July 12, 2004
Cullowhee, N.C. - Jeff Compher, director of athletics at Western Carolina University since March 2000, is leaving the Catamounts to accept a position at the University of Washington where he will be joining long-time mentor Todd Turner, his former boss at Vanderbilt University and at N.C. State University.
Compher will be the Huskies' executive associate director of athletics and will serve the general manager for the university's intercollegiate athletics program. The appointment at Washington is effective August 16, 2004.
Compher said, "I am leaving Western with mixed emotions. Going to the University of Washington and working with Todd Turner is a wonderful opportunity for me and my family, but I will greatly miss the coaches, staff and student-athletes who have dedicated themselves to representing Western with competitive class and dignity. I want to thank everyone at Western Carolina University and the Southern Conference for making my time here such a positive and rewarding experience. With the outstanding leadership of Chancellor Bardo and his administrative team, I believe that Western is well positioned to enjoy unprecedented success at every level."
Fred Cantler, associate director of athletics, will serve as interim director of Catamount athletics.
"The University of Washington has made a great choice. Jeff will be a terrific addition to the Husky athletics program," said Western Carolina Chancellor John W. Bardo. While a national search for Western's next director of athletics will begin immediately, Compher leaves "some big shoes to fill," Bardo said.
"Jeff took over the reins of Western's athletics program at a time when it was not achieving athletically or academically at a level the university wanted and deserved, and he moved the program to where it is competitive athletically and student-athletes graduate at increasingly high rates," he said. "He shares Western's values regarding the role of athletics in developing good citizens, and he truly understands the importance of student-athletes to the university and the university community."
Among the accomplishments under Compher's watch:
* Major improvements in the academic performance of Western's athletes. The graduation rate for student-athletes has increased, and in 2002 was 5 points above the national average of 60 percent for college athletes. Since the fall of 2000, Compher's first full semester at Western, Catamount student-athletes have posted a grade point average of 3.0 or better twice, and have had a GPA no lower than 2.74 for any one semester. Twenty Catamounts were named to the Southern Conference's TIAA-CREF Academic All-Conference team for spring semester 2004, after 19 Catamounts earned the honor for fall semester. Three Catamounts have earned Academic All-America honors - Ryan Schade (baseball), Jason Whaley (football) and Yoneko Allen (women's basketball).
* Western joined the CHAMPS/Life Skills Program in 2001. The program (CHallenging Athletes' Minds for Personal Success) is designed to help prepare student-athletes for the challenges of life beyond the playing field through workshops, information and interactive seminars and service projects. Catamount athletes have gotten involved in a variety of community service projects, including serving meals at the Jackson County Community Table, reading to children and serving as mentors at area schools, and raising funds for cancer research through the Relay for Life.
* The Athletics Department opened its doors to many area high school teams, allowing the schools access to the recently renovated facilities for regular season and post season play. In the last two years, there have been nearly 20 high school athletic events held on Western's campus.
* The formation of the CATS W Club, an organization of former Catamount athletes, was initiated during Compher's tenure. This alumni group has grown to over 400 members and has allowed former athletes an opportunity to remain a part of the athletics program and to stay in touch with each other through a variety of events and programs.
* Western completed the highly anticipated expansion of E.J Whitmire Stadium, adding 4,000 seats on the west side of Bob Waters Field in fall 2003. The stadium project is part of more than $15 million in facilities improvements completed, in progress or planned for Western's athletics program, including expansion of Jordan-Phillips Fieldhouse; addition of lighting at Hennon Stadium to bring night baseball to Cullowhee; creation of a track/soccer/tennis facility currently under construction; renovation of the old Camp Lab School gymnasium to provide office, locker rooms and training space for the soccer, volleyball and track programs; and expansion of opportunities for women in athletics, including a new softball team scheduled to begin play in 2005-06.
* Catamount teams claimed three conference championships in 2003-04 - as the baseball team won both the regular season and tournament titles in 2003, the 2003 women's golf team earned Western's first-ever championship in that sport; and the 2004 men's indoor track-and-field team took its first conference title since 1999.
