Logan • Jerry Bovee isn’t in an enviable position right now.
He is sitting as Utah State’s interim athletics director. At the same time, he is charged with hiring USU’s next men’s basketball coach. Essentially he is trying to convince a coach to sign on for five-plus years in Logan with him, when he doesn’t even know if he will be around past the summer himself.
“I hear that,” Bovee said. “It hasn’t seemed to affect any conversations I’m having. I’ve had a few agents ask [about my interim status] already. But no candidates that I’ve talked to have been asking about it. I mean, it’s perceived to be more of an issue than I think it really is.”
It is often true that prospective coaching candidates want to be given the resources to do the job. And Bovee can’t absolutely assure coaches he’ll be there to ensure those resources are available.
That said, Bovee’s argument to coaches is that it doesn’t matter. He says nobody ever truly knows the future anyway. He points to former Utah State athletics director John Hartwell as an example. Hartwell hired former USU coach Ryan Odom and then left before Odom could finish his contract.
“John Hartwell hired Ryan, and he wasn’t here to see it through. So to say, ‘I got to know who I’m working for. And that’s a major thing.’ I don’t know,” Bovee argued. “I think it needs to be about the university and our culture here. And we should be able to get that through. It needs to stay all about Utah State and what we need here. I’m just the placeholder in this seat.”
Bovee made it clear he wants the job in the future. And whenever the new university president is picked, he will lobby to be the permanent athletic director. But that will be far after he goes through this hiring process. All he can say now is that it will not affect who USU can reel in as the next coach.
“I hope to be here for a long time,” Bovee said. “I’m going to treat it as though I am, and then we’ll let those things take care of themselves down the road.”
Bovee has other issues that weigh on his mind these days too. A major one is NIL. He has always been pro-NIL, he says. To him, it is a necessary part of recruiting in 2023. Utah State will officially endorse a collective in the short term, he says, and the Aggies’ goal will be to stay competitive with the rest of the Mountain West.
“It is part of the culture now,” he says. “To say we are not dealing with it would be a bad strategic move. We have to be part of it.”
But after that, he is still grappling with what the level of NIL needs to, and can, be in Logan. Some Group of Five schools have tried to match Power Five programs dollar-for-dollar to get recruits. Bovee doesn’t see that happening at USU.
“I don’t want to get caught up in overreaching,” Bovee says. “We have BYU and Utah doing it a bit differently than we are because of where they are at in the Power Five.
“... I think about how you can stay competitive but also realistic,” he adds. “There are just some false narratives in this business. We tell a story because we have to, or we feel we have to. Sometimes we are not honest with ourselves and our stakeholders. That keeps me up.”
Utah State has seen some players transfer out of the program to BYU and Utah this offseason. But for Bovee, it all comes back to being realistic about where the Aggies stand in the general scheme of things and owning that niche. Plus, Bovee sees a potential drawback in chasing after NIL dollars for the sake of keeping up.
“Pay for play is part of the narrative at the Power Five level as I understand it,” he says. “I’m not interested in pay for play. I don’t think it fits the model of Utah State.”
To him, however outdated, the model that will work still has to be about selling athletes on a four-year plan regardless of dollars. Beyond that, he says if USU did chase money, it might lead to donor fatigue.
“The Jay Bilases of the world can come after a guy like me and say, ‘You are totally unrealistic.’” Bovee says. “... We have to remain true to ourselves, true to our fanbase and still tell a story that is not rife with lies just to recruit. Be honest about what they can get here.
“Maybe at the highest levels of the Power Five, they might be able to sustain it,” he says. “But what happens if you are not at the highest levels of your conference? If donors don’t feel or see the benefit of their investment, what do we have? It has to be more than just NIL, and that is where we are at. Trying to build a sustainable model.”
Bovee is happy with how conference realignment has gone so far. Other Mountain West schools, mainly San Diego State, have been posturing for years to join the Power Five.
For Utah State, this conference is enough for now.
“We feel good about the new commissioner,” Bovee says, referring to Gloria Nevarez. “I’m impressed with her vision. The camaraderie and vision from the rest of the ADs is second to none. I’m hopeful about the conference.”
He is prepared for a potential shift. He recognizes that Utah State might have been left out of Power Five discussions in years past because it wasn’t prepared. This time, he does think Utah State would be competitive in the Pac-12 if the call came. But preparing and wishing for it are two different things.
“This is musical chairs and we all want to have a seat when it stops,” he says. “There is probably another shift coming in the near future. You always worry about it, but I also feel our value proposition is strong and what we offer is good for a conference.”
The one thing he does like in the Mountain West is Utah State has a tradition of winning. Utah State men’s basketball has won the league multiple times since 2000. The football program won 11 games in 2021. He thinks winning is also what is helping Utah State be prepared in the event of another conference realignment shift.
“We want to compete consistently in all of our sports,” he says. “We owe our fanbase [to be competitive]. They want to feel good about where we are going and where we are at.”
What Utah State needs
There are certain funding questions, and facility upgrades, that are necessary in Logan. Bovee says he wants to be careful to not “overbuild,” but is starting a 10-year plan.
“I’d like to do some things in the Spectrum for the game-day experience,” Bovee starts. “The seats aren’t as comfortable as they could be and the legroom is a problem.”
He wants the basketball team to remain at the Spectrum — its home since 1970 — for a long time. Now he is looking at The Pit at New Mexico State, and Pauley Pavilion at UCLA, to see ways to improve an older venue.
The same also goes for the football team’s home at Maverik Stadium. He wants some projects done on bathrooms and entrances to make the experience better.
“We are not going to be able to build a [new] $200 million stadium,” he says. “But we can add elements to our facilities.”
Beyond that, another question is always the coaches. He feels good about men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom and football coach Blake Anderson. He thinks they are both good fits. And for him, the future is all about owning that fit.
“We are trying to keep the identity, the core, the structure of who we are, but also grow,” Bovee finishes. “We cannot stay complacent.”