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 Lee Fowler served four years as the Athletic Director at USC Upstate.  He began his tenure at Upstate in May 2013 as the interim athletic director and had the interim tag removed in October 2013. Under Lee's direction, Men's/Women's Basketball Season ticket sales were increased by 66%.



"Departing AD Lee Fowler brought stability to Spartans"



By TODD SHANESY Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald-Journal

Posted Jun 29, 2017 at 10:18 PM Updated Jul 1, 2017 at 7:43 PM


SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Columbia native Lee Fowler had just purchased his dream home in Nashville. He was more than ready to settle into semi-retirement.


It is a house with 18 steps up from the main floor to the master bedroom, enough to require thoughtful consideration for each trip, and he was surrounded by luxuries made possible by a life in high-profile college sports, most recently as athletics director at North Carolina State.

Relaxation, however, was put on hold.


Fowler agreed to serve as interim AD at South Carolina Upstate for a few months, he said, just to get the department back on track in what was still a transitional period into NCAA Division I. He has now been here four years.


Some of his mail is still addressed to Lee Fowler, interim athletics director.


Fowler and his wife, Carol, go back to Nashville on some weekends, but he spends most of his time away from campus in a modest two-bedroom Spartanburg home where the neighbors are much different than the ones in high society Music City.

“We have a donkey and three chickens in our backyard,” Fowler said.

USC Upstate chancellor Dr. Brendan Kelly chimed in.

“That is true,” Kelly said. “I’ve met the donkey.”


Fowler, whose interim label was stripped without fanfare or even much public knowledge, will leave USC Upstate — and his backyard farm animals — sometime this summer, sooner rather than later, he said, to pursue a lifestyle that has been waiting for the 65-year-old.


“I’m older than I look,” he said with a grin. “I’m going to do some other things, maybe something on a part-time basis, and have more time to play golf. ... Honestly, I don’t know exactly what I want to do.”

Fowler didn’t know he wanted to be athletics director at USC Upstate. Following his unceremonious departure from N.C. State, where he was let go in 2010 with three years remaining on his contract, he was serving as director of basketball operations for the Sun Belt Conference. It was Mike Wood, a graduate of USC Upstate (then USC Spartanburg), former basketball referee, most notably in the ACC, and now supervisor of officials, who first suggested to Fowler the idea of coming in to help the school following Mike Hall’s resignation.


“I was kind of tired of the big-time athletics scene like at N.C. State,” Fowler said. “At that time, I was going to start to do some consulting work. When (Wood) asked if I would come to Spartanburg, I said I could come for three or four months, but that’s the most I can do. Then I fell in love with the place, really and truly. I fell in love with the kids and I fell in love with the staff. It’s been a great four years.”

Fowler said he came to USC Upstate expecting some of the same issues that were recurring themes at N.C. State and other places he had worked, Middle Tennessee State and Memphis.


“One of the first things I did here was to sit down with the academic people,” Fowler said. “At N.C. State, we would have 60 or 70 kids that we would worry about keeping eligible for the next year. So my first question was, ‘Can you tell me what kind of issues we have in academics?’ They looked at me like I had two heads and said, ‘We don’t have any.’”

“I said, ‘No, I mean the kids we need to get eligible for next year.’”

“They said, ‘We don’t have any kids like that. Everyone is eligible for next year.’”

“I said, ‘What?’”

Fowler was, however, asked to right the ship in a couple of different ways.


“There seemed to be a lot of division in the department. I think I brought us together,” he said. “We also had issues financially and we had to tighten our belts. No question about that.”


Still in the early days of NCAA Division I, expenses were a bit out of whack. Men’s basketball took on too many “money games” on the road against power conference teams to help fund all sports at USC Upstate. Further, there was an uneasiness among coaches who were concerned that winning was more important than academics. And they weren’t exactly a cohesive unit as a staff.


“Lee really identified well and supported the coaching staff, which made everybody happy and more comfortable,” USC Upstate men’s basketball coach Eddie Payne said. “You saw team success grow because of that. It was a positive thing for our department. In my mind, that was his greatest contribution.

