STRATEGERY! MCLAUGHLIN TALKS UP 5-YEAR PLAN

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VCU Athletics released its five-year strategic plan Wednesday, and Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin was on hand to offer his comments on what he hopes is a road map to success.

SMART-VCU AFFIRMATION KEEPS PROGRAM ON FAST TRACK

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Shaka Smart is 111-37 in four seasons at VCU. He needs 26 wins to become the Rams' all-time leader.

Shaka Smart is 111-37 in four seasons at VCU. He needs 26 wins to become the Rams’ all-time leader.

RICHMOND, Va. – Rest in peace, Shakawatch.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fun watching this incendiary plume of Internet chatter gestate in just four short days into a series of cheeky Photoshops, faux insiders and a Shakawatch hashtag. Where’s Shaka? Here’s a photo of him riding the rollercoaster at Mall of America. Here he is in the VCU dining hall. Nope, here he is posing with two fans in another team’s colors. Never change, Internet. Never change.

But as quickly as irrationality drove message board hits through the roof and sucked up enough bandwidth to power NORAD, last night, they pulled the plug. Smart quietly agreed in principle to a contract extension that provides enhancements for the basketball program and allows VCU Basketball to reach his vision.

“Coach Smart has demonstrated through this process that he is loyal to VCU and his greatest concern lies with our program moving forward every year,” said VCU Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin in a statement. “Our goal was to present him with a revised agreement proactively rather than wait for another institution to step in with an offer.

Although that cut the legs out from under the Carmen San Diego-like @ShakaWatch Twitter account before it picked up much steam – it had just 47 followers as of this morning – it does allow Smart and VCU to move towards a milestone of significance. It’s probably one Smart or most fans aren’t even aware of.

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PRACTICE FACILITY CHUGS AHEAD ON HEELS OF $3 MILLION MWV PARTNERSHIP

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A rendering of the front of the VCU Basketball Complex.

A rendering of the front of the VCU Basketball Complex (click to enlarge).

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Basketball Complex, a state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar practice facility, returned the forefront Monday with the announcement of a $3 million donation toward the project from MeadWestvaco (MWV). Artist renderings of the outside of the complex were also released publicly for the first time (see here).

Monday afternoon, VCU Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin said the department hopes to break ground on the facility this spring or summer and would take approximately 20 months to complete. The total cost of the project has not been finalized. The complex will be located primarily on what is known as the UU Lot adjacent the Stuart C. Siegel Center, the Sports Medicine Building and the Bowe Street parking deck. McLaughlin said the partnership with MWV has brought the practice facility one step closer to reality.

“In terms of a start, it’s a tremendous start for us,” McLaughlin said. “It really gets the momentum going as well. People look and say, ‘this practice facility is going to be real’, and it is, and before it was thought about how great it would be to have one. And this makes it real.”

The VCU Basketball Complex will replace Franklin Street Gym, which has served as the primary practice home for the Rams’ men’s team since the early days of Anthony Grant’s tenure in 2006. It also serves as an occasional practice venue for women’s hoops, volleyball and others. In recent years, VCU has taken steps to upgrade Franklin Street Gym, but the new facility is clearly on a different level, one which could be a centerpiece in recruiting.

“It is, next to Coach [Shaka] Smart and our student-athletes, it’s the most important piece of our program and it will be moving forward,” McLaughlin added. “If you look at the success without having it that we’ve been able to have…I think the sky’s the limit for us as a program having this facility.”

The donation from MWV is the largest in the history of the VCU Department of Athletics and will be paid over a 10-year period. It is the first major pledge announced toward the new practice facility, but surely won’t be the last.

“It’s a huge help. It shows commitment. It shows how important a facility like this is for a program,” McLaughlin said. “And a corporation like MeadWestvaco, who’s a tremendous community partner in Richmond, they see the value in it, so when people who know business see value in it, that helps you a lot.”

MeadWestvaco is a Richmond-based paper, packaging and office-product giant that employs more than 20,000 and may be best known for its Mead, Five Star and Cambridge paper products. The company formed in 2002 as the result of a merger between Mead and Westvaco in 2002.

MCLAUGHLIN ON THE MOVE AT VCU

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Ed McLaughlin was named the sixth athletic director in VCU history this summer.

Ed McLaughlin sits at his beige, marble-topped desk inside his new office at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The cosmopolitan layout is open along one side to showcase the glistening Verizon Wireless Arena, the crown jewel of the VCU Athletics program, below. From inside, McLaughlin can see the most visible reminder of the program’s greatest moment, VCU’s Final Four banner, hanging proudly from the white, steel rafters.

The room is pristine, and for good reason. The former Niagara athletic director has barely had time to unpack. Just a few weeks into his tenure as VCU’s athletic director, he’s had to hit the ground running. There’s a $10 million basketball practice facility in the works, fall sports seasons are off to the best start in school history and he’s short at least two senior staffers and a secretary, who left when Norwood Teague departed for Minnesota in May. He’s even received inquiries about next year’s Washington Redskins training camp, which will relocate to Richmond.

As he lays out his vision for the program, which moved to the Atlantic 10 Conference this summer, his cell phone rumbles atop the desk. It’s Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart. Minutes later, the office phone chirps impatiently. Then, a staffer pokes his head into the office, looking for McLaughlin.

McLaughlin is genuinely busy, but he also seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. As people tug at him from every direction, he aims to calmly prioritize.

“It’s been busy, but in a good way,” he says. “The challenge becomes making sure you don’t wait two weeks to talk to someone that shouldn’t have to wait two weeks to talk to you. There’s a balance between going a million miles an hour because you want to do things so well, and then realize, I probably should’ve called so-and-so or I probably should’ve gone out and said ‘hi’ to that team or whatever. In your first few weeks you can’t miss those because you don’t get them back.”

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ED MCLAUGHLIN’S FIRST PITCH

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New VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin threw out the first pitch at the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ game the other day. He didn’t exactly throw at the bull, but he didn’t channel Greg Maddux either. Instead, he opted for a little high and tight chin music. I’m sure there’s some metaphor in here that includes establishing the inside of the plate and brushing our opponents off the inside corner or something, but I’ll spare you the rhetoric for today.

Just once I’d like to see somebody drop a slider in there, a la Kevin Kline in “Dave”. I might just have to do it myself.

MORE MCLAUGHLIN

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Shaka Smart discusses new VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin:

McLaughlin talks about his experience with the Villa 7 Coaches Consortium:

MEETING MCLAUGHLIN

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Ed McLaughlin was introduced as VCU’s sixth athletic director Tuesday. “…I think VCU is a place where we can win a national championship.”

RICHMOND, Va. – Niagara’s Ed McLaughlin was introduced as the sixth athletic director in VCU Athletics history Tuesday. He succeeds Norwood Teague, who had held the post since 2006, but recently took the same job at the University of Minnesota.

We’ll have plenty of opportunities to get to know Ed in the coming weeks, but here are some highlights from his press conference and our breakout sessions today:

Ed McLaughlin isn’t afraid to dream big or make bold statements, laying out his vision for the athletics department Tuesday.

You have the ability here to take a success story and make it something incredibly special. There are a lot of people in this business, a lot of ADs that take jobs, but not a lot of them can say when they wake up, ‘We can win a national championship here.’ It’s inspiring, and I think VCU is a place where we can win a national championship.

Obviously the level of success that some of our programs have had demonstrates that. That’s what excites me the most, the chance to do something incredibly special.

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ONE-ON-ONE WITH VCU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR ED MCLAUGHLIN

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