By EVAN THOMPSON, sports editor
Collaboration and integration are the keys to unlocking the full potential of Central Washington athletics, according to freshly minted Athletic Director Dennis Francois.
Central announced on Monday that Francois, the associate athletic director for external affairs at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, will suceed current incumbent Jack Bishop, and will begin his new position on June 17.
“I’m just really looking forward to getting out there and getting my feet on the ground,” Francois said. “The biggest thing there is to sit down and really dig into all the intricacies of the department and a lot of that is going to be meeting with a lot of different individuals and really getting to know them.”
Francois, who earned a Ph.D in sports administration from the University of New Mexico, believes that if the student body and the student athletes at Central can integrate and support one another, the community will jump on board with them.
“It’s not just a one-way street where you come to us,” Francois said. “But our student athletes also have to make sure that we’re being involved and integrating them with the student body…
“If we’re doing the things that we need to do in order to be successful, then I’m confident that the community will rally behind the university and it will become a source of pride for the community.”
Football will return as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference champion, volleyball competed in the national championships in Hawaii, and spring sports such as baseball and softball have had breakout years.
Central’s club sports have also risen to national prominence. Men’s rugby is currently competing in the prestigious Varsity Cup, wrestling finished fifth at the national championships, and the wakeboard team will be aired on CBS Network in July. The list goes on.
“It’s phenomenal, first of all, to see the prominence of the rugby program,” Francois said. “I know wrestling is definitely doing well as well, which of course as a former wrestler, I love to see that.”
Francois beat out an initial pool of 86 candidates, and was then selected from a list of five finalists.
“We’re delighted to welcome Dennis to Central,” said CWU President James Gaudino in a statement. “A national search and review by alumni and fans across the state made him our top choice.”
Francois began working at Drake in 2008, after serving as director of athletics at Southern Oregon University. He took part in facility upgrades while at Southern Oregon, and also developed an academic support program.
His background with facility upgrades will be useful when Central begins renovating Nicholson Pavilion, which will include a new fieldhouse exclusive to varsity-sport athletes, along with changes made to Tomlinson Stadium and the sports complex near north campus.
“I’m really looking forward to getting on the ground there and evaluating those,” Francois said, “and visiting with a lot of individuals to determine what our priorities are and where we need to dedicate our time and energy to improving that situation.”
The weight room apparently needs work as well.
“I think the current situation with the weight room is not where we need to be in order to provide the space needed for a Division II football program,” Francois said.
Along with integrating the students and renovating the facilities, Francois will also focus on academics. He spent eight years teaching higher education at several different universities.
“I think the balanced perspective that the Division II philosophy embraces is important,” Francois said. “They’re student-first. I know the value of receiving a meaningful degree and what that does for a young woman or a young man as they continue on in life.”
Francois is as realistic as he is hopeful for the program, though.
“I think there’s challenges on every front, there’s no doubt there,” Francois said. “But I truly look at every one of those as great opportunities for us to continue to collaborate and work with other individuals and other groups in order to make Central athletics a destination for our future recruits.”
Francois’ goals can be realized. But it will require a group-wide effort, he said.
“First of all, I think we can be recognized as a national leader in competitive athletics as well as academic performance,” Francois said. “Equally as important, I truly want Central Washington University athletics to be a source of pride for the community of Ellensburg and also the front porch for Central Washington University.”