East Carolina athletics has a new commander-in-chief, and he knows a thing or two about Greenville and about navigating the chaotic landscape of modern college sports.
Jeff Compher, a one-time Greenville-based pharmaceutical salesman who oversaw landmark growth as the director of athletics at Northern Illinois during the past five years, was introduced Wednesday as ECU’s new AD, replacing the retiring Terry Holland.
He will take over May 1.
Compher, 53, helped to steer NIU into the national spotlight despite the school being a member of the Mid-American Conference, which is not affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series in football. The Huskies busted the BCS barrier last season when their football team rocketed into the Orange Bowl after winning 12 straight games, and now Compher is charged with carrying on Holland’s considerable ECU legacy which includes, at the very least, pushing Pirates football into the Big East beginning in 2014.
Compher said filling such big shoes is precisely the kind of challenge he wanted.
“I just believe you can have it all,” Compher told a crowded Murphy Center after signing a five-year contract with the university. “I want there to be overall success in everything we do. You just can’t be good at one thing. It really pays off when you’re good at everything.”
Compher will earn an annual salary of $415,000, and his contract includes bonuses for athletics and academic achievements.
At NIU, that kind of across-the-board success happened with Compher at the controls. The Huskies not only excelled in football but also won MAC championships in volleyball, soccer and men’s tennis in the last calendar year.
Holland announced late last year he would move into an AD emeritus role when the school found his replacement. A 15-member search committee went to work from there, and Compher was the choice ahead of other reported candidates such as ECU associate AD Nick Floyd and Liberty AD Jeff Barber.
After college, Compher worked at N.C. State in student affairs and later in athletics, but he ultimately landed in Greenville in the early 1990s, temporarily out of the college loop and selling pharmaceuticals. Although much has changed since, and even though the home he currently knows in DeKalb, Ill., is roughly a thousand miles from ECU, Compher said he’s felt a connection to Eastern North Carolina ever since he left.
“My heart and my home have always been in this area,” Compher said, noting that one of his sons was born in Greenville. “A lot of things have changed. Obviously the facilities have changed and they’ve done a fantastic job building the competitiveness and infrastructure for athletics here at ECU, and I’m just thrilled that those things are in place. I think those things are the key.”
With Pirates football seemingly secure in its future plan in terms conference affiliation, guiding ECU’s other sports into a new league will be an immediate focus for Compher, though he said he hasn’t had time to think about that yet.
The Baltimore native and James Madison alum served as the AD at Western Carolina from 2000 to 2004, and he spent 13 total years and filled numerous roles at N.C. State.
It was toward the end of his tenure in Cullowee, and when Holland was hired at ECU, that Compher said he first thought of ECU as a possible future home.
“Having been here and lived here ... ECU has been on my radar screen since Terry Holland got the job,” Compher said, noting that he expressed interest in the job then.
Compher also served as an associate athletic director at Washington and Vanderbilt.
“The thing that impresses me the most are his leadership skills,” ECU chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard said. “We are bringing another great leader to East Carolina University.”
Holland, who had to sit in on a Big East teleconference on Wednesday afternoon, was in attendance for the beginning of the news conference but was unavailable afterward.