A few minutes with ... Peter Fos

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKERUniversity of New Orleans President Peter Fos
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKERUniversity of New Orleans President Peter Fos

By TED LEWIS

Advocate sportswriter

UNO President Peter Fos will be formally invested as the school’s president on Monday. But first, he talked about his love of the Privateers, wrestling and Chee-Wees.

You’re a UNO alum. Who’s your all-time favorite Privateer?

I have several favorites. One is Wilbur Holland who was on the UNO basketball team that finished second in the Division II championship in the middle 1970s. Another is Wally Whitehurst, who pitched on the UNO baseball team that went to the College World Series in 1984 (several years before LSU’s first trip). Another is Jim Bullinger, who was an infielder on the College World Series team but was a pitcher in the Major Leagues.

You made the call on UNO remaining in Division I. What led you to make that decision?

The University of New Orleans had been a member of Division I for 36 years and has a legacy of success — and actually had some recent success. The eight other universities in the UL System are in Division I, including those with smaller student bodies. The chance for rivalries across the state is exciting. UNO has not received a lot of news coverage over the past several years, with the exception of bad news. The enrollment has continued to decline since Hurricane Katrina. Remaining Division I is a signal to the community that UNO is in a growth mode and that it will be a major university in all that we do, including athletics.

My decision had little to do with winning games and conference titles — although this is not trivial — but everything to do with publicizing UNO and to give students, faculty and staff something to be proud of, in addition to our high-quality academic programs.

The difficulty of the decision was the fact that the university would have to again fund athletics. Given the budget situation, this was a major aspect of my decision. However, the money that the university funds athletics is exclusively used for scholarships (UNO funds less than 20% of the total athletic budget). So, the money that the university provides allows 53 student-athletes to attend classes and receive a university education.

What’s the most important thing that needs to happen for UNO athletics to remain viable?

Stability in the leadership of the athletic department and community involvement, especially in fundraising. I hired a new athletic director (Derek Morel), and he is working very hard each day to reconnect UNO athletics with the community. With stability and community involvement come success on the court and the playing field.

Your predecessor, Tim Ryan, was a courtside regular at UNO basketball games. Do you plan to follow that habit?

I wouldn’t call it a habit, but a pleasure and honor to sit courtside and watch UNO student-athletes compete for their university. Since being named president, I have sat courtside for most men’s games and several women’s games. I will be courtside for every home game, if my schedule permits.

What kind of athlete were you growing up?

I played all sports on the playground growing up. I grew up in New Orleans and had the benefit of playing sports with NORD . In high school I wrestled at Holy Cross. I wasn’t a very good wrestler, but I was a member of the team.

Like UNO, Holy Cross took a big hit in Katrina. Now that the Catholic League will be restored, how long will it take the Tigers to dominate again?

Well, they just won their district championship in football. They won the state wrestling championship recently, and the baseball and basketball teams have been in the state playoffs the past few years. I would say that they are close to dominating again, now.

Do you have a regular fitness regimen?

I was a road racer for many years and usually ran 25-30 miles each week. I am a member of the famous 5:20 Club in New Orleans — I have a hat!. But over the past few years, my workouts have consisted of walking. I enjoy playing golf — I am lucky if I have time to play once every weekend.

If you could switch places with any athlete, current or former, who would it be and why?

This is a tough question. I would have say that I would switch with two people. The first is Michael Jordan, because I would love to be able to dunk a basketball and I would like to have experienced winning those six NBA championships. The second is Drew Brees, because he has not only excelled on the playing field but he has been a very active member of the community. He epitomizes what a professional athlete should be, an example to both athletes and his community.

UNO men’s basketball coach Mark Slessinger has said he swears by his Hubig Pies. What New Orleans delicacy are you addicted to?

CheeWees. I haven’t eaten a Hubig pie in years, but my favorite was sweet potato.

Earlier in your career, you were a dentist. Among athletes, who has the best teeth?

Those athletes who always wear mouth guards.

Ted Lewis