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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
To find a new athletic director, The Citadel paid an executive search firm to conduct a nationwide hunt, reviewed more than 100 candidates — and hired a guy who already was on campus.
Mike Capaccio, who had been executive vice president for athletic development at The Citadel Foundation, was named The Citadel's 13th athletic director on Aug. 15. He succeeded Jim Senter, who left to become AD at Texas-El Paso in November 2017 after three years at The Citadel.
Capaccio is 6-foot-5, 60 years old and the father of two. A a native of the Chicago area, he played Division II basketball at the University of Mary in North Dakota, and coached Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College to three straight junior college national championships.
At UNC Wilmington, Capaccio rose in the athletic department ranks from director of basketball operations to athletic director in just five years, and served as AD from 2004 to 2007. Prior to coming to The Citadel, Capaccio was CEO of the Brunswick (N.C.) Community College Foundation.
In his first extensive interview since becoming The Citadel's AD, Capaccio talked about how he was hired; the delayed renovation of Johnson Hagood Stadium; scheduling Lowcountry rivals College of Charleston and Charleston Southern; and other issues facing the military school's athletic department.
Capaccio had been serving as The Citadel's interim AD since mid-July, but says he had not put his hat in the ring for the full-time gig until he was asked to.
"I was encouraged to apply by some people in administration, and it was not something I was anticipating," he said. "I was happy in the role I was in. It happened very quickly; it was under a three-week deal from when I applied until I was named AD.
"What I was told is that I was the guy who could come in and get this thing going, because I already knew the inner workings of the organization. The Citadel is a different school, and it takes time to get accustomed to it."
The Citadel announced last month that it would delay renovation of the east side of Johnson Hagood Stadium by at least a year, due to fundraising and logistical concerns.
A new artificial turf field, costing about $1 million, will go in after the 2018 season. But a plan to put in 3,000 permanent seats on the east side, at a cost of about $4 million, won't happen until at least the 2020 season.
"That is our top priority, and we will make it happen," Capaccio said. "We still start on the turf as soon as the season's over, and go from there."
The Citadel Foundation's recent six-year fundraising drive totaled some $250 million, but Capaccio said most of that money is already ear-marked for other projects.
"Most of that money is designated to certain areas," he said. "Even the athletic part of it — we raised $41 million on the athletic side — is designated for certain areas, like scholarships. There is very little unrestricted money that could go toward a project like this, for $4 million or $5 million."
Construction logistics also were a factor in the delay, Capaccio said.
"It would have been almost impossible to get the new carpet down and the new seats in during that time period, which would have been eight or nine months," he said.
The artificial turf will allow The Citadel to let local high schools play more often at the stadium, and to open the facility to concerts and other money-making events, Capaccio said.
The Citadel resumes its football rivalry with Charleston Southern this week, starting a four-game series with all four games at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel has not played CSU or city rival College of Charleston in basketball in several years.
"Those games are important to us," he said. "I want to get back to playing College of Charleston and Charleston Southern in basketball and other sports. I think it's very important for the local teams to play each other and I would really like to look at playing teams that are right down the road, like Coastal Carolina."
At the same time, Capaccio said, he will not order coaches to schedule certain teams.
"I would never tell coaches what to do," he said. "I'm here to support them, not to run their programs. But I would encourage them to try to do that."
On the football front, The Citadel has "money games" scheduled with FBS foes Alabama for this season, Georgia Tech in 2019, Clemson in 2020 and 2024 and Ole Miss in 2025. Capaccio is trying to add to that list, but says those games could go away fairly soon.
"I really think down the road, the Power 5 conferences will take their ball and go play at a different level," he said. "And that will provide a real challenge for schools like us. We have a very difficult model to maintain financially, and that's one of my big concerns."
The Citadel recently scheduled a home-and-home football series with Campbell, like Charleston Southern a member of the Big South Conference. Would The Citadel agree to play at CSU?
"We'd probably consider it," Capaccio said. "I'm not sure of that right now. Those decisions were made before I came in, and I'd like to re-evaluate that before I said yes or no."
Capaccio said The Citadel has raised about $19 million toward a goal of $50 million for an athletic department endowment. Most of the annual cash flow eventually produced by the endowment would go toward the scholarship bill, which is up to almost $6 million per year.
"Our future is the endowment," he said. "Our goal for (the last) campaign was $15 million, and we are at about $19 million. We need to get to $50 million and that's what I'm working on now. The good news is that our foundation board is putting more emphasis on athletic fundraising.
"Our scholarship bill goes up every year as tuition and fees increase, and we've got to keep up with that. The endowment is a long-term investment, but it will always be there."
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