Say this for the folks at UNO: They never quit trying.
Wednesday’s “Privateer Renaissance Celebration” was just the latest effort to revive the school’s athletic fortunes, one that we’ve seen too many times before. Remember a few years back when George Shinn was supposed to save the day?
But hope always abides, even on the Lakefront.
“It’s in my blood,” said attorney Dave Sherman, who for 15 years headed the Privateer Athletic Foundation. “I can’t change it.”
The problem is, not many folks bleed blue and silver like Sherman.
Maybe that’s why last fall Athletic Director Derek Morel said that he meets people who “admit” they’re UNO grads.
And it’s telling that the tipping point for the decision, since reversed, to drop out of Division I was the 2009 vote by the students against raising their athletic fees.
If the students don’t care, the alumni — 75 percent of whom live in the New Orleans area — feel the same. And if the general public, which hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for the Privateers since Ron Maestri’s hair was still dark, is indifferent, then what’s the point?
School President Peter Fos sees recommitting to Division I athletics as a way to help rebuild enrollment — currently just under 11,000 — to something approaching the pre-Katrina level of 17,000.
“The kids who are considering coming here look at athletics as a big part of their decision,” he said. “The school needs them as a source of pride. We’ve got to build the university back up and make it better than it was before.”
So that was a major part of the reason for Wednesday’s unveiling of the school’s new athletic logo, along with celebrating UNO’s membership in the Southland Conference after it wandered in the Division III, Division II and Division I independent wilderness for four years.
But about that logo.
With all due respect to the talented folks Joe Bosack & Co., it’s awful. And not “Sharknado” awful.
Start with the pirate. Unlike his realistic-looking predecessors who were practically growling, “Arrrrrrrrr,” this is a skeletal-looking guy with raccoon eyes, a fake mustache and a beard.
The “UNO” on the ersatz pirate’s hat has been replaced with a fleur-de-lis. Sorry, but Tom Benson has long since appropriated that symbol of the city for his Saints and Pelicans.
And the “New Orleans Privateers” banner over the figure sounds like it’s for a minor league team. Also, although many similarly named schools are moving toward being identified by their location (the other UNO, Nebraska-Omaha, is now just Omaha for athletic purposes), locals are unlikely ever to refer to the university by anything but its initials.
So there’s nothing to indicate that the logo belongs to a university, which should be its first priority. And nobody’s going to mistake that “pirate” for Captain Jack Sparrow.
But in the long run, even the best logo in the world can’t make people pay attention. You have to give them a
reason to care.
Certainly bringing Maestri back as baseball coach has gotten favorable reviews. Despite his nearly three decades away from the dugout, his acumen hasn’t decreased, and he’s a true believer in Fos and Morel’s vision.
Maestri’s fundraising ability can only help an athletic department that was operating at subsistence levels even before Katrina. But while he may be the face of the department, Maestri can’t coach every sport.
Maybe it was just an oversight, but Wednesday, Maestri was introduced to the gathering as “The Coach” — while men’s basketball coach Mark Slessinger, who has worked mightily to bring his program back to the D-I level, stood there ignored.
What kind of message does that send?
This isn’t meant to propose that UNO athletics is a lost cause. There are and have been good people in the department who have seen their best efforts thwarted by circumstances beyond their control. They deserve a chance to succeed, even if the odds are against them.
And despite some folks “admitting” they are UNO graduates, the university is far stronger academically than the popular perception. If having athletics helps, then they’re worth having,
“It’s all about getting the pride back,” Maestri said. “Not just for baseball and basketball, but for the University of New Orleans.”
But that new logo’s gotta go.
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