Grabowski: How has this fall semester been from a competitive standpoint for the athletic program?
Graham: There’s a lot of dimensions to that question. I think it’s been an outstanding start to the academic year. Lots of sports to be taken in consideration when I answer that question. I think the football program had a great year even though it didn’t show up in the win column. The foundation that Coach McElwain put in place to serve us for the long term was the most important thing that he had to accomplish with the start of his responsibility as head coach.
Grabowski: You seem to attend more athletic events than your predecessor. Why are you making the effort to be more present at games?
Graham: Because it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the fun part of the job. I love sports, I love athletics. I get a big kick out of watching people toss nickles up against the wall and compete; I love to watch great athletes compete. I enjoy it, number one, and number two, it’s important for every student athlete to know that I’m paying attention and I am holding them accountable to the “do it all” standard, and equally important that I’m there to help and support in any way I can. If they see me there and they know I’m paying attention and they know I care — and I do care, I passionately care about those student athletes as individuals and as teams — I think they play better.
Grabowski: What has been your experience with the fans and how they’ve come out to support the teams so far this year?
Graham: I’m disappointed. I think it’s a huge disappointment that we’re not able to get more people to show up at Hughes and watch our football team. It’s a good show. It’s a lot of fun. We’ve done a lot with pageantry, with gameday traditions, to make it not just a football game and make it a college gameday experience. It’s been disappointing that the investments we’ve made haven’t shown up in fan attendance. At the same time, it’s understandable. We’ve had five straight years of poor performance from a win-loss perspective. There’s no mystery around why people come. People come because they want to watch winning events whether it’s volleyball, basketball or football. People like to watch winners and that’s not been their experience for the past four or five years, and we’ve got to change that. At the same time I would really like to ask our fans to make an investment because their presence makes a huge difference. Waiting for us to win is counter productive to the objective of winning. It’s kind of like the old expression “the beatings will stop when morale improves.” It’s a chicken and an egg question. When people don’t show up it delivers a message to the team that isn’t a positive one, and I would really like to ask our fans and our student body to turn up and help us turn this thing around.
Grabowski: What are some of the goals and expectations you have for this upcoming spring semester?
Graham: I think our men’s basketball team has an incredible amount of promise and talent. We’ve got a great contingent of seniors that have come back to lead us this year including the addition of Colt Iverson and Daniel Bejarano. Those are two exceptional basketball players. They’ve added a lot of depth. There’s so much wisdom on that team in the senior leadership that is there. We’ve shown that we can get down, play poorly and still come back and win. Our opportunity for the remainder of the basketball season is really high. I think the Mountain West conference is one of the top three conferences in collegiate athletics as far basketball is concerned; certainly a top five conference. Between UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico, Colorado State and Wyoming there’s real competition out there. We’re competitive, we’re absolutely competitive with every one of those schools, and I think we’re in a position that we could win the Mountain West conference championship. It would be an incredible success if we were able to pull that off. I know that’s what these guys want; that’s what their objective is. I think we all have an expectation to go back to the NCAA Tournament. So light a candle, keep the faith and hope that’ll keep hold.
Assistant Sports Editor Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com.