When you read all the compliments to Andy Miller’s career, you could become convinced you’ll never replace the Seminole Boosters President and CEO, who has been in the job for 46 years. But a national search committee did find a candidate who looks up to the task of taking Seminole Boosters into the next era. Meet Michael Alford, who brings a successful track record of sales and fundraising from iconic brands Alabama, Oklahoma, the University of Southern California, the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals.
The 51-year-old Alford, who most recently served as the athletic director at Central Michigan, begins work Sept. 1 as only the second CEO in Seminole Booster history.
In addition to an impressive resume, Alford flashed a sense of humor when the selection committee asked him why he would leave an athletic director’s job for the lead job at Seminole Boosters.
“The opportunity only comes along once every 46 years,” he teased, before explaining his why. “The opportunity. It is the premier fundraising organization in the nation. It is Florida State University, one of the most iconic brands in our industry or within collegiate athletics. The People. The Region. You can probably tell I’m from the south, and have a little twang to my voice. Just the opportunity to go in and make a difference within this organization is something I’m really excited about getting there and establish my processes, my vision to grow Seminole Boosters.”
The personable Tennessee native is the son of a college football coach. An all-state baseball player (Louisiana), Alford was offered by LSU and Mississippi State, and was part of a Bulldog team that defeated his dream school – Florida State – to advance to the College World Series in 1990. Alford’s wife Laura, a Southern California native, also signed a collegiate volleyball scholarship with the University of Hawaii, where she played for a national championship and later coached collegiate volleyball at the Division I level.
Alford remembers the 1990 Regional Final well. I do, too, as I was seated in the legendary “Left Field Lounge” covering the game for the Osceola when dreams of Omaha abruptly ended.
“Burke Masters (Now the Chicago Cubs team Chaplain) hit a walk-off home run,” Alford said as if it happened yesterday. “I got to play for a legendary coach, Ron Polk, who to this day influences me. We talk every month or two and I still run things by him and ask his opinion. The relationships you establish with your coaches are just special.”
The Alfords know collegiate sports.
Alford’s father coached at Memphis State, where young Michael fell in love with the Tigers and the visiting Seminole baseball teams. While he hadn’t met FSU head coach Mike Norvell, who served on the selection committee, he paid close attention to and admired the job he did at Memphis.
“I grew up in his business, the son of a college football coach who later became a college administrator,” Alford said. “Both of my parents have master’s degrees in education, so I consider myself an educator and that’s why I got back into college athletics.
“I could have stayed in pro sports a long time. The Dallas Cowboys were very good to me. The Jones Family was exceptional to my family and I. It was a tough decision (to leave Dallas) but something was missing, an opportunity to get back into collegiate sports and make a difference for student athletes. To provide opportunities for them, that has a higher job satisfaction or meaning for us.”
Alford said the magic sauce is being able to impart valuable life lessons on collegiate student-athletes at an impressionable period in their life.
“The opportunity to go to college as I did as a student-athlete, my wife did as a student-athlete is a very special thing,” Alford said. “Now to be around these student-athletes on a daily basis, and just know that what you are doing, what drives you on a daily basis, provides an opportunity for them to get a college education that maybe they couldn’t have.
“Knowing the impact, the life lessons, will prepare them to go on after college and have very meaningful careers in the business world and in their communities. That is something that gets me up every morning knowing that what we are doing is making a difference.”
What does Alford do when not working?
“Family,” he said. “We have three daughters and they take up a lot of our time in a good way as anyone with children will understand.”
The Alfords have three daughters and shocker: they all play volleyball.
“I have that mother-daughter relationship going in my house and I tease them, ‘Don’t question your mom. She played for a National Championship and anyone who does that you can’t question,’ ” he said with a laugh.
Alford said Laura and he learned similar life lessons as collegians: “It set her philosophies in life and prepared her to go out and be a meaningful contributor to society.”
While Alford’s dream to play for FSU didn’t materialize, he’s excited to finally get the offer to be a Seminole.
“The people really stood out to me,” he said. “When I was able to go down and meet President (John) Thrasher, David Coburn, Bob Davis and the whole committee, the people really stood out to me how genuine, how authentic they are. The community really stood out to me and it’s a place where Laura and I can live for a long time.”
Alford believes fundraising is the lifeblood of an organization.
“It provides opportunities to students who may not be able to go to college,” he began. “It teaches them experiences, allows them to establish friendships that lead them to growth. They become an integral part of the community.”
With a track record for making programs better, what is Alford’s immediate priority?
“My experience has always been to take time to observe, listen to others, get input and perspectives, meet with the staff, meet with the coaches, meet with the great Seminole Boosters who have been involved with the program and give them a voice,” Alford said. “I want to hear what their vision is, where they see the program is heading, and what they need to be successful and then, establish my own identity, my own vision, piggybacking off what they have been able to educate me on, taking all their great ideas and putting them into a great business plan.
“Everywhere I go, it is about vision, it’s about engagement and it’s about establishing professional processes.”
“I think any great department needs a clear sense of mission and core values. I’m going to be looking at what those are within our organization. We want to focus on the educational mission of the university first and foremost … with President Thrasher’s vision. We will make sure we are in alignment with what he wants to get accomplished.”
The next step will be developing the strategic plan, establishing different revenues streams that are data driven, developing a leadership team … but Alford knows he must put first things first. And the first thing this fundraising executive prioritizes is pressing flesh.
“I want to get out there and meet the people, share with them the stories of our student-athletes and let them know where we are going,” he said. “Any time there’s a change, especially in this organization where Andy is just an icon in our industry, change is difficult. There’s going to be people who want to know what the next vision is, where they stand in the organization, where we are heading, so it is about getting out, learning, listening and getting input from everyone.”