BEHIND THE SCENES WITH JERRY ORAVITZ

An interview with UD's Director of Football Operations

72 Hen, GoHens.net special correspondent
March 11, 2010

Jerry Oravitz, better known as Jerry O, has been a fixture at Delaware since 1997. He is a native of New Castle, Delaware and has always had an interest in sports. From his early days as an All-State center fielder and All-Conference point guard at St Elizabeth's high school, sports has been an important part of his life. I recently spent some time with Jerry and asked him about his journey leading to his present position at Delaware. I hope you enjoy the interview.

GoHens: Jerry, could you talk about your employment background leading up to your present position as Director of Football Operations?

Oravitz: A man that is a mentor of mine is Don Bowman. He is the former Director for the City of Wilmington Parks & Recreation. Don offered me an internship prior to graduation from Salisbury University. Our relationship continued to grow, then even more so when he offered me a job with the City of Wilmington. While with the city, he promoted me to director of the [William] "Hicks" Anderson Community Center. I thought that was pretty neat that I was their first director and I could be involved from the ground up. All the while, I knew that I wanted to get into college athletics. That was my ultimate professional goal. So while I'm there, I befriend Steve Steinwedel the former men's basketball coach here at Delaware before Mike Brey. He said if I was serious about college athletics, one thing I needed to think about was getting my Masters Degree. Not that it would guarantee anything, but it would put me into a different pool of applicants, and would create some separation for me. So while I'm running the Boys and Girls Club as the first Director, I enrolled in Springfield College. The main campus is in Springfield, Mass. Then I performed my graduate internship here at University of Delaware. I'm about to finish that up, and Edgar Johnson, the former A.D. at the University of Delaware approaches me and says, "Hey Jerry, we're about to create a new position, Athletics Operations Associate, would you be interested?". I said, absolutely! That's why I'm going for my Master's Degree. So I interviewed for the job, and I've been here ever since. I'm approaching my 13th year here at Delaware, and as you probably know, after my first 7 years, over in the Field House, as Athletics Operations Associate, Coach Keeler brought me over as full time Director of Football Operations. In my previous roll at Delaware, "30%" of my job was to manage football operations. Coach Keeler had a vision to have a full time ops person, so after the National Championship in 2003, when the position was funded, I was hired for that position and I've been here ever since. All the while, I still have my eyes on the prize of becoming a college athletics director. So while not neglecting my football responsibilities, I still have that goal of becoming an athletics director.

"Coach Keeler had a vision to have a full time ops person, so after the National Championship in 2003, when the position was funded, I was hired for that position and I've been here ever since."

GoHens: Well, I'm going to address that a little bit later on, but in particular, I want to talk about the fact that I see you wear many hats. Your responsibilities include Delaware Stadium Game Operations, Special Projects Fundraising, among many other things. Can we just spend a minute on each one and address them one at a time?

Oravitz: Sure, that's fine.

GoHens: Let's start with what is involved with Delaware Stadium game operations

Oravitz: That's a changing role right now. We've established a couple of committees here on campus to look at our game-day operations. I'm on a core committee - myself and four other people on campus that are taking a look at our customer service operations, our parking operations, security issues, and communication issues. We do a lot of things really well, and there are things that we need to do a better job of. We want to make sure at the end of the day, that all of our fans have a great experience. One that's hassle-free, and allows them to get in and out of the complex quickly and easily. And that while they're in the stadium, they're being dealt with by people who understand the facility. We want to be able to address any concerns that come up during a ball game. But as I said, this is a work in progress, and things are changing.

GoHens: Let's continue and look at some of the other things that you are responsible for. Tell us what's involved in coordinating football practice and game-day needs.

Oravitz: Every day we meet as a staff at 11:00 and address everything from A to Z. We address medical issues, we address academics, we address our strength and conditioning program, and we address our practice needs. Those may include things like equipment. Also during practice, we have a segment or timing board, that has to be operational. All of our practice segments are down to the second. There's no time wasted - we're very efficient. In a case of extreme bad weather, I have to make sure that we have indoor practice facilities available to us. If we don't, I have to be ready to present options to our coaching staff.

GoHens: Can you talk a minute about your involvement in team travel?

Oravitz: Yes. I plan, coordinate and execute team travel. I obviously travel with the team. I scout out hotels a year in advance, I execute the contracts. If we need to fly somewhere, I'm working with charter companies to secure quotes. I arrange for all the food needs before we leave and while on the trip. So from departure to an away destination to our arrival back home, I coordinate arrangements.

GoHens: Also another thing I want to talk about is your involvement in supplying support to student athletes with University matters. What does that include?

Oravitz: That's where I drop everything. That comes first. If any of our student athletes come in having a problem with their student account, like they have a charge for something that is not theirs, I work with the people in account services. If someone has a problem with their meal plan, I'll work with the flex office on that. If someone is just having a personal issue or concern, such as emotional health, physical health, or a problem at home, I shut my door and try to be a resource for that young man to get him to the right people. To me, that's priority. We also talk about their role on the program, internships after they graduate, helping them meet people that will help them with their careers, all those kinds of things.

