MORGANTOWN — You probably don’t know much about Terri Howes, even though she is a rather high-ranking executive in the West Virginia University athletic department.
“I like it that way,” she says, sitting in a large office at the Coliseum, decorated with pictures and memorabilia, a jar of candy sitting by the door for visitors to dip into.
On the list of senior administrators on the website, headed by Athletic Director Oliver Luck, she is listed fourth and carries the rather lengthy title of Senior Associate Athletic Director/Sports Administration, SWA (the SWA standing for Senior Woman Administrator) on Big 12 Conference and NCAA Governance groups.
Oh, she also serves as the department’s Title IX liason, so you can guess she finds a way to stay busy on most days.
The heart of her job, however, is serving as the primary administrator for 11 sports, listed in her online biography as women’s basketball, men’s golf, rifle, rowing, men’s soccer, men’s swimming, women’s swimming, women’s tennis, women’s cross country, women’s indoor track, and women’s outdoor track. But she’s also involved in the administration of women’s soccer and baseball, although in recent years those duties have been spread out.
There are only 24 hours in each day.
“It’s been three years now, we started to let other people do day to day work with these programs, which I think has been wonderful because there comes times you are spreading yourself too thin and that’s not fair to the programs,” she said.
Ask her to explain what she does and she puts it this way:
“I’m senior associate for sports administration. The basic premise is I oversee the sports. The umbrella is everything other than football and men’s basketball, and we have several other directors who help day to day with other sports.”
You might notice that while football and men’s basketball “run the ship,” as she puts it, the most successful sports like women’s basketball, women’s soccer, baseball, rifle and women’s track are her responsibility.
Makes you think Terri Howes is doing something right.
She is situated in an interesting position, sitting between Luck and the coaches. In a way she has to please two masters, a situation she accepts and works hard to fulfill.
“I had a coach tell me at one point — and it was said in jest, but I feel very strongly about it — my role is to make their job easier,” Howes said. “I feel that is my job. But I sort of spread that out, it’s our jobs to make Oliver’s job easier, to make the coaches’ jobs easier, to make the athletes’ jobs easier.
“You try to get in the win-win situations, but you aren’t always going to be able to get that. My role is a big-picture role, but at the same respecting the nuances of all the different personalities and sports because they are all very unique.
“I’m sort of the conduit to the athletic director for those sports,” she continued. “Ed Pastilong and Oliver are both very good about if a coach wants to go see the, the door is open. They are both are what you’d call coaches’ ADs, which makes a big difference in my approach. The support has always been there.”
But the her job is so much more than just dealing with the athletic director and the coaches, of seeing that budgets are met and games are won, for its degree of difficulty is multiplied many times by the involvement in women’s sports and issues and by the move from the Big East to the Big 12 and by the revolution that is rapidly heading toward a resolution in college athletics.
A Morgantown native who graduated from WVU, Howes got her start at the University of Wyoming in what certainly was a different era, especially when it came to women in athletic departments.
While there from 1989 to 1998, Howes served as Wyoming’s associate athletic director for student services and SWA, where she oversaw scheduling and contracting, budgets, Title IX compliance, athletic student services and event coordination for varsity sports. She also assisted in compliance and rules education and served as Wyoming's representative on a number of university, Western Athletic Conference, NACDA and NCAA committees.
“I was fortunate when I was at Wyoming I had a similar role. I didn’t have the number of sports, but I had several sports topped by volleyball and women’s basketball,” she explained.
Her athletic director at the time was Paul Roach, who also served as athletic director, if you think the times weren’t different. He realized that he had to create creditability in having a woman involved in the administration of sports.
“He said you will be with volleyball and women’s basketball constantly. When you are not with them, I want you on football trips. I want you to be with the programs,” she said.
And when Ed Pastilong brought her home, she made sure she was bringing that idea with her for, at the time, the secondary sports really didn’t get a lot in terms of support, either financially or in administrative attention.
“It was a different time and nobody really knew any differently,” she explained. “I don’t want to say I became an advocate for these sports — they had advocates but all they did was keep their nose clean and life went on.”
It had to change, but that meant something had to happen to change it and in Howes’ mind that something was the hiring of Mike Carey as women’s basketball coach.
“I think he has done more for women’s athletics and the other sports than anybody,” she said.
Carey had worn many hats at Salem, coaching men’s basketball, serving as dean of students and athletic director.
Now he was women’s basketball coach, “wearing the pumps”, as Howes put it, and she felt it gave him a different perspective.
