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McClain: Vision is to be one of the best non-Power Five teams in the country

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Scott Watkins

Staff Writer

Troy athletics has seen an unprecedented level of brand exposure and on-field competitiveness in the past several years, and Athletic Director Jeremy McClain attributes the department’s success to those around him.

Following the departure of former director John Hartwell, McClain was announced by Troy as the new director on August 14, 2015, taking office on September 1.

McClain arrived after spending three years as Deputy Director of Athletics at Southern Mississippi.

After taking time to get acclimated, McClain set to work on unearthing what he calls a “diamond in the rough” in Troy.

McClain had always seen potential in Troy, even when he was a college baseball player at Division II Delta State.

“Troy and Delta State used to be rivals in the Division II days, so I knew about Troy,” said McClain during an interview. “When the job came open, I thought it was an opportunity.

“A lot of good things have happened, but there were a lot of good things in place.”

McClain took over one of the smallest athletic departments in Division I in the second smallest town across the Football Bowl Series.

He spent much of his early time in Troy getting to know the staff in place and identifying the weaknesses among the programs.

McClain found that the people in place weren’t an issue, but rather how many people were focusing on external operations.

“I think part of our (weakness) was the external part of our department,” McClain said. “It was an area where we didn’t have enough manpower.

“Figuring out a way to generate additional revenue was our biggest piece.”

The importance of external operations didn’t slip past McClain, who specialized in the area while at Southern Miss.

As the primary fundraiser at Southern Miss, McClain was responsible for revenue generation and corporate development.

His experience in the area led to creation of a new position in the athletic department. McClain hired Brent Jones in early 2017 as the deputy athletic director for external operations and tasked him with handling all things marketing and promotion.

Before Jones was hired, the external workload was spread out among the staff already in place.

“We have a phenomenal staff here with our development staff, with internal operations, with video, with communications and everyone was really trying to do marketing and promotions, but they all had other jobs,” Jones said during an interview.

Among Jones’ responsibilities are fan engagement, ticket sales, branding and advertising.

The hire made an immediate impact as the university saw a 111 percent increase in stores selling Troy merchandise and a 34 percent increase in revenue in 2017.

The Troy brand is being spread at a quick pace, but Jones said his job hasn’t been overly difficult.

“There’s not a lot of challenges here because Troy has so much upside,” Jones said. “I’ve worked in the Southeastern Conference, Conference USA and now in the Sun Belt with Troy, and the facilities we have here are hands-down the best I’ve ever seen.”

Jones led a promotional push during the 2017-18 athletics season, and the result was an all-sports attendance of nearly 250,000 people, including a school-record average football attendance of 24,456.

A big piece of the attendance equation is sustained success. Since McClain took over, Troy’s basketball teams and football team have combined for 132 wins, six winning seasons and four conference championships.

In the three years prior to McClain’s arrival, those three sports won a total of 86 games and just one winning season.

With a winning culture coming into place, McClain went to work figuring out ways to increase Troy’s exposure.

During his first year in charge, McClain led the complete redesign of the Troy athletics website and revamped the ticketing system.

McClain then worked with Adam Prendergast, assistant athletics director for communications, on changing the way the communications department handles its duties.

“We’ve gone away from the 800-word postgame stories,” Prendergast said during an interview. “We’ve really tried to consolidate how we put the message out there.”

By shortening the game recaps and expanding Troy’s digital presence, Troy was able to produce 27 percent more videos and five percent more articles and press releases in 2017. This led to a 34.4 percent increase in website page views from 2016 to 2017.

The focus on improving Troy’s brand has had a positive trickle-down effect on the university’s smaller sports.

When the Trojan football team took down a ranked LSU team during the 2017 season, the victory had an impact on volleyball Head Coach Josh Lauer’s recruiting efforts.

“When I’m on the road and a player finds out where I’m from they say, ‘You guys beat LSU,’” Lauer said during an interview. “When the football team beats somebody like LSU, that helps me.”

It’s not the football team’s success that stands out to Lauer about McClain, though, but rather McClain’s attentiveness to every sport.

“What I saw from McClain was care and concern for the programs that are here,” Lauer said. “A true honesty about where Troy is and where it could be.

“I’ve been at other schools where the football coach and athletic director have no idea what’s going on with volleyball.”

McClain’s impact has been felt throughout the athletic department, but he acknowledges that it isn’t where he wants it to be.

“My vision is to be one of the best non-Power Five teams in the country,” McClain said. “We’ve still got some work to do there, and we’ll work on it every day.”

As for now, a day in the life of McClain is anything but routine.

On one particular day, he spends nearly the entirety of his time in the office catching up on work and holding meetings. The next day, he’s in Monroeville speaking at a luncheon.

While his schedule varies greatly, he remains focused on giving the school’s coaches the resources to succeed and pushing the Troy Trojan brand to a national level.

“I wake up every day trying to figure out how to get better,” he said.