Mercer President William Underwood recently sat down to discuss an array of topics surrounding Mercer athletics. Since arriving in 2006, Mercer athletics have seen tremendous growth, academically as well as athletically, under the helm of President Underwood. The following is what transpired:
Cluster: In the last five years, Baylor University, a private school founded in Texas by a Mercer graduate, went from consistent 4-8 football seasons to going 10-3 this year, including having a Heisman winner in their quarterback Robert Griffin III. Do you see Mercer football following a similar path?
Underwood: I think the key at Baylor has been finding great leadership a coach that appreciates the ways in which Baylor is distinctive from the large state schools that they compete against, and then being able to sell those features to young men who are student athletes…I think the same thing is going to be true here. I think having coaches that understand the qualities that make Mercer special and appreciate those qualities canrecruit young men who are attracted to those qualities. Bobby Lamb is that kind of coach. When we were looking for a head coach, we wanted someone who had coached at a high quality private university with really strong academics. His 97 percent graduation rate at Furman told us he was that kind of coach. He also had competitive success, going 69-40 in the Southern Conference. I think he’s the whole package–exactly the kind of leader we need.
C: Will Mercer ever have a Heisman Trophy winner?
U: Not in our lifetime. I think a better test for me is how many years will it be before we have our first football player who wins a Rhodes Scholarship. I think you’ll see that much quicker. I think football is first and foremost about developing young men for leadership and giving them the discipline and other qualities from participating in intercollegiate athletics, while they’re having a rigorous liberal arts education, and putting those two together preparing them to be successes in whatever they choose to pursue in life.
C: How will the recent success of the men’s basketball program, as well as the addition of football, impact Mercer’s campus as well as the community?
U: I think we’ll continue to grow in terms of size, scope, impact of the university. We are currently among the top six or seven largest, most impactful private universities in the southeast and athletics will play appropriate and important role in this growth. Nothing builds community better in our culture than athletics, community on campus, which you already see at basketball games. We’re seeing people from Macon who are coming to the University Center and wearing orange and black, who had never been on our campus. There is tremendous energy and excitement in middle Georgia about the return of Division I college football. The success of the basketball team has been building over the last several years and has done tremendous things for the community. Positive impacts in middle Georgia are already being felt, but this is the south and football is king. When football returns you’ll see that coming together multiplied.
C: What are your thoughts about the success about the basketball team’s success this year?
U:You know we’ve got our toughest games left, including tonight (vs. FGCU, a game Mercer won 75-66), but especially Belmont at home for the last game of the season. (Not only will it probably determine who are the number one and number two seeds for the Atlantic Sun tournament), but it’s beyond that: in the rules, if you win the league but don’t win the tournament, you automatically get a bid to the NIT. So being number one is worth something.
C: How important is student attendance and participation for the success of the basketball team at home? (The Bears are undefeated in conference play at home so far during the 2011-2012 campaign.)
U: When I first got here, six years ago, there’d be 20 students (at a game). You guys make a difference. Last year, in the Atlantic Sun tournament, and the year before, you guys really made a difference. They even had that soccer chant going on…there is a really big game this weekend against USC Upstate and I think that the students are going to pack the whole place.
Coming from President William Underwood’s lips himself we can firmly agree that with the continuing success of Mercer’s current athletic teams, as well as the addition of future successful programs, Mercer University’s impact grows all the more. Go Bears!