The university’s senior associate athletic director/chief operating officer has been on the job for three weeks now. It’s a newly created position that allows Carter to get out in the community and also work internally — offense and defense, as the former football player puts it — and there are a lot of moving parts.
“The first few weeks I’ve been drinking out of the proverbial fire hose,” Carter said Tuesday before popping into a Rotary Club meeting at the Johnson City Country Club. “There’s just so many people to meet, so much to get a handle on. I have to learn how to crawl, then walk, then run. I think I’m about ready to get up and start walking.”
Exactly where he’s headed remains to be seen, but Carter will surely enjoy the journey.
The 34-year-old Knoxville native readily admits that “it’s no secret I wear my faith on my sleeve,” and he goes about his business with the enthusiasm of a man who has seen the light and wants to share the experience. But it works both ways. He hopes to learn a little something from everybody he connects with in these early days of a new job at his alma mater.
“More than anything, I’m trying to pay attention and listening,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything for granted, because I want to know the history of how we got to where we are. Little by little, I’m sitting down with staff and just talking. I want to accentuate the positives but also want to know the negatives.
“There’s an old saying about history: if you don’t know it, you’re doomed to repeat it.”
Carter returns to ETSU after a decade of working at the University of Tennessee in various fundraising positions. Most recently, he was the Tennessee Fund’s assistant athletic director for development, responsible for overseeing premium seating and securing contributions for facilities and endowment projects.
“Everything was external related,” he said. “I focused on community outreach, generating of revenue … that’s my forte, and it was valuable experience.
“I have nothing but great things to say about UT. I was able to work there at 24 years old, in my hometown, probably the eighth or ninth member of my family to work at the university. My grandfather worked there for 43 years as a master plumber.”
Carter was an honors student and fullback at ETSU from 1998-2002 and captained the team as a senior. Just a year later, the program was cut for financial reasons.
Now Carter returns to the university just as the Bucs are making plans for a rebirth in 2015. Coach Carl Torbush announced his first recruiting class earlier this month.
If anyone can extol the virtues of football, it is Carter.
“Football gave my dad the opportunity to go to college,” he said. “He came from a humble family, and finances were very tight. But he got a college education and coached at Carter High School in Knoxville for a number of years. So I grew up on a football field; it was all I knew, and it gave me great leadership values and a strong work ethic.
“Nothing comes free in football, especially when you’re a short, slow fullback. Football gave me the opportunity to get a college education here, and it’s going to do that for a lot of other young men.”
Carter says he often thinks back to his college days when he’s meeting ETSU supporters in the area and tries to tell them the difference they made to him and his teammates.
“You think about that when you’re 34 more than when you’re 18,” he said. “I just shake their hand and tell them I appreciate what they did. And I hope they continue to support us.”
Football just fits nicely into the overall approach Carter takes toward university business.
“The way you do business is with class and integrity,” he said. “You hire great coaches that reflect the overall mission for the university and athletic department, and there always have to be two priorities. Number one is the student-athlete — student first, athlete second. And number two is all the people who support the student-athletes — coaches, administrators, ticket holders, people who are paying for their education.
“We’re not curing cancer, we’re not going to the moon. However, we might educate kids who do. That’s our vision.”
Athletic director Richard Sander described Carter as “a rising star in the world of college athletics” upon his hiring last month, and the assumption by many is that he will one day pick up at ETSU where Sander leaves off.
Carter doesn’t dismiss that possibility but says he’s currently more interested in learning from Sander, a veteran AD, and from a young, energetic university president, Brian Noland.
“Those two men in a brief period of time have been wonderful leaders for me,” he said, “and I feel blessed to be in this position. I always had in the back of my mind coming back to my alma mater in a leadership capacity, and this job offers me that. Whatever God’s will is beyond that, it will work out.”
Carter and his wife Kristen, another ETSU alum, have two young daughters, Kate, 7, and Mia, 5. The whole family will relocate to Johnson City once the school year ends.