B.J. McAlister officially becomes New Albany’s fifth athletic director today.
The 36-year-old takes over for Don Unruh, who recently retired after 20 years on the job.
McAlister has spent the last five years at New Albany as a teacher and assistant boys’ basketball coach to Jim Shannon. Prior to that, McAlister was the head coach at his alma mater, Switzerland County, for four years after doing the same job at Southwestern for two years. Before that he was an assistant coach at Seymour, New Albany and Louisville Eastern.
McAlister was approved as Unruh’s successor in May. Since then, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
“If there’s ever been a definition of hit-the-ground running, it would be B.J. McAlister,” Unruh said amid half-packed boxes in his soon-to-be-former office last Thursday. “He has been in here every day trying to pick up on everything that he can to help him start the year. He’s already had a coaches meeting. He’s got new ideas that I think will be great for the department, great for New Albany High School athletics. He’s very enthusiastic, full of energy and I think that he has the connections and experience that he needs to really be successful in this position.”
News and Tribune sports reporter Josh Cook sat down with McAlister for an interview last Thursday. Here are a few of the highlights.
Q: What made you want this job?
A: When I came here five years ago Coach Shannon was great. I feel like I earned his trust and respect. He really let me throw myself into the program, let me fill my plate however I wanted to and how much I wanted to. I tried to load myself up and be the best employee that I could be for New Albany High School during the school day, teaching U.S. history and world history. Then when it came to the basketball court, until it was time to go to bed or wake up the next day, I was going to be the best basketball coach I could be, period. After five years of doing that, Coach Unruh was retiring and stepping aside. I’ve been contacted by a few schools in the last five years, and only applied at two. Still, I kept coming back to the one reservation about leaving, or the reason I turned down those schools that did contact me, I said, ‘No, I just don’t want to leave New Albany.’ Even though I’ve been a head coach, everybody thought that I was ready to jump again. This is best place I’ve ever been. Whether it be the type of kids that we have, whether it be in the classroom, whether it be our fans, athletics, no matter what, no place was better than New Albany. So with Coach Unruh stepping aside it was like, ‘OK, I’m ready for a new challenge.’ I’m ready, as far as passing the torch. I think I’m up to the challenge. It kind of helps to have the backing of the old guard, so to speak, the guys that have come through this athletic office and still help out here, to know that you had their blessing and stuff. ... I was really intrigued to take on the challenge and really confident that I could keep it going.
Q: Much of your professional life has involved coaching basketball, is it tough to leave it?
A: There’s no question [it is]. People talk about basketball like, they miss the ball bouncing. It’s the kids, the relationships, the challenges that you’ve been through, the hurdles you’ve been through, the rides home, the personal relationships, etcetera. That’s the tough thing, on a Friday night in a huddle that you’re not going to get that interaction, or you’re not going to be able to push those buttons during the game-time. But in reality, the other side of it, the positive of it is, now I’m going to have those relationships with kids that are in soccer, the kids in volleyball, to wrestling, to football. You’re going to have a whole lot wider touch with the group than just the basketball team. So yeah, there will be aspects that you’ll miss, especially practice time that you’ll miss being in there, teaching and instructing. The positive of it is you’ll have your hand in building a lot more relationships with a lot more coaches and a lot more student-athletes here at New Albany.
Q: What has been the biggest thing people have asked you, or told you about, since taking the job?
A: Whenever I have been introduced the last two months, actually the last month and a half, since being named by the school board, there’s usually a comment and then a question. Usually it’s like, ‘Oh, those are big shoes to fill with Coach Unruh.’ And then they reach their hand out, and if they’re a New Albany person they pull me and closer and they’re like, ‘You’re not going to move my season tickets are you?’ So, I think as long as I don’t change season tickets, I’ll at least be allowed to stick out the first basketball season. [laughing] ... When you see this coming down the pipe with Coach Unruh, you start having a few more conversations. You start following him around and asking him questions. ... I know how I handle it, just how I handled coaching, you find people that are really successful and then you throw yourself into studying them. To watching their teams practice, to reading books about them. Well with Coach Unruh I’m like, ‘Ok, how is he so successful. Why is it that everybody tells me I’ve got big shoes to fill? Is it scheduling? Is it how he treats the student-athletes? Is it organization? Is it, facilities? What is it?’ There was just one overwhelming trait that stuck out, and it’s just that he’s such a good person. People know that he’s going to be fair. He’s not going to let the situation escalate. He’s never going to be disrespectful. And at the end of the day, when you walked out of his office, whether you got what you wanted, whether you were upset that he didn’t give you new uniforms, maybe you didn’t get a practice time, or you didn’t get a change of the date, at the end of the day, you could walk out of that office knowing that the right thing was done for New Albany’s athletics. ... I think that’s the model behavior of why Coach Unruh was so successful. It didn’t matter if he made you mad or upset, or you got your way, or you didn’t. You knew that leaving that office the decision was made for the best interest of New Albany High School.
Q: What advice has Coach Unruh given you?
A: In a round-about way, he kind of said things along those lines — make sure you’re always doing what’s best for the student-athletes; make sure you’re always supporting coaches; make sure you’re always keeping your administration in the loop; make sure you’re never turning it off and letting yourself be unprofessional; and make sure you’re holding this program to a first-class standard and you’re always doing things first-class. ... I’m only the fifth athletic director in school history, so that means two things — people do this job for a really long time, and there were four really good guys before me at this job. So to say the pressure’s on, I know it, and I know I’m up to the challenge, but I also know it’s a pressure job. In addition to Coach Unruh, they’ve hired some really good candidates to do this job.
Q: So does that mean 30 years from now you’ll still be in this office?
Well I’m 36, so I’d kind of hoped I don’t have to stay to 66 to retire. But if I do so, if it takes that long, or if the good people of New Albany will keep me for that long, I’ll be happy to wear red and black for as long as it takes.