March 2, 2014
Terry Windle retiring as Auburn's chief financial officer to return to life as a tailgating football fan
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- One time, Terry Windle remembers, a former coach wanted the athletic department to buy him a pontoon boat so he could entertain potential donors.
Sorry. Not in the budget.
Windle has had to make easy decisions like that and harder ones, too, during his 24 years in Auburn athletics, the last 20 as the chief financial officer and as a senior associate atheltics director. He'll take all those memories into retirement on April 1 after overseeing an athletic budget that rose from $19 million in 1990 to $105 million during a tenure in which he worked with four athletic directors and five university presidents.
Windle has plans for retirement, including a little travel, a little landscaping and golf, and becoming a full-blown tailgating Auburn fan again. The 1978 graduate was that when he worked in Birmingham before coming home.
"I'm looking forward to the football season," he says. "We had season tickets and drove to all the home games when we were in Birmingham. When I got here, that tailgating ended because I was in an official capacity."
Oh, he won't turn down calls if advice is needed on a financial issue, but says he's "very, very excited" about his future. "I have a list of things I'm planning on doing."
Auburn athletics changed during his tenure, including a budget that rose dramatically. Auburn added to its facilities and saw multi-million dollar coaches for the first time. In 1990, when Windle arrived, then-head coach and athletics director Pat Dye made $300,000 a year. Gus Malzahn will make $3.85 million in 2014 in a new six-year contract that is worth $26.85 million.
Auburn Athletics Director Jay Jacobs says Windle was "the right man at the right time for Auburn athletics" to move to big budgets.
"His professional background had been with an international company, Harbert, and he came in and gave us a more business-like approach to our athletic finances," Jacobs said. "The people before him had done a great job, but he gave us a new way to look at things.
"A large part goes to Terry's professional skills and his tenacity that Auburn athletics had sound financial footing. And it's not just because of his business approach, it's because he's an Auburn man. He'll be missed in the athletic department because he brought a process we're still using today that made us better."
Auburn built a reserve of $16 million. "And these buildings we were able to build, and these coaches' salaries we were able to pay" happened during Windle's watch. But Auburn wasn't signing blank checks.
"There are these things we all want to do, but if we don't have the funds we can't do it," Jacobs said. "Terry has a great balance, and he always tries to find way to make things that we really, really need work. But it was always the buck stops with him, because he knows that's how he was measured every day."
Windle remembers coming from private business to an athletic department culture.
"I was really surprised how complicated it was," he says. "In business, you maximize the revenue. But now you're in an academic environment and you have the compliance factor with the NCAA and you have student-athlete's welfare, and you have a business that only three sports generate revenue. In the business world, you would have the three revenue streams and that's it, but that's not the way it works in college. You fund all the sports."
Auburn, along with other member schools, reaped the benefits of the riches of the Southeastern Conference, especially in the last 10 years. A new wave of money could be coming when the new SEC Network hits the TV in August. But everything is still checks and balances.
"College athletics is facing a challenge in trying to keep stadiums full. We're in competition with television," Windle said. "That's why we've focused on having the best game-day experience. Auburn has one of the best. We want to make sure we don't price the average family out of the market. That's why we've looked very carefully at our ticket prices. We haven't raised our season tickets in three years and it will stay the same for the fourth year this fall. We're very aware of that issue.
"The other side of it is hopefully we're going to see a big jump in television revenue from the new SEC Network, but that's only if the cable and satellite providers sign on with the network."
The SEC payday comes in during the summers. Auburn's other sources of income are ticket sales, gifts, donations and multi-media rights.
"Obviously, football generates the lion's share of revenue here, so we have to be successful in football in order to keep the other sports at a high level," Windle said.
Sometimes it's not as easy as it looks. Auburn lost a million dollars playing in the BCS Championship Game in January because of the travel expenses.
"If the game had been in New Orleans, we would have made money," Windle said. "I think the conference will address that issue. Schools shouldn't be penalized by success."
But Auburn figures to cash in in other ways. In 2010, when Auburn also went to the BCS title game, licensing royalties jumped from $1.5 million to $3.4 million.
Somebody else will soon keep the day-to-day watch on that. Terry Windle will follow his own advice.
"Auburn is such a great place to live," Windle said. "When I interview people for jobs, I tell them make sure they want to come here because once they get here they're not going to leave."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: