With a move that is possibly the first of its kind, some would question athletic director Brian Wickstrom’s change from an FBS institution in the University of Louisiana, Monroe (ULM, Group of 5) to a new FCS program in the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). The question should be cleared up when considering UIW has a larger budget by nearly $6 million, has five more sports and over 200 more student-athletes than ULM. Transitioning to a more academically prestigious institution and a chance to build a Division I program from the ground up in the seventh largest city in the United States should all answer “why make this move?”
How did this come to fruition? It took forward-thinking from the university and the support of Vice President for Mission and Ministry at the University of the Incarnate Word Sr. Walter Maher to help create the new vision for the campus in the heart of San Antonio.
“From students to faculty and staff, people across campus appreciate Brian’s integrity and authenticity,” said Maher, CCVI and a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, Texas. “He considers the mission in everything he does, and as a result, people trust and have confidence in him. He is passionate, respectful and thoughtful in his approach to challenges as well as successes.”
This move from FBS to FCS may be the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last. Rob Spear and the University of Idaho will see their first full FCS schedule in the fall after transitioning from the FBS level, and others may reconsider a move like this in the future with Wickstrom’s success in such a short time.
Wickstrom was a proven transformational leader and a well-known fundraiser at ULM. He secured the top five gifts — and nine of the top 10 gifts — in Warhawk history. In fact, in his first 10 months on campus in Monroe, he raised over $4 million in a state that was dominated by LSU fans and donors.
“Brian Wickstrom’s fundraising efforts allowed the ULM Athletic Foundation the opportunity to provide a brand new facility for the athletic department, the first in several decades, as well as many renovated and improved facilities,” said David Moore, President of the ULM Athletic Foundation. “The direction he provided in all the athletic programs has had an immediate and long-term impact.”
In addition to being a top fundraising AD, Wickstrom finds ways to impact the campus as a whole.
At ULM, Wickstrom heavily involved in both the Monroe community and the student body. He prides himself on drawing the campus community and the local community together. Wickstrom spoke at numerous engagements, coached youth league teams and attended various community meetings. On campus, Wickstrom received the Excellence in Service to Students Award after being selected by the student body as someone who mentors and teaches with heart and passion and has motivated them in their pursuit of education.
“As an academic dean, it was reassuring to see Brian reach out to faculty and students to engage them more in athletic events on campus,” said Dr. Ronald Berry, Dean of the College of Business and Social Sciences. “He helped bridge a gap between athletics and academics on campus. His focus on student success, both on and off the field, can be seen through the academic success of student-athletes as well as in all of the athletic facility improvements on campus.”
At UIW under Wickstrom’s guidance, the athletics department has become a campus leader in diversity, sensitivity and inclusion. He was a lead panelist on a public forum for the students titled “Let’s Talk about Race.” He has also brought in speakers, such as Rachel Baribeau, to promote respecting, protecting, and cherishing women.
In his first 10 months with the Cardinals, Wickstrom has brought renewed energy and enthusiasm to both the community and the alumni base through new initiatives as well as new coaching hires.
“Brian has a good eye for hiring Division I-Quality coaches,” said senior volleyball player and psychology major Autumn Lockley. “That’s been the biggest change since he’s been here. He knows how the team culture should be built by the coaches and administration, and that’s helped the culture improve a lot in the year he has been here. When student-athletes have an issue, the administration and the coaches respond quickly to try to find the best solution as quickly as possible. He also cares a lot about the student-athletes personally, which is something we haven’t had before.”
“Since he’s been here, there have been so many improvements in the athletics department,” said junior men’s basketball player Charles Brown III, a television production major. “He has provided good coaching staffs and ensured that the student-athletes are taken care of on and off the court by surrounding us with great people. I’m excited to see what else he’s going to do in this coming year.”
So far, UIW has seen an increase in both annual fund donors and season ticket holders for football, basketball and baseball, and that trend looks to continue as Wickstrom brings together both a marketing plan and a revenue generation plan for the 2018-19 season.
As for facilities, Wickstrom carried the momentum he created at ULM over to his first few months in San Antonio. Within his first five months on the job, he secured a partnership with Methodist Healthcare System and Metropolitan Methodist Hospital that provided UIW with the installation of new field turf at Benson Stadium. The field, which was finished on May 28, has the first camouflage end zones in college football history. He is also working on additional facility projects as we speak.
The city of San Antonio and the nation have taken notice of the exciting changes at UIW. During the 2017 football season, SportsCenter joked about the fact that Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t know who UIW was. On May 7, Wickstrom’s tweet about the new camo end zone was the first story featured on SportsCenter.
This excitement around the athletics department has helped Wickstrom achieve his ultimate goal of helping build the brand of the University of the Incarnate Word and giving the San Antonio community and alumni base a product to be proud of.
“I’m excited about the vision and the leadership that Dr. Evans and Dr. Wickstrom have established for UIW athletics,” said UIW head football coach Eric Morris. “They’ve been awesome throughout this process. To have what I see as a Power 5 president and a Power 5 athletic director to help generate the resources we need to get the program where it needs to go is exciting.”