* Overall giving to the Catamount Club, Western's athletics booster organization, rose from $337,049 in 2000 to $391,965 in 2003, and the overall operating budget for all sports programs increased by 42 percent. Total scholarship dollars rose by 113 percent - from $858,058 in 1999-2000 to $1.8 million in 2004-05.
Many of the improvements came about because of Compher's insistence that the department adhere firmly to the recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel that conducted a comprehensive review of Western's intercollegiate athletics program, Bardo said. The 17-member task force - composed of faculty, staff, students, student-athletes and supporters - conducted several months of interviews and study, presenting in January 2000 its findings in a 35-page report designed to serve as a roadmap for improvement.
The hiring of Compher by the perennial Pacific 10 Conference power is the latest indication that Western's athletics program is producing administrators, coaches and athletes of high caliber, Bardo said. Earlier this year, Maria Ochoa, former senior woman administrator, departed Western for Tulane University; senior associate athletic director Hunter Yurachek went to the University of Virginia; and Virginia Tech, a major Division I school, recruited women's basketball coach Beth Dunkenburger to lead the university's entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference, among the nation's top basketball conferences. Junior guard Kevin Martin was a first-round draft pick of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, becoming the first Catamount ever drafted in the NBA first round. And Charles Thomas, a former Catamount baseball standout, was recently called to the Major League by the Atlanta Braves, where he has played a role in the team's recent resurgence.
The departure of Compher to the West Coast means more than the loss of an important part of the athletics program, said Bardo. "In addition to leading the athletic program, Jeff has been a great personal adviser, member of the executive team, and friend," Bardo said. "All of us at Western will miss him, and we wish him and his family the very best in this new undertaking."
Compher's career in intercollegiate athletics administration began at N.C. State in 1986, when he joined the staff of Todd Turner. He served as assistant director of athletics until 1992, when he began a brief stint in the corporate world. Compher returned to N.C. State in 1993 and worked in the university's administration until re-teaming with Turner at Vanderbilt in 1996 as associate director of athletics, where he remained until accepting the position at Western in 2000.
Cullowhee, N.C. - Dr. John Bardo, Chancellor of Western Carolina University, has named Fred Cantler Interim Director of Athletics as a national search begins to replace former Catamount Director of Athletics Jeff Compher, who is going to the University of Washington as executive associate director of athletics for the Huskies.
Most recently, Cantler served as senior associate athletics director for internal relations. In addition to being the department's compliance and eligibility officer since taking the post in 1996, Cantler has been extensively involved in Western's recent $15 million in completed, current and planned construction to Catamount facilities. He also played a key role in a recent self study of Western Carolina University's intercollegiate athletics program as part of the NCAA Division I certification process. The study is specifically examining academic integrity, governance, rules compliance, and university commitment to equity, student-athlete welfare and sportsmanship.
Other facets of Cantler's responsibilities include game-day management, scheduling and maintaining athletic facilities, serving as a liaison between the athletics department and other departments on campus, overseeing the training room and weight room, overseeing the athletics equipment staff and serving as the sport administrator for baseball, men's basketball and soccer.
During his time as a sport administrator, Cantler was part of the process which brought Debbie Hensley to Western, entrusting her with starting a soccer program in 1999 from scratch. Two years later, the soccer program won the 2001 Southern Conference championship, while finishing second in 2002. Hensley has since moved up in the department as Assistant Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator, while continuing to be the head soccer coach. Also, in 1999, Cantler helped bring former Catamount Todd Raleigh back to Cullowhee to lead the baseball program. Four years later, that program won both the 2003 SoCon regular season and tournament championships, while reaching the NCAA Wilson Region final.
Cantler also serves as the floor director for the Southern Conference men's basketball championship, serves on the Southern Conference officials committee and the Southern Conference men's basketball committee. Prior to moving to administration, Cantler served 18 years as the department's head athletic trainer.
Cantler is married to the former Katrina Hipp of Charlotte, who is a teacher at Sylva's Smoky Mountain High School. The couple have two children - Natalie, 18, who will be a freshman at Western this fall and Clay, 15.