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Trajectory of ASU enticing for Bowen

by Eli Lederman | March 12, 2021 at 3:04 a.m.
Tom Bowen

JONESBORO -- Early during a process that ended with Tom Bowen as the athletic director at Arkansas State University, the 59-year-old received a call about the job from his predecessor, Terry Mohajir, whom Bowen called a close friend and colleague.

"[Mohajir] said, 'You've got to look at this. You'll love it there,' " Bowen said. "... I have been on this campus many times and seen the amazing and unbelievable trajectory change that's taken place at Arkansas State University under Terry Mohajir. I'm honored to follow him ... ."

Bowen was introduced as the 12th ASU athletic director inside the Centennial Bank Athletics Operations Center on Thursday. He received a five-year deal that will pay him $375,000 annually, supplemented by sourcing from private funds, according to a memorandum of agreement. The contract includes an annual, performance-based bonus of $50,000 and a buyout opening at $750,000 in Year One, dropping annually to $100,000 by 2025.

The former Memphis athletic director replaces Mohajir, who left to become the athletic director at the University of Central Florida last month.

Chancellor Kelly Damphousse and system President Chuck Welch replaces Mohajir with an administrator who achieved success on the field and upgrades off of if at Memphis from 2012-19 -- where he executed a $40 million facilities project -- and before that at San Jose State from 2004-12.

"The facilities [at ASU] are as fine as I've seen anywhere in the Group of Five," Bowen said.

Damphousse said Bowen's record in elevating nonrevenue sports programs, his hiring history -- he secured head football coach Mike Norvell and men's basketball coach Penny Hardaway at Memphis -- and the four sitting college athletic directors who Bowen previously mentored all played a role in his hiring.

"He's a leader in this field and someone who we thought was perfectly positioned to lead A-State forward to the next level," Damphousse said. "He has championed student success throughout his career, and has a commitment to developing championship athletic programs."

In 2019, Bowen resigned from his role at Memphis shortly after signing a six-month contract extension, denying allegations of inappropriate behavior with an unnamed individual on a team trip that arrived in a letter to Memphis President M. David Rudd four days before his resignation. Bowen said the allegations had no impact on his resignation at the time, instead stating the pursuit of a "new career opportunity."

He spent the past two years running his own sports consulting business until his hiring this week.

"I loved every minute I was at the University of Memphis and I'm very, very proud of my accomplishments," he said of his 2019 departure. "My situation was that my extension was for six months, and I decided to move forward and take my career in my hands. I reopened my company and did what was best for me and my family. That's what I did."

Damphousse acknowledged the circumstances of Bowen's departure as a point of concern in the hiring process. ASU moved forward after multiple background checks with the assistance of search firm TurnkeyZRG. There were also conversations with Bowen's former university presidents and colleagues, along with Bowen himself, who continues to deny the allegations.

"After that I felt very comfortable with what happened there and his take on things seemed, to me, to be truthful," Damphousse said.

Bowen strayed from specific first steps for his new role, but both he and Damphousse cited improvements to ASU's baseball facilities and the establishment of a Division I softball program as objectives. Bowen said he is uncertain whether covid-19 regulations will allow for full capacity at Centennial Bank Stadium for the 2021 football season, and that 60% to 70% capacity is probably the minimum figures.

Bowen set specific, on-field goals when he arrived at San Jose State and Memphis for each of its football programs. He declined to do the same Thursday, instead laying out his vision for every athlete across each of ASU's athletic programs.

"My goal is [for them] to have a diploma in one hand and a championship ring in the other," Bowen said. "To me, that's the only goal right now that's tangible. It's simple in its form. How to get there takes a lot of work."

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