Charlie in charge

Last month, Georgia State hired Charlie Cobb as its new athletic director (AD) after Cheryl Levick assumed a position as an assistant to university President Mark Becker.

Cobb arrived at Georgia State after tenure as AD at Appalachian State, where he presided over major upgrades to its athletic facilities—currently a major priority for Georgia State as it hopes to purchase the land around Turner Field.

The Signal had a chance to sit down with the new athletic director to talk about his return to Atlanta, what he hopes to do at Georgia State, and his thoughts on Turner Field.

TS: How has your experience been in coming back to Atlanta after spending nine years with Appalachian State?

CC: It’s been amazing. There’s a lot of energy on this campus with the urban setting as well as all of the activities, life, and vibrancy. I’ve really tried to go out and interact with as many people as possible on campus.

TS: Among those people, who have you tried to either connect or reconnect with?

CC: I’ve tried to focus first on campus and then our developments staff has tried to connect with a number of donors throughout the Atlanta area.

We also have a strong contingency of people that will be traveling to Seattle with the football team when they play the University of Washington. We’ll be engaging in some “friend-raising” opportunities there. I’m a firm believer that in order for an athletics program to be successful that there has to be relationships with people on campus, whether they be staff or students.

TS: How special was the first game of the season?

CC: The buildup to it was especially exciting because I know a few people that still work at the Georgia Dome from my days there. It once again made me realize what an amazing facility it is. When students are engaged, it is a special place for Georgia State to play football.

TS: With games scheduled in the future versus Kennesaw State and others, are there any other schools you’re interested in scheduling against?

CC: I think Atlanta offers an exciting opportunity for Georgia State in terms of driving revenue and creating engagement on campus and throughout the city.

I don’t think there should be a big rush to schedule future games, but with Air Force coming to town, and the fact that Atlanta’s a huge recruiting hub for them, I would like to see Army or Navy come to town. I also think that our location gives us an opportunity to schedule against some SEC or ACC schools.

TS: What will it take for Georgia State to become the class of the Sun Belt?

CC: We have to recruit well within our region, and everyone’s looking at Turner Field as a potential boon for our recruiting efforts.

But a major element of that is engaging the student body and getting them behind all of our athletic teams. When it comes to football, I want to make Gameday Saturday a regular part of students’ routines here.

I understand students have other things they have to attend to, but it’s all about building relationships, and I’m even doing that myself. We want the students to know who our student athletes are because the front of the jersey may say Georgia State, but the name on the back is where the relationships build.

Soon I’ll be visiting a few of our student athletes and I’ll spend an entire day with one of them each day to see what their day is like firsthand.

TS: On the issue of football using the protective helmets during practice, do you think they should be used for game play?

CC: I think that’s to be determined down the road. I didn’t really know much about it except a Georgia State student was doing a research project on it. With all of the talk about concussions, you definitely want to put safety first. So I don’t see any reason, if it works, to not use them in games down the line.

TS: Do you have any thoughts on how autonomy may affect Georgia State and other Sun Belt schools?

CC: I think everybody’s jumping the gun. I don’t think anybody has a clear understanding on what specific rules are going to change and how it’s going to impact college athletics.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the University of Georgia’s budget is bigger than Georgia State’s. Ours is similar to Georgia Southern’s or Louisiana-Lafayette’s. There are going to be some changes, but not everyone is going to be able to get into Georgia. So I don’t think we’re at great risk of losing in that conversation.

TS: What was your initial reaction to the Turner Field proposal?

CC: Just the thought or the opportunity to be involved with something of that scale, not only for the university, but for all of downtown. This was a big part of my interest in Georgia State.

I think the biggest challenge is getting people to realize that we’re still probably three years away when everyone’s expecting it to happen tomorrow or next week. Dr. Becker told me that whenever he’s out and about, everyone’s asking him about Turner Field.

TS: Do you think, with Becker hoping to start in early 2017, that Turner Field itself will be retrofitted in time for that year’s football season?

CC: Everything you’re hearing right now about Turner Field is very speculative. I think the idea would be that we would want to do it the right way and as fast as we can. But right now everything is very speculative.

TS: With so many football, baseball and basketball players going pro, how does that increase Georgia State’s profile as an athletics university?

CC: It’s a major positive. Sports draws people and gives students and alumni a reason to feel good about their campus, but we also want to make sure that we not only focus on athletics but academics too given how short many athletics careers are. We want to make sure that our players are prepared for life after they hang up their jerseys as well.

TS: Where do you see Georgia State in 10 years?

CC: There are a lot of buildings standing right here, and I don’t think they’re moving anytime soon [chuckles]. I think with our expansion back into Downtown and even into Midtown that there’s a huge footprint for this campus. And Turner Field would be the centerpiece of that expansion.

From an athletics standpoint, I definitely believe that we’ll be successful on many different levels. I fully believe in that. When you believe you can make it happen.