On his first day as Stony Brook's new athletic director, Shawn Heilbron vowed to "make sure no one from coast to coast will have to ask, 'What is a Seawolf?' They will know who we are.''
The way to grow Stony Brook's brand nationally is the same as at Heilbron's previous stops at Oregon State, UCLA and SMU -- make football king. Heilbron pulled no punches in saying football must lead the way in generating revenue and name recognition.
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At a gathering that was equal parts introductory news conference and pep rally Friday afternoon in renovated Stony Brook Arena, it was no accident that a red Stony Brook football helmet was positioned on the table where Heilbron sat with the university president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley.
"I believe football success is absolutely critical,'' Heilbron said. "We worked very hard at Oregon State to get football right because football can help the department in so many ways -- financially, certainly, but also as a point of pride. Filling the seats, you connect people to the university in a way other sports don't because of the sheer volume [of fans].''
Stony Brook football coach Chuck Priore has fielded a quality product, winning or sharing conference titles in the final three seasons of Big South play and qualifying twice for the FCS postseason playoffs before moving to the Colonial Athletic Association last season. But Stanley said fan support for football, including student support, hasn't kept pace with success on the field.
Heilbron said fundraising will be his "major focus.'' At the end of the search process, Heilbron spoke to some of the athletic department's major donors, including Glenn Dubin, Richard Nasti and Stuart Goldstein.
"What's exciting is they see the unlimited potential for this program and are looking for what those next steps are,'' Heilbron said. "I would describe the sentiment I got from them as very supportive. They asked what sport I see as one to focus on, and I did say football. That's not to say we won't focus on the other sports. But clearly, there is a lot of upside here, and I believe the donor base is ready to line up and lock arms with us to move this program forward.''
Although it's not an immediate priority, Heilbron said expansion of 8,300-seat LaValle Stadium "is definitely something that needs to happen.'' Heilbron also emphasized his commitment to supporting coach Steve Pikiell's men's basketball program as it prepares to move into 4,000-seat Stony Brook Arena.
Praising the growth that already has taken place in SBU athletics, Heilbron said that attracted him to the job. "What is in place at Stony Brook right now allows us to have an incredible launching pad forward,'' he said. "There is nothing broken here. Everything is in place to achieve success.''