“His eyes were opened and he was thinking ‘We can do things differently around here.’ Then, all of a sudden, I had an advocate to move forward and help facilitate change. It wasn’t we were doing things wrong and poorly. It was a matter of how do we get to that next level. What’s it going to take? His strong relationships with Beilein and Bobby Huggins helped that as well,” Howes said.
“People don’t see this behind the scenes, but he’s a strong advocate for the other sports. He has worn those shoes.”
Howes let him go and do his thing. He had access to Pastilong and then Luck and she wasn’t about to let her ego get in the way and say, ‘Hey, I have to do that’ for all she wanted was to see things move up to a new level in all the sports she was administering.
“There was some resentment here,” she said, referring to resentment from others, not herself, “but it became a matter of keeping the eye on the prize.”
And things improved in most of the non-revenue sports, as they are called.
“What I learned over the years was to never settle. I wanted to learn how other people were doing and what you could do to be better … but within our system. This is West Virginia. I’m proud to be a Mountaineer. I was born and raised a Mountaineer. I think we have a great thing going here,” she said.
“I don’t want to be at Baylor. I want to be West Virginia. I want to beat Baylor and we’ve gotten to this level.”
Last year, in basketball, they had the program’s biggest victory, beating Baylor, which had come to represent the heights of women’s basketball in the Big 12.
Carey had built his program and with Howes pushing hard with him everything else seemed to follow.
“Mike is an alpha male. Having an alpha male see things through those eyes opened the door for these other programs,” she said. “It wasn’t like we went and had knockdown, drag outs with Eddie. It was ‘We can do this. It’s not going to cost us a lot of money.’ He was always with us and we maintained those years on a shoestring. There were things we could do within our means.”
At the same time Linda Burdette had her gymnastics team going big time and Nikki Izzo-Brown was building her soccer program into a national power.
As evidence of how far WVU has come is the fact that Izzo-Brown is now the longest tenured coach at WVU, having turned down multiple chances to leave for what might be termed better jobs. She didn’t go because the school, from the top on down, understood what she meant to the athletic program.
“Females are hard to keep. Everyone is going after them,” Howes said. “But she has received support from the top levels … from presidents on down. Her goal is to win a national championship. I’d like to say all of our coaches are (trying to win a national championship), but realistically we have a legitimate chance in some of the programs to do that because of the vision that started with Eddie and then Oliver coming in and bringing a whole new perspective with being in a Power 5 conference.”
The move to the Big 12 forced a change on WVU’s view of the athletic department as a whole.
“Every sport is expected to achieve in the conference. You look across the board at the Big 12 teams. There’s accountability in every sport in the Big 12,” she said.
The truth is the public has not yet really caught on to how different the sports world has become due to changing times, perhaps most noticeable in coaching salaries.
“That was one of the hardest things for people to get a grasp on. It changed when we replaced Gale Catlett and Don Nehlen … the sticker shock. I remember sitting there telling Eddie, ‘Eddie, it’s just the start. This is reality. This is what we’re dealing with now,’” Howes said.
And it is.
Certainly the growth of women’s sports under Howes has been nothing short of phenomenal, but she does not see herself as a trailblazer in this regard.
“Kitty Blakemore (the former women’s basketball coach and administrator) was a trailblazer,” she said.
In fact, she sort of just fell into the situation at Wyoming.
“In Wyoming, their SWA was a male. I think it was 1991 and the NCAA said that the position had to be filled by female and I was the only female in the department who wasn’t a secretary. So that is where that figurehead position came from.”
She’s seen the growth, been part of the changeover, so it was only natural to ask if equality had finally been reached?
“I wouldn’t say we’re reached equality, but I think we are at a level where there is respect now that was not there 10 years ago. That’s where we are now,” she said.
Then she added a very interesting perspective.
“I don’t know that we’re looking for equality because we’re talking apples and oranges. There are different situations.”
In other words, football and men’s basketball don’t allow equality because of the financial situation. But they have made it so that women’s sports now get respect.
“I don’t know any of our programs right now that aren’t getting what they need to be successful. That was my goal from the beginning,” she said.
Howes is at a point in her career where she might be thinking of moving into an athletic director’s job. In truth, the thought had to cross her mind when Oliver Luck was looking as though he was going to become the athletic director in Texas.
She, however, isn’t sure that’s where she wants to go.
“The athletic director role at this level is a very different role than it was 10 years. I’m an in the trenches kind of person. I don’t want to say I’m comfortable in that because I don’t ever want to be comfortable. That’s my makeup. I want to be challenged … but maybe one of these days,” she said after a long silence to think the question through.
“I like this role. I really like it. I like that the athletes know they can come in and get candy any time they want. I like the coaches can come in and have an open discussion any time they want and it doesn’t get beyond these walls.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel