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Q&A with Athletic Director Robert Vowels

Vowels discusses university’s COVID-19 response, a new Nike deal and football returning to Titan Field — sort of

By Antoine J. Davis
On April 18, 2022

COVID-19, retirements and personnel changes can catch anyone off guard. Ask Robert C. Vowels, Jr., who has dealt with all of these in just two short years.

Vowels, the 14th Director of Athletics at the University of Detroit Mercy, has led the Titans athletic department for nearly nine years. Going forward, Vowels has high expectations for building successful programs and continuing his leader- ship of student-athletes.

Vowels discussed with The Varsity News in an interview earlier this month the direction athletics is head- ed and how happy he was with the resilience of Titan sports after Covid.

Below are edited excerpts.

Q: How happy are you with the overall direction athletics is heading?

A: I will start with the premise that we are never satisfied and can always do better. We are working on building a culture that is ingrained
in the department of athletics. The culture is about attitude and account- ability while working as a team. Cul- ture addresses family, life lessons, investment in facilities, leadership and mentorship and servant leaders. I call it “pulling the rope in one direction.” It is easy to complain about people, processes, procedures and rules but what are you doing about it? We have a lot of irons in
the fire when it comes to fundraising, improving facilities and creating a better experience. We want everyone to know and understand that we care and that means the athletic depart- ment is headed in the right direction.

Q: How well do you think Titan sports rebounded after Covid?

A: It has been a challenging two

plus years. Athletics, specifically sports medicine under Mike Miller’s leadership, and the Dean of Students Office, worked in a collaborative manner on every Covid case. We did our very best to follow the CDC, Horizon League and NCAA guide- lines related to Covid. The leader- ship from the Provost Pam Zarkow- ski to President Garibaldi gave everyone a sense of relief and belief that everything was being done to prevent the spread of the virus. The final part was the tremendous effort made by students, administration, faculty and staff to get vaccinated.
I believe the 17 sports within the department have slowly rebounded and are moving in the right direction
concerning Covid. However, we need to remain vigilant.

Q: Attendance was not the best at basketball games this season. Do you think the restrictions and mask requirements kept some fans away?

A: That is a great question. I be- lieve some of the procedures put in place for safety reasons gave people a sense of security when they were allowed to re-enter Calihan Hall. Fans, alumni, donors and friends of the program were concerned about their safety in larger group settings. It was a combination of elements and circumstances that kept fans away from events in general all across the country, not specifically our basketball games. As restric- tions were lifted the fans began to return to events. The last half of the basketball season saw our attendance increase. Attendance was affected
by the Covid restrictions and masks requirements, but it was not the sole reason.

Q: Will some of these require- ments be kept in place next year?

A: A majority of the requirements will be lessened unless there is an- other variant surge. Covid university policy and procedures will determine what exactly is enforced throughout the school year. Sports Medicine will continue to work with the Wellness Center, Dean of Students Office, Residence Life and our team phy- sicians on keeping Calihan Hall as safe and virus free as possible.

Q: How is the search for a new women’s basketball head coach going?

A: The search for the new wom- en’s basketball coach is reaching a conclusion. The search committee identified six candidates to interview and then selected two candidates to visit campus for in-person meetings. Over 90 coaches with extensive ex- perience inquired about the opportu- nity. The hope is to announce a head coach so he or she can come in and begin to work with the current team and finish recruiting to build the roster due to graduation.

Q: With the fencing coach retiring, are you looking to replace him as well?

A: Coach Dressell will be missed. He has been a stalwart for over 22 years and put his heart and soul
into the fencing program. The 1972 fencing team is the only Titan team to ever win a national champion- ship. Assistant Athletic Director

for NCAA Compliance and Sport Administrator for Fencing Steve Corder is overseeing the search for a new fencing head coach.

Q: I did a story on the new soccer and lacrosse field installa- tion starting in May, are any other improvements going to be made to any other athletic facilities?

A: The new turf should be fully

installed by late July and early August. It will be a significant im- provement and help all 17 sports throughout the academic year. Our other focus remains on the “Road to a Championship” regarding facility improvements and fundraising. The renovation of the Sports Medicine area to make it state of the art is our number one priority. We believe the health, safety and welfare of each student-athlete is paramount.

Q: Is switching from Adidas to Nike going to be universal for all sports or just men’s basketball?

A: The new Nike agreement, which is for five years, is a compre- hensive agreement in that it involves outfitting all 17 sports that Detroit Mercy sponsors. We were extremely appreciative to have Adidas as a partner for seven years. It is our be- lief the brand of Nike will help with recruiting. We are also partnering with BSN Sports who will help with the design, ordering, delivery and distribution of the apparel and equip- ment that we will request for all the sports teams.

Q: Do you have anything you would like to add?

A: There may be some high school football played on Titan Field on Friday nights and a Saturday afternoon this academic year. We
are in discussions with Loyola High School about playing football on campus next season. Developing partnerships and relationships are
the key to growth and expansion. We think this is another connection to get families and potential students on campus to experience Detroit Mercy and possibly increase admissions ap- plications and potential enrollment.

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