Despite Loss of Gus Malzahn, ASU Football Pushes Ahead

Postmarked Dec. 3, a letter from the Arkansas State University Red Wolf Club seemed to be mailed to donors at the perfect time.

ASU clinched a second consecutive Sun Belt Conference championship just two days before the pledge renewal was sent out, and officials hoped to capitalize on the football program’s progress.

A few thousand fans stormed the field at Liberty Bank Stadium to celebrate in the moments that followed the victory, and a year-end push with supporters still on a high from the victory made sense. Athletic department officials were investing in football more than they had in the past and had big plans for the program — including a $22 million facilities project.

As it turns out, the timing might not have been as ideal as it seemed.

Donors in some parts of the state received the solicitation for financial support on the same day they received word that Coach Gus Malzahn was leaving for the head football position at Auburn.

During Malzahn’s 11 months in Jonesboro he’d been aggressively pushing for upgrades to facilities and budget. Arkansas State publicly committed to making improvements.

Malzahn left ASU for a job where he will have access to seemingly unlimited resources. He nearly tripled his $850,000 salary by agreeing to a deal worth $2.3 million annually over five years. Malzahn’s move also drastically improved the salary pool for his assistant coaches, and he has access to a much larger budget for recruiting. And Auburn, as a member of the Southeastern Conference, has facilities among the best in the country.

So what’s next for the Red Wolves?

Nothing has changed, ASU officials told Arkansas Business. While Malzahn is gone, the vision for improving the program — and the aggressive fundraising/spending push to make it reality — remains intact. Bryan Harsin, the offensive coordinator at Texas, was introduced as the new coach eight days after Malzahn’s departure and the buzz around the program continues.

“We’ve got to continue pressing forward,” ASU System President Charles Welch said. “I don’t anticipate a big drop-off at all.”

Maintaining Momentum

Arkansas State, for decades a struggling football program, hasn’t experienced many drop-offs of late. Malzahn built on the excitement generated by Hugh Freeze, who left in 2011 for a job at Ole Miss. The hope is that Harsin, a young, offensive-minded coach like his predecessors, will continue the momentum.

Season ticket sales increased for a fifth consecutive year, and the Red Wolves reported 8,092 sold for 2012. ASU saw a bump of 1,050 more tickets than last year, the largest jump in sales the past five seasons.

Announced attendance also hit a five-year high this year. ASU reported an average attendance of 26,398, including a school record 31,243 for the season finale.

Increased ticket sales and attendance impact the bottom line for the football program and athletic department. Budget projections from October show the Red Wolves expected a football program profit of $1.3 million for the year, a more than $1 million increase from 2011.

Naming rights for Liberty Bank Stadium were secured in September when the Jonesboro-based bank pledged $5 million. Finding a willing venue sponsor was seen as yet another sign of progress in Jonesboro.

ASU Posts Attendance Gains

Arkansas State University has seen its football season ticket base increase each of the last five seasons and announced attendance has increased for the past three. Below we look at the numbers, courtesy of ASU:

SeasonTicket Sales
2012 8,092
2011 7,042
2010 6,180
2009 5,840
2008 5,481
Average Announced Attendance
2012 26,398 (six games)
2011 21,256 (six games)
2010 17,394 (five games)
2009 17,689 (five games)
2008 21,105 (five games)