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Well, the doors are officially open at the VCU Basketball Development Center. The teams have been practicing inside the facility for a week or two, but we officially cut the ribbon Monday. Other than a few bells and whistles, everything is up and running, and man, it is truly impressive. It can’t help but elevate both VCU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs.


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"I love VCU Soccer. I ain't lion."

“I love VCU Soccer. I ain’t lion.”

If you’re a follower of VCU Athletics over at the DOT com site, you may have caught this great interview between Rams’ Baseball Coach Shawn Stiffler and Men’s Soccer Coach Dave Giffard. Well, these guys are pretty chatty, so something was bound to get left on the cutting room floor. That leads us to this. Giffard does as much international recruiting as any VCU coach, which is how he ended up fearing of his life on an African safari.


Hey, we’re not all safaris and sportsball trophies over here. You can see games and championship celebrations. But it’s important for us to reiterate that academics are the cornerstone of this department. We want to prepare these men and women for the rest of their lives, not just four years of games.

This week, VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin hosted an ice cream social for student-athletes who achieved a 3.5 grade point average last semester. A record 81 VCU student-athletes qualified.


Also this week, spring-loaded VCU outside hitter Jessica Young, an A-10 All-Rookie Team pick last year, sat down with ESPN 950s Greg Burton. During the interview, Young discussed one of the secrets to her early success, her commitment to weight training. There’s a great chance Young can outlift you. And outjump you. And outrun you. Have a listen.


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Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Ed McLaughlin (left) introduces VCU Head Coach Will Wade April 8 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

Thursday, April 2
The call from Richmond reached Ed McLaughlin’s cell phone at Mo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis at 10:28 p.m. McLaughlin, in Indianapolis for the Final Four, was expecting the call, but the message was still a mystery. He was either going to enjoy a nice evening with colleagues or a long night of planning for the biggest decision of his professional career.

He was out the door within five minutes.

On the other end of line was VCU Men’s Basketball Coach Shaka Smart, who informed McLaughlin that he’d decided to accept the same position at Texas. Smart had just told his team of his plans and would be in Austin by the following day.

Despite the emotional demonstrations in Richmond, where fans gathered outside the Siegel Center in an attempt to convince Smart to stay, McLaughlin’s conversation with his now-former coach was businesslike.

“I congratulated him and said, ‘good for you’, and we talked about some logistical things,” McLaughlin said.

It was a quiet end to a week of rampant speculation in the media, a week where guesswork outpaced actual work. McLaughlin knew better. The real action lay ahead, not behind.

McLaughlin began organizing for what promised to be one of the busiest weekends of his life. Back in Richmond, Executive Associate Athletic Director Glenn Hofmann started calling VCU donors to inform them personally of the news. Meanwhile, Deputy A.D. Jon Palumbo, essentially in standby mode as Smart weighed his options, prepared to fly to Indianapolis to help McLaughlin conduct interviews.

The search to replace Smart, the most successful coach in VCU history, would begin the next morning in earnest.

While there was little certainty about Smart’s decision until late Thursday, McLaughlin and his staff had been preparing for this contingency for days, and in some ways, years.

‘The plan was in place,” McLaughlin said.



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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.



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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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.


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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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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.


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Shaka Smart discusses new VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin:

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


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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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