"If someone is just having a personal issue or concern, such as emotional health, physical health, or a problem at home, I shut my door and try to be a resource for that young man to get him to the right people. To me, that's priority."

GoHens: It doesn't sound like you ever get bored!

Oravitz: Oh no. No two days are ever the same.

GoHens: Let's talk about fundraising. I know you help Coach Keeler with fundraising, and you also have involvement with the Rich Gannon golf tournament. Tell us a little about that.

Oravitz: Fundraising is an every-day process. We're being asked more and more each day to care for the growth of Delaware Athletics and Delaware Football. Funding from the state is decreasing and funding from the University is anticipated to continue to decrease. So what that means is we'll have to generate new revenues to help support our operation. So we've been asked to identify prospective donors both from within our football alumni roster and people affiliated with the University. So I assist Coach Keeler with those efforts, and we'll go out and meet people, have lunch with people, entertain people at basketball games, and in return share with them the vision for the University of Delaware and Delaware Football. In addition, I am involved in organizing the Rich Gannon Blue Hen Golf Classic which is the premier fundraising event for UD Football.

GoHens: There's been a lot of talk about new facilities for football. Right now, everybody that I talk to is being really quiet about that. Do you assist in fundraising for the new facilities in particular?

Oravitz: In particular, no. Our Athletics Development Staff, headed by Scarlet Schmidt, has the direct responsibility for that. They're trying to develop revenue streams for the new student athlete performance center, or whatever project would be next in line. I'm working more on the football side of things, with our football alums and Coach Keeler.

GoHens: You mentioned the student athlete performance center. Is there a way at this point do donate specifically to that project?

Oravitz: Yes. While Scarlet is involved with the major donations to the student athlete performance center, donors can make any donations of any size to any sports program. Right now we are focused on donations for the student athlete performance center.

GoHens: Is there any timetable for announcements for the start of this facility?

Oravitz: No. Not at this time.

GoHens: I see you on the sidelines sometimes and you're often busy talking to high school players that are visiting. I know you play a real big part in recruiting. You may be the initial face they see on the sidelines. Tell us about what you do especially on game day as far as recruiting goes.

Oravitz: I coordinate all of our on-campus recruiting efforts. Because I'm an administrator for the sport of football, and not a coach, I'm not permitted to go on the road and recruit. But when coaches come back from recruiting trips, they'll say, "Jerry, I want you to set this guy up for an official visit." What they mean is to fly the young man in, take care of his lodging accommodations, set up an itinerary where this person can meet our academic support staff, our strength and conditioning staff, set up a physical exam for the young man, organize a meeting with a professor or a dean in the area where this person has an academic interest. They might do this over a meal. Then part of our recruiting tour is we show a highlight video on our new video board in the stadium. So I put all those pieces together for all of our official visits, and on any given weekend we can have as many as 10, 12, 14, 15 official visits, which includes mom and dad. We can have groups of 50-60 people on campus on any given weekend.

"...part of our recruiting tour is we show a highlight video on our new video board in the stadium. So I put all those pieces together for all of our official visits, and on any given weekend we can have as many as 10, 12, 14, 15 official visits, which includes mom and dad."

But often when you see me on the sidelines during game days, these are kids that we've brought in for an "unofficial" visit. The prospect then pays his own way to come to Delaware for game day. We're permitted to offer them 3 complimentary tickets. So what I do is coordinate with our sports management students, tours of our football facilities, our new practice football facilities and Delaware Stadium. So we'll meet in the lobby of the Bob Carpenter Center, we'll register the kids, we'll get a name tag, we'll show them a highlight video in our team room and then our sports management kids will escort them, tour them onto the sidelines to watch our pre-game warm-ups. The athletes and their parents watch the games from the stands.

GoHens: Jerry, I have been able to watch you talking to these high school players and their parents. You really do a terrific job of making them feel welcome and important. In my opinion you play a very important part in our recruiting efforts.

Oravitz: Thank you.

GoHens: What percentage of the "official" visits happen prior to the end of football season?

Oravitz: It's a rare thing that we bring a kid in for an official visit during the football season. Most of the official visits happen after the season. This past year we had two weekends in December and four weekends in January for official visits.

GoHens: The next question might catch you a little off guard. What is your most memorable experience since working at Delaware?

Oravitz: (silence)

GoHens: I guess I did catch you off guard.