“There were other things, like money, for example. We don’t have the greatest resources, and he understood that. He understood who we were. Everybody is always worried about competitiveness. I think he relaxed some of the coaches and helped their comfort level. It helped them, and it’s helped their teams, I think.”

Volleyball, for example, last month was recognized for being in the top 10 percent nationally in multi-year NCAA Division I academic progress rate. The team, coached by alumna Jennifer Calloway for more than two decades, also had arguably its best season in 2016-17 by making the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun tournament.


“Lee brought unity within our department,” Calloway said. “Lee was always very approachable, and being a former coach himself, he understood what our job entailed.”


Fowler said he has a constantly evolving Top 10 list of his favorite student/athletes. Half of those are from his days at USC Upstate. The list does not include key players from the leading athletics program, softball — an NCAA tournament regular, with Lexi Shubert, who is not only a former Atlantic Sun pitcher of the year but also the league’s first two-time scholar/athlete of the year; or outfielder Ryan Rector, league nominee for woman of the year because of her work off the field as well as on.


No, the list for Fowler is more about those who struggled. There is a men’s basketball player who didn’t graduate from high school, needed two chances for a GED to enter college, and yet graduated with honors as one of the best players in program history.


And there was another from that class, a young man who grew up with so many siblings that he couldn’t sleep unless it was on the floor through four years of college, even in a hotel room with an empty bed.

“Those kinds of student-athletes are my favorites,” Fowler said. “The ones who overcame odds, the ones people thought could not make it in college. To watch them through the last few years and see them graduate was a thrill for me.”


Fowler’s office is not yet cleaned out. There are no empty boxes ready to be filled. But the search is on for a new athletics director and Kelly, who became chancellor last November, has perhaps his most important job hire to date.


“Lee has been one of the great resources,” Kelly said. “Athletics can be a very complicated piece of a university. When you walk into my position, that’s a very complicated area to dissect. Lee brought a type of experience and wisdom to it that settled me before I even came on. I got off the phone with him the first time saying we have a fantastic athletic director. It’s rare that you get somebody with his level of experience at an institution of this size and scope. I’ve been very grateful.”


The job opening was posted earlier this month. Fowler said he is willing to stay until the university can find a capable replacement.


That could be, theoretically, another four years.

“No, sir,” Fowler said. “My wife wants to be in the same place as her stuff.”

Kelly, truth be told, would like to find another Fowler.

“What we’re looking for, in many ways, is a lot of what Lee brought to the table in the first place. He has, in the span of four years, put us in the position to go to the next level. He has provided a sound foundation for athletics.


“We’re in a really good position to grow moving forward. We’re looking for someone to capitalize on the foundation he helped to build, a person who will prioritize getting more people involved. We have a fantastic Division I athletics department and, in my view, one of the great treasures of this region.”



This article was taken from the official release.  To read further, please click on the USC Upstate logo above to be redirected.




{“Lee brings a wealth of experience at several institutions in different conferences, and he has particular knowledge of the NCAA and men’s basketball.  He has demonstrated a commitment to higher education and student-athletes while promoting teamwork, loyalty, and excellence. His ability to inspire individuals and groups to high levels of accomplishments is just what we Upstate Spartans need at this time of transition.”


       Located in Spartanburg, S.C., USC Upstate offers more than 40 bachelor’s degree programs in the liberal arts and sciences, business administration, nursing and teacher education, and master’s degrees in education. Among the fastest growing universities in South Carolina, USC Upstate is a diverse and dynamic community of 5,500 students from across the Upstate, 36 states and 51 countries. The USC Upstate Spartans compete on the NCAA Division I level as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Spartans field 17 varsity sports — basketball, soccer, tennis, golf, cross country, and track and field for both women and men; baseball for men; and softball and volleyball for women.}


This article was taken from the official release.  To read further, please click on the USC Upstate logo above to be redirected.

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