The Charlotte athletics program is coming off a year of firsts and accomplishments. As the season comes to an end, there is much to take away from action-packed moments. Athletic Director Mike Hill sat down with the Niner Times to reflect on the year and where he sees the program going in the future.
Niner Times: What are your overall thoughts on the athletic season?
Hill: When I look at the totality of our program, we made good strides last year. We had our highest number of NCAA postseason teams ever with four, and we still have a chance to do that this year, but it will be more of a challenge, so we're waiting to see how we finish out. We're not where we want to be yet, but I also feel like we are continuing to climb up the mountain to build a championship-level program for our sports.
Niner Times: You have mentioned before that we are in a better spot than we were five years ago; what do you feel has made athletics better?
Hill: I think we have amazing coaches. The coaches and student-athletes make the magic happen, and it's our job to put incredible people in positions to succeed. I'm proud of the job we've done in either trying to support coaches who were already here when I arrived four years ago or were some of the hires we've made. You look across the board, and we've had some successful coaches join an already successful staff. It does boil down to having great coaches and student-athletes committed to a common goal. We've established our expectations pretty clearly so that there's alignment, and I think alignment is key. When we have alignment, you have a chance for great success... We are clearly on the rise, and the ultimate goal is to be a championship-level program for all of our students.
Niner Times: What aspects of athletics do you feel have been the strongest this year? Also, Where do you see the program growing in the next two to five years?
Hill: I want to acknowledge our fans. Our student-athletes and coaches struggled with the pandemic, we had limited attendance last year, and we couldn't enjoy the atmosphere they provide. To have our fans back in the stands this year made an enormous impact. The fact we had a capacity or near capacity crowds at every football game this fall speaks to the passion of our fan base, particularly our students. I think our students have been incredible. They're just tremendous fans, and we rely heavily on their support, and we need their passion. There's no greater tribute to our overall athletic program than the fact that we were invited to join the American Athletic Conference. It's a very strong conference, and we were selected because of the passion of our fan base, the support of our city, the strength of our campus and the strength of our athletic program. In the next five to 10 years, you'll see Charlotte as a part of a conference that will push the envelope to be viewed as a power-five league.
Niner Times: What areas do you believe athletics can improve on?
Hill: I think we've got to continue to grow our fan base. We have a phenomenal fan base here, but we also have to grow our donor base to support the program financially. We understand how this works; they will support you, but they also want to see you win. We've got to win at a higher level and in the sports that draw the most eyeballs. We're on our way there, but we're still on a journey, and the goal is to get to the end of the journey quickly and start holding up trophies again to energize our fan base.
Niner Times: Why do you feel that appearing at sporting events and giving a face to the athletic director position?
Hill: I want to support our student-athletes and our coaches. While I can't be everywhere all the time, I've tried to be there as much as possible to support all of them. I think that knowing their athletic director is present, engaged and paying attention. If I'm on the road, I promise you, I'm on my phone, checking the scores, watching the stream, or sometimes I'm at an event, and there's another one going on simultaneously. I can't be in two places at once. From a fan perspective, I also believe that's important. It's hard for me to ask fans to show up and support teams if I'm not there. I need to make sure that I'm present and that people find me accessible. I try to be a transparent leader. I try to be engaged because I represent Niner Nation in many ways, and I have a responsibility here as a steward of this program.
Niner Times: How would you describe your relationships with the program's coaches?
Hill: Our coaches are the lifeblood of this program, and they're the ones who are the face of their programs in a lot of ways. Coaching is tough, and it's harder than ever right now. It's essential that the coaches feel supported authentically. Coaching can be lonely. You're the face of the program, and you're talking to booster groups, you're recruiting and you're at games. It never ends. It's during the tough times when that relationship matters the most. Everybody texts the coach after a win, but not many people text the coach after a loss, and to me, that's when coaches need to hear from you. It's essential to feel supported, and that's why it's important to me that our coaches know I care about them as people and their roles. That's the only way I know how to do business. When you can create a unique culture between your head coaches, your athletic director and your athletic staff plays a big part in the overall success of a program.
Niner Times: What is your top athletics moment of the year?
Hill: The top moments to me would be watching women's basketball cut down the nets after beating Louisiana Tech in the C-USA Championship. It was just an incredible run. They had three tough games at the tournament, which could have gone either way, particularly in that championship game. Seeing the joy on the faces of the young women and coaching staff was special and meant a lot. I'd be crazy not to talk about how we started the year. The win over Duke in football was an absolute all-timer for us. It was our first chance to host a power five and ACC school, and we won that game on national television on a Friday night. It was an amazing scene and environment. I was proud of the job that our football team, Coach Healy and the staff did that night. Those are two moments that stand out for me. I was able to attend in person and able to celebrate that.