Despite these challenges, Braun, who has served in athletic administration at both Northeastern University in Boston and UW-Green Bay, is eager to energize the UWM community around the school's athletic programs. BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Erica Breunlin recently interviewed Braun. The following are excerpts from that interview.
BizTimes: What are your top priorities as you transition into your role as athletic director at UWM?
Braun: "Well first, getting to know the people that are there and understanding the culture and helping to create a real positive experience for the staff members and the student-athletes is the No. 1 priority. And then making sure that whatever plans we create going forward into the future align with the university's mission and values and maximize the positive student-athlete experience. There's a lot of hot things going on right now that I need to take a closer look at, but I'm really interested in doing it right than doing it quickly. There's some hot-button things – the men's basketball venue, facilities, the budget. There are all those things that need my attention and probably pretty quickly."
BizTimes: What are your primary challenges as you begin your new position?
Braun: "Trying to get some momentum going, given some of the stops and starts that have been a part of the recent history of Milwaukee, really trying to get it moving in the right direction in a consistent way, stable, getting people all working together, working across campus and with university leadership. If we can do that, and if we can get that going, I think any other challenge that we are up against is going to be something we can handle and not only handle but really do well."
BizTimes: What budget challenges will you need to address first?
Braun: "I'm still at Northeastern, and I'm collecting information and absorbing what I can. So that's going to take some time for me to understand where the challenges are. I do think there's a real opportunity to energize people around supporting UWM athletics. There's been so much success across all the programs that there's a lot there to be proud of, there's a lot there for people to want to be a part of and to support. So we just need to get that message out there and get people focused on the really positive aspects."
BizTimes: What are your thoughts on UWM's men's basketball team?
Braun: "They had a tough season. They've had a number of good seasons, a few very good seasons, and this year they did not have a good season. I imagine for them they're trying to regroup, and we'll sit down and figure out what I can do and what we can do at the university to be helpful in terms of getting them more successful and again making sure that their athletes have a positive experience. And part of that obviously I think is being successful on the court. Having been an athlete, myself, I know that a good part of that experience includes being competitive and winning some games and competing at the league level, which in our league when you're competing at the top of our league, you can probably compete at a national level."
BizTimes: As a Division I athletic program, how crucial is the success of the UWM men's basketball team to the success of the UWM athletic program as a whole?
Braun: "In Division I, it depends. If men's basketball is the sport that most people pay attention to, it's likely the one that's going to drive some revenue through corporate sponsorship sales and ticket sales and maybe fundraising. So it's important if it plays that role on campus, and at Milwaukee it does to some extent. So it's important because it can help lift all of the programs by generating some excitement on campus and generating some potential revenue."
BizTimes: Do you believe that an on-campus arena needs to be built at UWM?
Braun: "I've heard people say that. I do think it's wonderful to have all of your programs competing on campus. I'm familiar with being in an urban institution where that can be very difficult with land acquisition and availability of land on campus. So I don't know if it needs to. It's the ideal situation likely for most schools. We have to work through what the possibilities and potentials are at UWM and kind of see where we land after that."
BizTimes: Would expanding and updating the Klotsche Center be a better option for the university?
Braun: "If it's possible, that's not a bad idea. There are a lot of facility needs on campus at the university I think that need to be sorted through and are being sorted through by the institution, the chancellor, the leadership. Where that fits, I'm not sure and again I need to learn a little bit more about what the options are, what the possibilities are, and then figure out the one that works best both for athletics and obviously the university."
BizTimes: The discussion of a basketball facility at UWM has been an ongoing one. What role would you play in developing a new basketball facility for the university?
Braun: "If that is something that does happen, I imagine I'll be very involved. I have a lot of experience in facility renovation and construction. When we do have a plan in place, I'll be heavily involved with whatever it is that we decide to do."
BizTimes: Is the reality of a new basketball facility a condition of your employment?
Braun: "I'm not aware of it being a condition of my employment. I have not been told that that's a condition of my employment."
BizTimes: How do you view the UWM's men's baseball team?
Braun: "The baseball team had a really great year last year. They're off to a pretty good start this year. They've played some tough competition. We've got a great staff and a solid group of student-athletes there that I think can do some pretty good things."
BizTimes: Do you have any concrete goals in place for UWM's athletic program and your oversight of it?
Braun: "I am right now still in the process of absorbing a lot of information that I've asked for from the university, from the staff, still just having meetings, initial meetings with some people and phone calls. So at this point, there's nothing concrete. Overall, the goal is going to be to be a part of UWM in a way that helps the university achieve its goals, and so that's going to be hopefully engaging students on campus, providing great experience for student-athletes, which is going to involve a lot of things – providing the resources for them to be successful whether those are tangible things, intangible. Obviously facilities have been talked about a lot. We need to take a close look at that. The budget has been a concern, so I need to understand best how I can probably raise some money and bring in additional revenue through a variety of different revenue streams. The expenditure part of it I'm still reviewing. I don't think from my initial review that it looks like there's any real issue there with how much money is being spent, but again I still need to see greater detail to understand that fully.
"I wish that I could absorb more information more quickly, but unfortunately given my status – I'm finishing up at Northeastern here over the next probably three to four weeks – I haven't had the ability to do as much as I would've liked to have done. And it's not an overnight process. I accept that, and I'd rather do things right than do them quickly, recognizing that there are some urgent things."
BizTimes: What are you looking forward to most about returning to your home state?
Braun: "There are a lot of things. This position and all of the possibilities there, the great people I get to work with, a wonderful university and an amazing city. Those are all great things. Obviously it goes without saying my family and friends that are back in Wisconsin – I'll get to see them more frequently and make some Panther fans out of some of the folks."