After four stints as interim athletic director at Northeastern State, Matt Cochran’s moment has arrived.
Cochran was introduced as the new NSU Director of Athletics in what was an emotional press conference Wednesday morning at the NSU Event Center.
Officially named director of athletics on June 24, Cochran, who has worked inside the NSU athletic department on a full-time basis since 1997, takes over for Tony Duckworth. Duckworth left last November to take the Albany State University Director of Athletics position.
A lot has happened with Cochran carrying the interim tag since Duckworth’s departure.
He’s dealt with an unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the departure of a basketball head coach and the hiring of a basketball head coach.
His experience in the athletic department made him the perfect fit.
“This is the fourth time I've been interim, and every time it was at least several months before the next AD was hired, so when I came back to work in January, we were right in the middle of basketball season and other sports were getting ready to go, so it just became old hat to do the things you needed to do,” Cochran said.
When COVID-19 started to ramp up during the middle of March, Cochran was asked to be on the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association task force.
It’s been a whirlwind storm since.
“Jamie Hall, our Senior Women's Administrator and Assistant Athletic Director of Academic Services, went to the NCAA convention in late January in California and that was when people were just starting to hear about COVID-19, then we came back and people are talking about it, then it got to be,” Cochran said. “I’m part of the MIAA committee for the basketball tournament so I had to go to Kansas City, and we were all talking about that a little bit, then we come back and that's spring break week, or right before spring break week, and that Friday before spring break we started hearing things. The commissioner of the MIAA called me and asked if I wanted to be on a task force to talk about these things, and a week later we're shut down. Next thing we knew it was May and June and here we are now, and it's been a new thing.”
Cochran needed an answer when former men’s basketball head coach Mark Downey left after three seasons to become head coach at Arkansas Tech in April.
He, along with a search committee, selected former NSU player and graduate assistant Ja Havens. Havens, who played under Ken Hayes and Larry Gipson and who was a graduate assistant under Gipson, arrived in May as a popular choice.
“[Mark Downey] comes in about the second week in April maybe and told me he had finally accepted the position, and I'm like OK, here we go, what's this going to look like?” said Cochran. “Once the applications came in and we saw there were two or three who were regional coaches that had the experience, then obviously we were excited that Ja had chosen to apply. It became clear pretty fast who I was going to go after, and once I had the initial calls with him and we had some interviews online, then we also brought Ja in almost immediately after the online interviews, then he and I had a really good conversation and after that, it was just kind of, I think he wanted to come home.”
Cochran has some obstacles in front of him. He wants better support for the RiverHawks from the community.
“I know times have changed, and times are hard for Division II institutions just because of the invention of cable TV, and streaming and all that stuff and everybody wants to sit at home, but we need people to come and support our student athletes,” he said. “This is a good brand of athletics and people will enjoy it if we can get them to come out and watch any of our sporting events.”
Cochran has also been battling with friction between the athletic program and the community ever since the change from Redmen to RiverHawks.
It’s still Northeastern State, Cochran emphasizes.
“I feel like there's been a little bit of a disconnect with the name change, and that's the one problem that any coach that comes in has, that I talk to them about,” Cochran said. “That's the first thing that comes up, and we just have to...it's been 15 years, and we've always been Northeastern State University, and that's what anybody who has passion for this institution, whether you played athletics here, whether you came to school here, you met your spouse here or whatever, we've always been Northeastern State University.
“We need to get out there and reconnect with the community and say, 'Hey, we need your help, we need your support, this is what happens in this conference.’”
“We will not get outworked,” Cochran added. “We will get up every day and work hard, and yes, we will overcome some of the obstacles we have but if we can just get some change in mindset and get people to know we need that constant commitment from them on whatever level they can give, that we can make some changes here. Some of our facilities are just, there hasn't been a lot done to them in a while, and if we can provide them with some changes continually that they can see and the recruits can see, then we will be a strong member in this conference for the years to come.”