What is the Athletic Philosophy of ETSU?

Marky Billson
5 min readMay 19, 2023

Are the Buccaneers still taking their guidance from the rear?

Marky Billson

Recently, I received feedback from an East Tennessee State fan who wanted to know why I hadn’t written about the Buccaneers’ Southern Conference men’s golf championship.

Frankly, I hadn’t because college golf is not a sport with a large fan base. Though ETSU has always prided itself on their golf program and this is the team’s third straight Southern Conference title, it’s not as if this is a sport that is spectator friendly.

A primary reason the Bucs have had such a great golf program through the years is a former economic model for athletic fundraising ETSU adopted in the 1980s under President Ronald Beller where instead of focusing fundraising for the overall athletic program, it was geared more towards where individual sports were encouraged to do their own fundraising.

Under Beller’s Presidency the football program went 40–91–1. Similarly, Charley Lodes left the nationally ranked baseball program he’d built at ETSU in 1983 to coach an NAIA team, and the Bucs never had another winning record on the diamond until Beller left.

This was great for golf, where a coach has more time to raise money, but spelled doom for football, where a coach is constantly recruiting, must keep track of a larger roster and staff, etc.

And the fact is most businessmen who can write checks to an athletic department are very receptive to learning how to take a few strokes off their game, but very rarely wish to improve their form tackling.

Hence, while football often floundered at ETSU, causing the program to be dropped in 2003, golf prospered.

Head coach Fred Warren was able to become one of the highest paid college golf coaches in the country. While football struggled to afford recruiting trips, it was not uncommon for ETSU golf to field an entire roster of European players.

The Bucs golf program was able to finish as high as third in the nation in 1996 and in the same time frame football was going out of business, Warren was able to raise the funds to build his program a modern training facility.

One can’t blame Warren for making the most of his means. In fact, when Keener Fry left as ETSU athletic director in 1997 Chip Kessler even wrote a column in Sports Talk championing Warren for the AD post…