more money. We need to build a football operation center, not just for our football program but also expand our gender needs and the athletics department as well. We need to fix up our track and the baseball facility…

We won’t be satisfied until we can compete on the highest level from a football standpoint. Our goal is to represent the ‘Group of Five’ in a New Year’s Six bowl or a College Football Playoff bowl and the same with basketball, you know? Highest level we possibly can get from a basketball standpoint, men and women. We had a young lady that won the national championship in track two years ago. We’re going to continue to get better in everything …

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For the Arkansas Money & Politics piece which inspired this interview, go here.  And for the original Twitter feed of the author, go here.


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