UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa (WTAJ) — Penn State Athletics Director Pat Kraft sits down with Nittany Nation to discuss his hire, and the future of the Nittany Lions. Watch an uncut interview above or read a transcript of it below.
ANDREW CLAY: Dr. Kraft, you came here from Boston College. The first I want to ask you was, why Penn State? What brings you to this university and what makes a university appealing?
PAT KRAFT: Well, it’s funny. Today we had a staff meeting and the first time I was with the all the whole staff and all staff, and I addressed that. I was extremely happy at Boston College. They were wonderful to me and my family. And it’s a wonderful institution and great people. But if yo get the option and the opportunity come here, it was, there’s no no-thank you. And it was absolutely because having been in the shadow of Happy Valley at Temple and then playing in the Big Ten. To me, this epitomizes the best of the best, doing it the right way, winning and the ability to win championships. And so the community and it’s all proven very true in a very short time. It was a no brainer for me and my family. And my wife even leaned over to me when Sandy’s announcement got out. Like, that’s the one, isn’t it? And it is. It is the one.
AC: Every athletic director seems to want to put their fingerprints on everything that happens. What’s that fingerprint you hope to leave behind?
PK: Well, I don’t know. I get that. I don’t think it’s not about me. What I will say is, I want to get our swagger back. Okay? I came here because of who? Penn State and what Penn State is all about. And I’m not here to mess around. And I want to be able to lead the department and get us to what I believe is we’re the best department in the country and what do we have to do? Go back to winning national championships, Big Ten championships, and being a well-rounded program. So you want to see my footprint? What I want is energy. I want us to have our juice back. I want the 750,000 alums and the fans of Penn State to have that swagger again and have that energy. And what we call on our building juice. It is all about us. And I think what we do that we can do anything we want. When we get into the operations of this, we’ve got to really manage our finances. We have to attack the the student athlete welfare piece. I believe in mind, body and spirit. We’re working on mental health and nutrition and all of those elements that might not get all the attention but really help you win a championship. Those are things that really are important to me, and that’s really where we started our focus on.
AC: Off the field of play and outside the game perspective. How does the university, how does that get its swagger back? Is it through marketing what.
PK: Everybody buying in. It really is. There’s no secret sauce, just everyone being together. It’s going to take all of us. We have to find a way to continue. And you can feel it to get back to to being a 750,000 strong, 107 strong. Like the numbers are staggering. And I want to, if we can, harness that energy and we can be a vessel to get that momentum back, then we’re doing our job. And so I think that’s that’s the piece that just everyone being all in is is really, really important.
AC: I think the Beaver Stadium project is one a lot of fans certainly have their ears tuned to, what stage are you guys in on that project and how exciting is it for you to be part of something so big that will have such a long impact?
PK: So there was a study previously done. It’s coming to the final stages of it. And I’m having a chance to look through it. And I think there’s a lot of questions that have to be asked. I do think we have to get to an answer. I make a decision and we got to go. The look at I’m one of those people I love coming from the airport at night and seeing our logo up on the stadium and the line face just staring me as I come out. It’s a it’s an iconic building with so much great tradition and history. So I want to do everything and examine every way we can keep it. Now we have to we have to support it. We’ve got to make sure that, you know, we keep it healthy. But we also have to find some ways we can increase. We’ve got to help with the concourses and the concession stands and it’s got to be a revenue generator for us. Your building needs to work for us. That shouldn’t be just seven days a week either. It is an iconic, iconic building and part of this community and the Penn State campus. We have to really embrace it. What that means, I think we’re going to have a real idea in the coming I don’t want to put a timetable, but very soon let’s make a decision and then let’s go.
AC: Given the weight of everything you just said about how iconic the facility is, is there pressure do you feel pressure to get it right?
PK: No, no. I have to look at whatever we decide is going to be based on factual what’s right, what’s right for the institution. I don’t feel any pressure to it. I think we have to we use the data. Right. I mean, I’ll go back to what’s the what is the information? What can we do? You know, where is I mean, look at at the end of the day, where are you going to fund it? I mean, it just doesn’t happen. Right. And so we will be very strategic in what we do. I don’t feel any pressure towards that. Look, I love that building and I make no bones about it, I want it to be here for 100, 150 more years. We just got to make sure that we do the things to keep it upright. And then we got to also look at ways to to enhance the experience. Well, we got 91,000 season ticket holders. You know, we’re good. We just got to make sure that we we keep doing the things to keep the building right. And but I’m very proud to have that. I have Beaver Stadium. I’m very proud of that. Now it’s just making decisions and being very strategic in what we do.
AC: You said about getting the jobs back. Obviously, football program is where that starts and probably really ends. James Franklin has his supporters and has his critics. How much do you believe in the past and what successes and failures have come before you got here? How much does that influence kind of your take on the football program moving forward?
