June 29, 2012
By CORBETT SMITH
It wasn’t an easy move when Tim Leonard came to SMU from Central Florida in July 2008, hired to oversee fundraising and sales for SMU’s athletic department.
Leonard was leaving the Sunshine State in a decidedly cloudy economic time, coming to a university whose revenue-generating teams — football and men’s basketball — finished last and next-to-last during their respective seasons.
“It was not the best time to take a job as a fundraiser,” Leonard said. “It was a struggle, but everybody else was hemorrhaging, everybody else was going backwards. We were able to move forward. If we were going to close the gap on our competitors — this is how we could do it, by not falling behind.”
The move hasn’t worked out badly for Leonard.
On Tuesday, he was honored by the National Association of Athletic Development Directors with the Fundraiser of the Year award — presented during an awards banquet at the 47th annual NACDA convention at the Hilton Anatole hotel.
During his tenure at SMU, Leonard has raised more than $100 million in private donations for the athletic department. The department’s Mustang Club has grown during each of Leonard’s four years at SMU, hitting record levels each fiscal year.
Leonard said that the high-profile hiring of basketball coach Larry Brown and June Jones’ successful turnaround of the Mustangs football program have pushed interest in the school’s athletic programs to “astounding” levels. Basketball ticket sales — normally not in the renewal process at this time of year — are up 50 percent over last season’s totals.
“People don’t want to just throw money away,” Leonard said. “They want to put their money into something they can believe in. They now feel like we are committed to excellence.”
There was one area in which Leonard — the interim athletic director since Steve Orsini’s firing in May — was tight-lipped: He would not comment on the university’s search for a new fulltime AD.
SMU moves into the Big East beginning in the 2013-14 season.