RALEIGH — Debbie Yow's vision for N.C. State includes nationally competitive athletic programs, sterling academic achievement and a unified fan base.
Yow set the bar high on Friday at her introductory press conference as N.C. State's new athletic director, but knows she'll face a challenge. "I'm not Mary Poppins," Yow said at Carter-Finley Stadium. "I'm not naive. I know what it takes and we will do that."
She called her new job a "special opportunity" to lead the Wolfpack athletic department, which has struggled in recent years.
Yow, 58, agreed to a five-year contract worth a base salary of $350,000 annually with another $100,000 worth of annual incentives. She starts July 15.
N.C. State's first female athletic director, and one of only six nationally, Yow brings a resume from the University of Maryland that includes 16 national titles in 16 years. N.C. State's last team national title came in 1983.
Yow has strong personal connections to the university. Her sister, Kay, a legendary coach who died after a long struggle with cancer in 2009, led the women's basketball team for 34 years. Her sister Susan was N.C. State's first All-American in women's basketball.
"I've always been affectionate towards N.C. State, how could I not?" said Yow, who is from Gibsonville.
N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson hired an executive firm and formed a committee to find a replacement for Lee Fowler, who announced his resignation on May 4. Woodson said the search firm provided Yow's name but he made the final decision. He met with Yow in Washington on Tuesday, and from there only the contract details needed to be ironed out.
"We could not have hired a better person," Woodson said.
Woodson beamed when he talked about Yow's experience and heralded her academic record at Maryland. One of the reasons for parting with Fowler, Woodson said last month, was the need to improve N.C. State's academic standing.
Yet, according to the most recent Academic Progress Rate reports compiled by the NCAA, Maryland ranks 11th out of the 12 ACC schools in both football and basketball. State is 10th in football but second in the ACC in basketball.
The APRs track the academic progress of each athlete on scholarship, accounting for academic eligibility, retention and graduation while attempting to provide a measure of each team's performance in the classroom.
"That's an issue for her with those coaches," Woodson said. "Historically, if you look at the overall context of her leadership, you'll see a lot of academic success."
Maryland fares better in another measure of academic performance. Seventy-six percent of Terrapins athletes graduated over a seven-year period highlighted last fall by the NCAA, compared to 69 percent of athletes at NCSU. Those data, called graduation success rates, or GSRs, use a different formula and examine a different timeline than the APRs.
Though it scored low in GSR, the men's basketball team at Maryland has improved in each of the past three years, both Yow and Woodson pointed out on Friday.
Not in it for popularity
Among the Maryland faculty, Yow was seen as a straight shooter, said Jim Gates, a physics professor who recently ended his term on the university's athletics council.
If graduation rates lagged or an athlete got arrested, Yow always updated the council, which advises the university president on athletics issues, Gates recalled.
"She would show the program, warts and all," Gates said. "She would never try to hide or shade the truth."
Wolfpack head basketball coach Sidney Lowe said he was impressed by Yow's presentation Friday.
"What you see is what you get," Lowe said. "I'm really looking forward to working with her."
Bobby Purcell, popular director of the Wolfpack Club fundraising organization, was also interviewed for the job, but said he'd do everything he could to help Yow succeed.
"I really appreciate all of the people who were behind me and always will. But they made a very good decision, and I know Debbie will do a great job," Purcell said.
Yow classified her management style as "direct" and "candid." Her popularity among a portion of the Maryland fan base took a hit after a 2-10 season by the football team in 2009 and also over her relationship with basketball coach Gary Williams.
Yow downplayed the public perception of a contentious relationship with Williams, who led the Terrapins to a national title in 2002. She said she respected Williams but was also quick to add that popularity is not among her goals.
"I do not have a great need to be popular," Yow said. "I'd rather win than be popular."
Winning, Yow said, will heal any fractures among the Wolfpack fan base, which had been divided by average results in the main revenue sports in the second half of Fowler's tenure.
Four consecutive losing seasons in football and a four-year absence from the NCAA tournament in men's basketball didn't quell any grumblings among the fan base and Wolfpack Club, which ranks among the country's most popular and well-funded.
The chance for a fresh start, Yow said Friday, would be a positive step toward pulling the fan base together, but it's a distant second to winning.
"Winning is fun and losing is not," Yow said. " ... This is not my first rodeo."
Brooke Cain and Eric Ferreri contributed to this story
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