Arkansas State University Athletic Director Tom Bowen attended his first Sun Belt Conference meeting recently in Montgomery, Ala.
Despite his role as the newcomer, Bowen -- whose career in athletic administration began in 1997 -- felt at ease in the new setting among Sun Belt Commissioner Keith Gill and his fellow athletic directors.
"I know all of these guys," Bowen said of the administrators present. "I've met them all throughout my career. I know probably every AD in the country. I've been around a long time."
For the comfort he felt in Montgomery, Bowen is still settling into his role in Jonesboro. Just over three months have passed since the former San Jose State and Memphis athletic director accepted the role at ASU, replacing Terry Mohajir after his February departure. He explained last week that he is just now catching his breath.
"I haven't been able to see everybody that's been really involved externally in our major donors and our supporters and the people that are really involved at Arkansas State," Bowen said. "I've had a hard time getting out to see them.
"A large portion of my days to this point have been going through the dynamics of moving things forward. But we're getting more free time."
One task consuming Bowen's time is filling out his senior staff. When Mohajir left for the University of Central Florida, seven members of the ASU athletic department went with him, leaving Bowen to begin his tenure with a small team -- a core group he commended for its work over his first 13 weeks in charge. His first additions have come within the past 10 days.
On May 28, ASU announced former Ohio University and Fresno State AD Tom Boeh as the school's next deputy athletic director, and last week former Red Wolves running back Jamal Jones was named director of letter winner relations. Their hirings leave six openings for Bowen, whose previous staffs have produced five current or former Division I athletic directors, to fill.
"If you've done your homework about me, you know that I'm a guy that hires great talent, that's all I've ever done," he said. "Everywhere I've been at the high school level, college, NFL, I've hired the finest talent I could ever find. It's about creating synergy and finding great talent to be part of Arkansas State, and being synergized and melded with all the great talent that's already here."
Bowen and ASU also are focused on the fall sports season and a nearly full return of fans, particularly as it pertains to the Red Wolves' six-game home football schedule.
ASU has announced that full tailgating activities will return on campus in the fall. After restricted attendance last season because of covid-19 restrictions, ASU is aiming to capitalize on a schedule featuring September home games against the University of Central Arkansas and Memphis. The Red Wolves also have a pair of midweek contests against Sun Belt foes Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette.
"We want to make game day as easy and exciting and inviting as we possibly can," Bowen said. "The two nationally televised games on Thursday nights (Oct. 7 and 21) are critical for our community, our university and our alumni, our staff, our students. Those are critical right now for us."
Questions about capacity limits and restrictions on nonvaccinated fans discussed in Montgomery remain open into the summer and will be answered in part by both state and conference policies. Bowen is confident about filling Centennial Bank Stadium in the fall after state mask mandates were lifted and full venues such as the University of Arkansas' Baum-Walker Stadium returned.
"We want people to feel welcome, whether they're vaccinated or not," Bowen said. "Everyone is going to be a part of it, and we'll make sure we do the right things for people to be safe."
Upon his hiring in March, Bowen laid out facility upgrades and the establishment of a Division I softball program as long-term goals. Those objectives have taken a back seat his early months.
Bowen said that while those goals have yet to come into focus, his vision for the future remains unchanged after three months in Jonesboro.
"I'm in my 13th week as the new vice chancellor of athletics, and right now I've been given a lot of priorities that aren't about long-term benchmarks," Bowen said. "In athletics as it pertains to Arkansas State, we're very aware of what we need to do."