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RCAF: Secret’s out – Jim Harris chosen to lead RCAF

 Ken Stickney,  kstickney@gannett.com, The Advertiser, Aug. 15, 2015

Jim Harris is introduced as the new Executive Director of the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation.
(Photo: Ken Stickney, The Advertiser)

Jim Harris was named executive director of The Ragin’ Cajuns Athletic Foundation, the key fundraising arm for University of Louisiana at Lafayette sports programs,

The announcement was made at a 10 a.m. news conference in the Student Union on campus.

Harris, who turned 36 on Friday, has worked in athletic department and fundraising roles at Indiana University, Ohio University and the University of South Florida.The foundation and UL celebrated with a birthday cake after the news conference.

In announcing the hire — Harris will start Sept. 1 — RCAF and university officials cited Harris’ breadth of experience, which was gained over 16 years at his previous three university employers, including time as a student. Harris holds a bachelor’s from IU and two master’s degrees, one in business management and the other in sports administration, from Ohio.

He most recently served as associate vice president of development, University of South Florida Foundation, from 2013 to 2014. In that position, he helped set goals and direct over 45 fund raisers. He previously served as senior director of athletic development for the Ohio Foundation and senior associate athletic director for Ohio athletics. He was associate director of development and director of annual giving and major gifts at IU.

Charlie Moncla, who headed the search committee, said the process was a revelation to him, as he learned from applicants about the "science, research and art" connected to athletic fund raising. He said Harris will work as an "at will" employee without a contract. While he will work with both the athletic department and University Advancement, he will report to the RCAF board.

The RCAF, which was created in 2007, provides annual support for 16 intercollegiate sports at UL, helping them compete at the NCAA Division I, the highest level. The annual fund is the most visible RCAF support effort,

Harris said UL’s "passionate fan base" was attractive to him, as were campus and athletic department facilities. He arrived for his interview on the night of July 23 and left the next day. On his second trip to Lafayette, he said, he got more acquainted with the city and the campus, which he said he found most welcoming.

Harris said he was aware of UL’s athletic program and recent success, but said the brand and unique culture of the community were special attributes that reflected community pride. He said he hopes to draw upon that pride in raising funds, not only from alumni but also from area residents who appreciate the benefits that a successful athletics program can lend to them.

Harris said he worked in a similar situation to UL’s at Ohio University, located about 70 miles down the road from Ohio State. At Ohio, he said, the athletic department set its schedules so as not to conflict with Ohio State’s; otherwise, he said, fans might opt for the Ohio State games.

An RCAF search committee selected Harris from among five finalists from among 69 applicants for the job.As RCAF executive director, Harris will take on the task of fund raising for a Sun Belt Conference program with a $115 million athletic facilities master plan now under way. The program has been without a chief fund raiser for two years.

Tier II of the master plan includes $50 million in improvements that will feature a seven-story tower facility at Cajun Field. That addition will include athletic administration space, high-end seating, a new press box, bookstore and public space.

Scott Farmer, director of athletics, said Harris is the type of leader he had envisioned the RCAF hiring, someone with broad experience who had done most of the jobs related to athletic foundation work. He said about a dozen candidates rose to the top quickly, and Harris rose quickly among the final 12.