PK: I think it’s I think you learn from the past. I think you have to. Our past here is so iconic and so great. You look at we have to know what worked in the past. There is a blueprint here for success. But my focus right now is I don’t I don’t look in the rearview mirror. I’m looking forward. My job is to help James and the program get all those little things to to help them succeed. I believe we can win a national championship period. I think that’s and James needs all the support he can get. All of our coaches, I think, look at football is extremely important here. Football, honestly, at every institution is important. But I wouldn’t say it starts and stops of football. You know, I have the best wrestling program in the country. I’ve got two great soccer programs, field hockey, getting ready to play. So I would I would say that, but I do think I don’t I don’t care what happen. I’m looking forward like I don’t there are issues that that I’m not you know, what happened in previous years now what are we doing now? How are we focused on the here and now and what’s happening in the future? And we have a lot to do to to to right the ship. And I very confident in and James and I love the way he attacks every day. He’s done a heck of a job for us I think. I love partnering with him. And so I think we’re we’re really right where we need to be. And I’m excited for this year, actually. I’m really excited to get everybody see what I’ve seen a practice.
AC: College football seems to be going through a massive shift right now. Do you think you’ll see this split that has been kind of rumored for many, many years in your tenure?
PK: Oh, I don’t know. I’m hope I’m here for 50 years. So I think I’m going to see something. Right? I, I don’t know. I’m not trying to dodge that question. I think there’s going to be (something.) I don’t think there will be a split per se. I just I don’t think that’s even good for it. I mean, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’d be silly if I made a comment in regard to that because who knows, right? My first day on the job was the UCLA USC vote and that my jaw dropped. Just as a fan of college sports. So where this is headed? I don’t know. Our industry and our business in our enterprise has changed so much in such a short time. But I think for the good of the order, we have to look at what’s right for the entire enterprise.
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AC: Predicting a little more future now, NIL (Name-Image-Likeness) is such a conversation. The NCAA simply doesn’t have this wrangled up. Is there any way to wrangle this up? Some people just say the cat’s out of the bag.
PK: Well, I guess it’s less about the NCAA and really for us, it’s about what we do with it. We were on one of those things where you walk in, right. And you’re blessed to have what was in place success with honor. And that group really led it. And I thought that was they were out front in giving it what we had to work on. And what I’m confident we’re getting there now is group licensing deals and selling our athletes jerseys and shirseys and really working on that front. So we’re finishing that. I think we have to look at. It’s a different narrative, right? It’s okay to to give money and support a collective to help help promote and support name, image and likeness for our athletes. We are Penn State. We should lead in that category. What leading is, is giving our athletes the opportunities to to be successful in that in that space. It’s less about the NCAA. It’s more about us and educating our fans, educating our lungs and getting everybody to get behind this. Because it is it’s important. It’s critical. I am a fan and supporter of now. I think it’s really good that the athletes get to do this and maximize their brand. But I think we have to really you know, there’s no guardrails right now. And I think we just got to continue to keep do it. The right way and give our athletes every opportunity to be successful.
AC: Back during Media day, James Franklin called you a fighter. What did he mean by that?
PK: Oh, well, I’m going to say I’m relentless, I’m passionate, and I would like to say passionate, but I appreciate him saying that. But I’m going to do everything I can for Penn State and I’m going to, and I tell our athletes this, I’m going to have your back regardless. But I’m here for Penn State and I’m here to do what’s right for Penn State. That’s my job. And so I love our peers, but I’m a competitor. I’m not here to mess around. I chose to come here because I believed in what Penn State is all about as an institution. I’m not here to mess around. I’m here to to go and move forward and a will be aggressive. I’m going to we’re never going to call outside the lines are going to do it the right way. But that does not mean we can’t go all in and compete at the highest level and do what we’re supposed to do. But I’ll fight for I’ll fight for my student athletes and my staff any day of the week.
AC: And I think my last question is, when your tenure is up 50 years from now, as you said. What is it if you look back on your tenure and what’s the one thing that if you don’t accomplish, you will be disappointed?
PK: Well, I’m not even thinking about what I’m not going to accomplish. I think everything we can accomplish, everything. I mean that there’s nothing that I could sit here and say, oh, in six, seven weeks into the job, everything is at our disposal. It truly is at Penn State. We have everything that we in front of us. We just got to harness it. We’ve got to get together and we’ve got to go. We have to we have to find a way to it is it truly is not about anybody else in the country. We are one of those institutions where it is just about us. If we do that, we’re going to be fine. I’m not ever worried about what we can’t accomplish. It’s all what we can do and where we’re going.
AC: You’re worried about the bubble that is Happy Valley?
PK: Oh, boy. In this bubble, Happy Valley stretched border to border. I’ve learned that 750 strong and and it’s a passionate bunch but it’s a great, it’s a great community and a great people. They’ve embraced my family and I. So I’m very appreciative of that. But this is the Penn State loyalty and passion is very, very special. There’s a soul there’s a soul to the Penn State family. And that’s what makes it really, really a special place.
AC: I appreciate you sitting down with us. Thank you.
PK: Thank you. Appreciate it.