When former North Dakota State athletic director Gene Taylor announced he would resign to take a position at the University of Iowa, NDSU President Dean Bresciani had to turn to someone to take the interim role while looking for Taylor’s successor.
When Bresciani first called former NDSU Vice President of Student Affairs Prakash Mathew, he thought Bresciani was joking.
“I announced my retirement and I had had my retirement party,” Mathew said with a smile. “The more we talked and I knew he was serious, he asked me if I would come and help him as an interim.”
Mathew didn’t give an answer right away, but he knew he had to think fast because a press conference announcing Taylor departure was scheduled for the next day, and Bresciani needed an answer.
Mathew said yes and was announced as interim athletic director July 23.
“I knew this was a place that I love, and I gave most of my life here to NDSU,” Mathew said. “It’s an institution that I fell in love with, primarily because of the students. They are the love of my life.
“All of my life I have worked with the students. That is where I get my energy and where I get joy the most.”
Mathew knew it was on an interim basis. He said he felt his skills from his previous position could be easily transferablem and he didn’t have to be a coaching expert to take charge of the athletic department.
“I knew it would not be forever,” Mathew said. “so I knew I could go back to retirement sometime.”
Even though his hiring was sporadic and the job is entirely new to him, Mathew said he has relished it.
“Over my time here, it has been very enjoyable,” Mathew said. “Does that mean long hours? Yes, of course. I’m busy as heck. However, I’ve been enjoying every minute of it, primarily because of the people I work with.”
Helping the student-athletes
Mathew said working with the athletic department staff is a team concept. They work together and have common goals — including helping the athletes succeed in everything they do.
“Winning is very important,” Mathew said. “But here, it’s more than that. They care about the student-athletes. They aren’t professional athletes, so the word ‘student’ comes first. We care about them as students and their personal and academic growth.”
Mathew said he played in sports before, and he has had Bison football season tickets for years, so thinking in sports terms is common.
He said as interim athletic director, he is running the a relay race. Taylor gave the baton to him, and he will be giving the baton to new NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen Oct. 14.
“We had to keep the momentum going. As we make that transition, we can’t have any hiccups,” Mathew said. “You know what happens when we drop the baton or even hesitate — someone is going to pass us.”
As vice president of student affairs, Mathew would attempt to form bonds with as many students as he could by doing things like taking random students out to lunch.
He’s taken that same concept to meeting the student-athletes and coaches. Mathew tries his best to learn everyone’s name and know their personal story.
“This was a great experience for me,” Mathew said. “I still had to work very, very hard, but it was still an enjoyable experience for me. People have been so supportive, along with every staff member and coach here.”
Challenges and opportunites
A lot has happened the last couple months in NDSU athletics. NDSU hosted ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the second time in two years, and Bison football has gone 4-0 while starting the year with a win over an FBS team.
When ESPN started telling him “GameDay” coming back was a possiblity, a busy week began for the NDSU athletic department. Mathew said many members had to work well over 40 hours a week to get the job done.
But that treatment was why ESPN loved it and has mentioned the idea of coming back yet again, Mathew said.
“We knew they loved us based on how we treated them,” he said. “Know they just love it. Sometimes (ESPN) can be taken for granted. But that is not the case here.”
With everything going on, Mathew has been working away to keep things in the athletic department together.
“Any time you do anything, there’s going to be challenges and opportunities,” Mathew said. “Have there been challenges? Of course. Even in my previous job there were challenges. How are we going to turn the challenges into opportunities? That’s always the way I look at it.”
Mathew said one of the most important ingredients to being successful is having fun with what he does.
As a manager of the athletic department, Mathew’s enthusiasm can be vital when he tries to settle conflicts and find the best resolutions for all involved.
“As a leader, you need to be uplifting,” Mathew said. “If I’m down, they’re going to be down. So every day I come and try to be positive and an inspirational role model so they all stay positive.”
Troy Goergen, senior associate athletic director, said Mathew was a such a positive person among staff, it made things much easier when there was so much to deal with.
“He makes efficient decisions,” Goergen said. “He enjoys coming to work, and that’s contagious. He’s happy-go-lucky, and other people in the department have fed off that.”
NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said Mathew has been highly supportive of the football team and couldn’t be happier with how he has done.
“He was around us and got to know the players,” Klieman said. “He did everything I needed an athletic director to do on the road.”
Klieman said Mathew took time out to get to know his family, which led to to a solid friendship.
“He went out of his way to get to know me, my family and even my parents who came with on the road trips,” Klieman said. “There’s no doubt he and I definitely formed a special bond that will last an awful long time just because of his support … I’m forever indebted to him.”
Dealing with change
Even through transition, Klieman said Mathew has been a driving force for the department.
“He’s a tremendous leader,” Klieman said. “It’s students first for him. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the progress we continued to make as an athletic department.”
Mathew provided continuity throughout such a time of change. But Goergen said Klieman and other student-athletes been involved with program for too long, too much was in place to fall apart.
“When somebody leaves or graduates, it’s inherent on the next group to step up,” he said. “It always seems to happen. I’m not necessarily surprised. It always seems to happen.”
Mathew said dealing with three new head coaches, including Klieman, men’s basketball coach David Richman and women’s basketball coach Maren Walseth, has made for an easy transition.
“In both cases, they made the transition very smoothly because they were here,” Mathew said. “That was asset, but I don’t think we wouldn’t have hired them if we didn’t know they weren’t the right people. They were not hired just because they were internal candidates. We knew they were good coaches.”
Once Mathew’s time in his role is done, he said he wants to be involved in the legislative process and represent NDSU.
He said NDSU’s story is one that needs to be told as much as possible.
“I’m an avid Bison fan,” Mathew said. “I bleed yellow and green. I’ll continue to support the university, then the department and the students I served. I will participate in as many activities as I can.
“I also want to be a positive force for the university.”