Conversation with Carter, MSU’s athletic director

Three years ago, Andrew Carter was officially introduced as Minot State University’s athletic director by MSU President Dr. Steven Shirley.

On Monday, Carter sat down with Minot Daily News sports editor Alex Eisen to chat about the past, present and future of Minot State athletics.

Below is a transcript from the 25-minute question and answer session. Parts of the conversation were shortened due to the length of the interview or edited out for clarity reasons.

Alex Eisen (AE): To start off, what was your favorite moment from the 2018-19 season?

Andrew Carter (AC): Overall, I’d say having a 10,000-foot (bird’s-eye) view of our team’s cultures evolving and starting to grow. Watching our teams compete is one of my favorite things to do. That’s the icing on the cake for this job.

Not only the external result that everybody gets to see, but seeing the internal cultures and relationships build. That’s where I can tell — usually a year or two before the external (results) start showing up — that we are on the right track.

I’ve seen a lot of that. And now it has been back-to-back years that our teams have won more than they have lost, which is good. But, at the same time, that’s not really where the focus is.

The focus is on the process… I’m more focused on what is going on with the internal aspects of these programs than what the external is and what a lot of people see. And yet, we are in an industry that keeps score.

So, that’s important. But, we can lose sight of what can really change results and that’s the internal. We have had a good year in doing that.

AE: What exactly are you looking for internally?

AC: It’s about the culture of those programs. (…)

At the end of the day, if only the coaches are worried about the performance of the team, that’s not enough. It has to matter to the student-athletes. Internal leadership has to kick in where they hold each other accountable. The coach can only do so much.

That’s what I’m looking for. How are they handling the ups and downs throughout a season? Are they staying together? Growing closer? Are they fighting for each other?

I know our coaches are. But has that been integrated down into the program? When it does, a student-led team — whether that’s a big team like football or a smaller team like golf — will outperform a coach-led team. Every day. (…)

We have been working on our internal culture since I’ve arrived. Program by program by program, and I feel like we are starting to see the benefits of that. (…)

Obviously, you have to have talent, and we are starting to get more talent, but you have to have the internal culture so they hold each other accountable with standards they have set for themselves.

AE: You have had to go through a couple coach changes recently, not as many as in year’s past, but what do see in the new coaches coming in?

AC: I’m really excited for our new softball coach, Nat Wagner. He was the assistant at Augustana and they just won the national championship.

Nat is going to bring a cultural change that we need. Not that our culture was horrible. We just got to a point where it felt like it wasn’t a really good fit in what I wanted from our leadership in that program.

So, we decided to make that decision and I think we have hit a home run. (…)

AE: How about the women’s soccer program?

AC: Coach Chris Clements has hit the ground running. He has found several new kids. We have been able to do some fundraising to update their locker rooms right now. We will announce more about that project later.

Chris is a smart person with a ton of soccer knowledge. He coached at Central Missouri as they were building that program to be national title contenders. Has been a head coach for two schools at the NAIA level.

He has been a good fit. (…)

AE: With all the innovations and updates going on around here, it must be nice to just see tangible progress being made?

AC: It is. But, the hard part is making yourself stop and enjoy it. I feel like if I spend too much time enjoying what we have done, then we will miss out on what we need to do next.

We got a lot of stuff we need to do. I feel fortunate that we have leadership at the top of the university with Dr. Shirley, who is supportive of our athletic department.

This building itself (the Minot State Dome) with the seats is probably like phase one of at least two phases. Who knows what else we might do. But, we need to upgrade the administrative offices and locker room renovations.

We host the state ‘B’ (basketball tournament) so want those visiting locker rooms that people are using (to be updated). If they get the men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms right now, those are nice experiences. While the other ones are outdated.

We want to continue to move this whole facility forward because so many people use it. Right or wrong, fair or not, (for some people) this might be the only thing they see of Minot State. (…)

AE: So, what’s next? What does the future hold?

AC: Well, part of the maturing process of a championship culture is start winning some championships. We did in soccer and we did in baseball. But, we want to move forward and see some of our other programs do that.

To do that, you got to keep continuity with your coaching staffs. We got to really bear down and develop our people — make it a lot of fun for them because it’s a lot of hard work with travel, recruiting and a lot of grinding.

We have to keep our team and family atmosphere the way it should be. Each team has their own culture, but there is also an overarching culture within the (athletic) department that we work on daily. The cornerstone of that is relationships.

And how do you do that? It’s time. Time is a valuable commodity that’s finite. We have to spend time with each other. (…)

We are only here to provide a great experience for the students that come here. That’s it. Now, we think it’s a better experience when we win. Right? People have more fun and remember it.

But, there is also a lot of really important stuff that happens when you struggle. The struggle is good for young people. The struggle is good for our coaches. But, we want that to lead to something.

We don’t want to get stuck in the struggle.

So, that’s what we work on. We want to make sure our relationships are really strong and we spend a lot of time together building our culture. At the end of the day, our culture is who we are as relationship people and what we do every single day. (…)

I want this era of Minot State athletics to be the platform for what is coming next. (…)

AE: If you could go back to when you first started this job three years ago, what advice would you give yourself?

AC: It’s the same advice I give myself all the time: Be patient.

I want things to happen quicker, but I don’t want to skip a step. (…)

Each step is valuable. If you skip a step, yeah you may see external validation by skipping that step. But, you are going to have to go back and conquer that step you skipped at some point.

I don’t want to ever go up three and then slid back two (steps). I want to go one step at a time. I want us to learn what we need to learn, build a new platform and then go to the next step.

As painful and slow as that can be at times, that is what real championships look like. You got to conquer those stages of growth. Not skip them. (…)

I want a solid foundation that is repeatable.

This flows with our concept of a rising tide raises all ships.

I could throw all of our money at two or three programs and those two or three programs might have a chance to be successful faster. But, that goes against a rising tide raises all ships.

I don’t want any of our coaches or student-athletes to feel like their program isn’t first among equals. When I say that and mean that, then I can go into a room and say we are a team.

If I don’t do that, then those people look at me like I’m fake.

It takes longer this way, but it will stick. Then we can repeat once we start winning. When I tell people you have to have a stomach to change culture, this is what I’m talking about.

Embrace the struggles.

We are putting in deposits now for later withdrawals.

I get it. People look at the external: Did you win or did you lose? And I look that too — I have a spreadsheet that tells me exactly where we are.

But what I’m more concerned about is do we have the right people doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons.

If we do and the process is solid, then it’s going to work.

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.