Nebraska President Ted Carter panned while speaking at the podium inside the Thompson Alumni Center that it was the ‘worst kept secret’ in the city of Omaha. That secret refers to Adrian Dowell, who was named the Mavericks’ new athletic director Monday afternoon.
“There’s not a ton of Division I jobs. So for one to open up in the city you love, care about and you know, that you want to be in, that’s too good to pass up,” Dowell said in a sit-down interview with The Gateway and a few other local media members after the press conference. “For all of those reasons this job is the perfect fit.”
Dowell, 35, said he found out he’d gotten the job last Friday and was officially introduced just after 2:30 p.m. on Monday. He takes over the position after serving as the Assistant Vice President and Associate A.D. at Creighton University, where he’s been since 2014. He’ll hold that position for a little over two more weeks until he has to “put his office into a box and move down Dodge Street.”
He’s also served as the senior director for development for Creighton and has played a major part in that athletic department’s growth ever since.
“At some point early in your career, you’re trying to find a job that fits your skill set,” Dowell said. “You’re trying to find an institution that shares your values and missions. UNO was incredibly attractive. It aligns with what I believe in.”
A former athlete himself, Dowell was a captain on the men’s basketball team at Roanoke College, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health & Human Performance and Sport Management.
He also holds a master’s degree in Business Administration and Sport Administration from West Virginia University, which is where he started his administration career.
“I think we have two missions in athletics,” Dowell said. “First, provide the best student-athlete experience possible, and we will. The second is if we’re effective at our jobs, we will bring other people to the table who may not have otherwise interacted with UNO and that will be our goal.”
The latter of that mission is a big part of what made Dowell attractive to the Nebraska Board of Regents and search committee- — the community aspect. He comes in with an exceptional track record at the Division I level, especially when it comes to relationship-building, networking and fundraising skills.
Before his time at Creighton, Dowell had also previously served as the director of development and led multiple fundraising campaigns at West Virginia while the school transitioned to the Big 12 Conference. Dowell spent five years at WVU before moving to Omaha in 2014.
Carter confirmed during the press conference that the search for the Mavericks’ new A.D. was national and the school had interest from multiple candidates. He’s excited to add Dowell to the fold.
“As good as things are right now, there’s so much more out in front of us,” Carter said. “I see the vision Dr. (Joanne) Li has put out in front of us, (Dowell) is going to continue with that vision, and that vision is going to be centered around the exact same thing we created here for our university system.”
What’s on deck
Dowell acknowledges that the first four months will be ‘crazy important’ and he looks forward to the transition period. Especially being a former athlete, he said he looks forward to helping and supporting student-athletes however he can through the transition and adversity that awaits.
Step one is putting together a detailed plan and then simply meeting people and investing himself in the UNO community. Dowell joked he’s ready to go on the “listening tour” around campus and Omaha with students, faculty, donors, season ticket holders and everyone in between. The rookie A.D. said although contract terms haven’t been publicly disclosed yet, he plans to spend significant time at UNO and has ‘married himself’ to the job.
As for the future of the department, a variety of topics were brought up on day one, but the biggest takeaway was an emphasis on being proactive — whether that means with facilities, potential conference realignment down the road or simply day-to-day operations of the department.
“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards,” Dowell said.
Not only are there ties to Omaha, as it’s the city he currently works in and has called home the previous seven years, but his wife, Stephanie, is actually a UNO grad and a member of the UNO Athletic Hall of Fame (2010). The two met during the 2009 Final Four in Detroit.
From Dowell’s standpoint, there’s already a UNO angle coming into the job. That’s on top of simply competing against UNO while at Creighton. He said those Creighton ties will be immensely important, however, especially when it comes to getting supporters behind the idea of not only supporting school at UNO, but the city of Omaha.
“Ultimately, if we are able to reach that level of success that I know we all hope for, it’s going to be because of this city and our ability to partner with it,” Dowell said.
When Trev Alberts took the Nebraska job in July, Mike Kemp was named UNO’s Interim A.D. and he’s ‘held down the fort’ since. With Dowell now set to take over on Dec. 1, one of the biggest questions is what Kemp’s involvement will look like moving forward.
“We had a preliminary conversation yesterday at some length and I know he’s going to want to structure the department a certain way, which I think is important for him, but I know that I’m going to fit into that role in some way, shape or form,” Kemp said via phone.
The two had met multiple times before and Kemp said he’s not only a quality person, but Dowell has shown the ability to be impactful in the community, especially for a 35-year-old. Both expect the transition process to be a smooth one and Kemp said he’ll continue occupying his current chair as long as he’s needed.
From Dowell’s standpoint, he plans on leaning on Kemp, especially when it comes to the hockey program.
“I had an opportunity to spend time with Mike yesterday and it’s refreshing in life when expectations, as high as they were for Mike, match reality,” Dowell said. “He was incredibly gracious, genuine and sincere, and he wants whatever is best for UNO. I can go to work for a guy like that any time.
“I look forward to working with him and absolutely he is going to have a role at UNO. If we’re going to reach that ultimate level of success we hope for, it’s going to be with Mike Kemp here as well.”
Hockey remains the priority
When looking at Dowell’s resume, there’s one omission and potential red flag when it comes to the UNO job — a lack of a hockey background, especially for a university that has publicly labeled itself as a hockey school in the past.
“Hockey is our priority sport,” Dowell said. “It has been, it is and it will continue to be.”
Dowell said he’s aware of how critical the program is to the athletic department both fiscally and from a branding standpoint. Make no mistake, as someone who has mostly a basketball-focused background, Dowell said he’s always enjoyed the sport of hockey. From what he knows about the program so far, he said he loves the direction the program is trending under head coach Mike Gabinet and his vision going forward.
Especially considering Monday’s press conference was just two days removed from the Mavericks’ win over the No. 1 team in the country.
“We have this state’s most successful Division I men’s program in hockey,” Dowell said. “If anyone is going to win a national championship, it’s going to be our hockey program. So I think we have the opportunity to grow its popularity in Omaha. We have a loyal fanbase, but can we turn some of these casual fans into loyal hockey fans? That’s something I look forward to.”
He’s also looked forward to leaning on Kemp and also using President Carter’s hockey background as a potential resource as well.
“Part of that is why I am so comfortable with this job because we have a great support network,” Dowell said.
Dowell will officially start on Dec. 1, 2021.