Oravitz: That's a great question! Two of my most memorable experiences, that I treasure the most - One is working with Ellen Reed, our Administrative Assistant. She is unbelievable. If I have a chance to become an athletics director, she will be my first hire. She's that talented. To be able to work with someone that bright, that pleasant, and that organized, is very inspiring to me. We feel really good about what we do for our coaching staff and our student athletes. That is a memory for me every day. I really value the opportunity to work with Ellen. Number two, not to discount what we did in 2003, because that was a hell of a playoff run, but what we did in '07, with all of our weather issues, and travel issues, and still stay the course, if you will, working hand-in-hand with Ellen and Edgar to keep us on track and keep us moving forward was very, very rewarding. A big part of my job is to minimize distractions, to allow Coach Keeler and the coaching staff to do their jobs. Let them coach, let them teach, let them recruit. So if Ellen and I can minimize distractions, I feel like I've done my job. I feel like we did that in '07. These are my two most memorable experiences at Delaware.

GoHens: Let's get back to the topic we started discussing earlier, your desire to be Athletic Director. I know you were very interested in the Athletic Director job when Edgar left. Our GoHens board was going crazy promoting you for this job. Tell us what you can about your interest in this position when Edgar left.

Oravitz: I was very interested in the Athletics Director job. I felt like I was personally ready, professionally prepared, but as my wife put it, "it just wasn't my time". I believe my time will come. I reflect back to an article I read where Joe Flacco had a conversation with his father just prior to the NFL draft. Joe was speaking to his father and said, "I know I can play at this level, I just need the opportunity." I feel the same way. I feel that to play at this level, I just need the opportunity. I need somebody to believe in me. I really appreciate all the support from people like yourself and all the people on the support clubs, the Blue Hen Touchdown Club, and the Huddle, and all the fans and the alums. I know I had a lot of support and I appreciate that very much. I value that, it means a lot of me. I just wish I could have had that opportunity to serve in a greater capacity.

I was very interested in the Athletics Director job. I felt like I was personally ready, professionally prepared, but as my wife put it, "it just wasn't my time".

GoHens: I know you have the interest. If that opportunity became available outside of Delaware, would you have the same interest?

Oravitz: I always wanted to retire at the University of Delaware, and I hope my performance will allow me to stay at the University of Delaware, but if I wanted to achieve my goal of leading an athletic department, then obviously I would have to leave the University of Delaware. I don't want to do it, but obviously, it's something I would have to do, professionally.

GoHens: Well, Jerry while I hope you meet your professional goal of becoming an Athletic Director, I know many of us selfishly hope you never leave us. But, for now, since Bernard Muir has been on the job, has your roll changed any in terms of responsibility, or is it pretty much the same?

Oravitz: It's pretty much the same as far as football is concerned. I handle the football scheduling for Bernard. If he asks me to spend some time with a prospective donor, I'll do that for him. He's asked me to serve on a couple of campus committees, and I've done that. I basically do whatever he needs me to do.

GoHens: So do you handle ALL of the scheduling now?

Oravitz: I do all of the legwork, all of the research, I find out who's available, who's interested, who wants to come to Newark. I present that to Bernard and we'll decide which teams we should pursue, let's find out where they are in terms of guarantee, do they want to have a conversation about a 2 or 3 game series? It's an ongoing process, and I deal with it almost every day to some degree or another. We have a lot of irons in the fire right now.

GoHens: Where do you see Delaware Football five years from now?

Oravitz: One of the greatest strengths of Delaware football is our people, meaning our coaching staff. I've always been impressed with the intelligence, the work ethic, the knowledge, the passion and energy that our entire coaching staff, even the ones we've lost, have had for football. It's a pleasure for me to be around such great men. That won't change. That can only get better. I think we do a really good job of recruiting really good kids. High character kids who happen to be really good athletes. Now that we've got our roster built up, we're going into spring ball with 93 kids which might be an all time high since Coach Keeler's been here. So that means we've added some depth, we're able to experiment with different things, and that bodes well for the future. We're now able to scrimmage harder, and practice harder, because we have better depth. The improvements to Delaware stadium, and the discussions of the athletic training center has really helped us with recruiting, and we're going to win again. I believe we're going to win right this year. We have all the pieces in place. We've got great maturity on the team. We've got some key guys on both sides of the ball. There's no reason we shouldn't win, and win now.

"I've always been impressed with the intelligence, the work ethic, the knowledge, the passion and energy that our entire coaching staff, even the ones we've lost, have had for football. It's a pleasure for me to be around such great men."

GoHens: You mentioned that the roster is deeper. Was that a real problem in the past?

Oravitz: I think that's a big thing. We lost some guys to attrition. Some for medical reasons, some that just can't compete at a collegiate football level due to severe injuries. We've lost an occasional kid for academic reasons or off the field problems. All of these things happen. I remember going out to spring ball with a roster of 60 not to long ago. We've increased that by 30, and to me, that's a big positive.

GoHens: Jerry, we want to thank you for spending this time with us. You truly wear many hats and do a great job serving the University of Delaware Football Program and all of us fans as well.

Oravitz: You're very welcome, I was happy to do it.