Leader of the Pack
NC State’s new athletic director brings a rich legacy and a
powerful resume, but most importantly, he brings strong convictions.
Text by Kurt Dusterberg
Boo Corrigan is saddled with a name that catches people’s attention.
The new athletic director at North Carolina State University is the son of Gene Corrigan, who served as commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1987 to 1997, following eight years as athletic director at the University of Notre Dame. (We will get to the first name in a moment.)
The younger Corrigan has built his own impressive resume in college athletics. He arrived after an eight-year tenure as director of athletics at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. While at Army, he helped the athletic department make dramatic improvements in fundraising and facilities, while also enjoying success in competition and the classroom. Previously he served as an associate athletic director at the U.S. Naval Academy, Notre Dame, and Duke University.
He and his wife, Kristen, are now settled in Raleigh with their three teenage children.
How did you come to be known as Boo?
I am the baby of seven kids. I’m the one that’s named after my father. It was never going to be “Little Gene.” Now I’m a 52-year-old man named Boo and it fits what I do for a living. Maybe when it’s going really well, they’ll boo me, too.
Were you an athlete growing up?
I attempted to be. I played in high school—little bit of football, basketball, and soccer—but I was just too slow to be able to play at the college level.
You’ve worked at some special institutions: West Point, The Naval Academy, Notre Dame, Duke. How have those jobs prepared you for the NC State job?
My wife and I made a decision a long time ago that we wanted to be at schools that were aspirational for our children. We’ve been blessed and lucky to be able to accomplish that, to include coming to NC State and being a part of something that is a driver in the community and a driver in the state—a group of doers that gets things done. That was part of the appeal of coming to NC State.
You’re an advocate for student-athlete wellness and you prioritize mental health and social media training. Those are very important topics in today’s landscape.
Our charge, ultimately, is to develop young people—and how you go about doing that and setting them up for the greatest success. And that’s not only success in their four or five years with us, but also for the next 40 years of their lives. [For social media it’s] what you write, what you post, what you snap (Snapchat)—but also who you are associated with in those same fields. From the mental health standpoint, it’s just a different society. What we stress over and over again is the courage it takes to raise your hand when you need help. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It can be anything from mental health to being in an unhealthy relationship or having a substance abuse issue. We want the people we work with every day to understand the value of that and reward the strength in asking for help.
Because NC State has two rivals here in the Triangle, does that up the ante for the athletic department to be competitive?
I’m not familiar with what schools you’re talking about (he deadpans). What we have to focus on is who we are. We have over 34,000 season ticket−holders for football; 10,000 for basketball. Not only are they ticket−holders, but they show up for games. If we can be the best NC State we can be, that’s going to lead to a pretty great place. It doesn’t have to be, “We’re great because we beat Duke,” or, “We’re great because we beat Carolina.” It’s got to be: “This is who we are as an institution.” When we get this thing humming and we’re all going in one direction, the outcome is going to be very special. You’ve got to rely on what your beliefs are, what your behaviors are, to drive the results.
As an athletic director, you have the chance to become your school’s biggest fan. Do you enjoy rooting for teams?
I love being a fan. I’m not diminishing the responsibilities of this position, but this is what I get to do every day; this isn’t what I have to do every day. If you’re having a bad day, you can go to a practice; you can go to a game. We’ll be at everything. It doesn’t mean any less to any of our athletes to be competing as it does to our high-profile ones. To them, that’s what the experience is. It’s about feeling supported and knowing we care and are part of their experiences, regardless of what sport they’re playing.
Where is college sports heading in the coming years? A lot of people view Division I athletics as an arms race—nicer facilities, bigger opportunities, TV contracts. What’s next?
I think you could broaden your viewfinder on this and look at every college campus in the country: Look at the size of the chemistry building or the engineering building or the research dollars. All of higher education is in an arms race—be it for professors or presidents or the most qualified students. We’re only a part of that in college athletics. At the end of the day, we’re trying to provide an unbelievable experience for the students who are coming in and competing for NC State. And, we’re making sure we are constantly ahead of the curve to create better and better experiences for them: where they’re playing; how they’re training; what they’re eating. Are we providing the [best] services we can provide? All those things are going to continue to move forward.
Your father is obviously one of the most influential and accomplished administrators in college sports. How much impact has he had on your career?
He’s my dad, above anything else. I thought it was an unbelievable way to grow up, [being] around a college campus, where people were doing great things. My father had a stroke in December, so a lot of the things that are going on now I have not been able to share with him. Was I sharing more with him before? Yeah, probably more than I even knew. But it was always just talking to my father. It was never talking to Gene Corrigan, this legendary figure.
You have three kids, all in their teenage years. Are any of them athletes, and do you have any sense they might develop into college athletes?
I think the only shot is if they have my wife’s genes. My wife was a field hockey and lacrosse player at Virginia, so she was the athlete in the family. They love being around sports; they love being a part of it. That’s their journey, the opportunity they have in front of them. We’re very supportive of that, and we’re also supportive when they are in a play or when they want to go to a cooking class and everything else. Our job as parents is to be there for them and be as supportive as we can be.
How has your adjustment been coming to Raleigh? What are your impressions?
It’s an unbelievably great town, from the food scene to the people who are here. I do find that maybe I’ve got a little too much New York in me sometimes after being there. People ask me how I’m doing and I say, “I’m doing fine. I’d be better if we could get through this line” at the grocery store. Moving into the area and feeling welcomed—it’s a little bit odd, to be honest with you, being recognized as much as I have been. It’s a new experience for me. It’s certainly not going to my head, but it’s different. We went to a movie the other night, and the guy serving popcorn leaned over the counter and said, “Are you the new AD at NC State?” I said, “Yes, I am,” hoping he was going to give me free popcorn. But he just turned and walked away. Didn’t do me much good; but he was a nice kid and he’s coming to NC State next year.