Jon Gilbert’s personal and professional lives have been anchored in the South. The recently-appointed East Carolina athletic director was an athlete and coach himself during a much earlier time in his life journey. As he progressed up the ladder into administration he became involved with some of the most prominent programs in college athletics.
At more than one stop along the way, long before he arrived in Greenville, Gilbert gained a significant degree of familiarity with ECU. He also learned about a couple of Pirate icons. Since landing in the AD chair in the Ward Building, he has eagerly rekindled a number of North Carolina ties from his college days at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Gilbert made time in his busy schedule this week to field some Pirate Profile questions from Bonesville:
Q: Where were you born and raised?
A: Born in Norfolk, Va. Lived in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area until the fifth grade. Then I moved to Lakeland, Fla. Went to late elementary, junior high and high school there. Went to Lenoir-Rhyne College and played football there in Hickory, North Carolina.
Q: What high school did you go to in Lakeland?
A: I played at Lake Gibson, I coached at Kathleen and my wife (Katie) went to Lakeland so I have most of the high schools covered in that city.
Q: What sports did you play at Lake Gibson?
A: Football, wrestling and track.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: We both worked as lifeguards together at the Lakeland Yacht and Country Club. … I met her the summer after Lenoir-Rhyne. … She was a swimmer at the University of Alabama.
Q: What is your favorite TV show?
A: I really don’t watch that much TV. … It’s got to be something on Netflix. Game of Thrones.
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: Probably Shawshank Redemption. So many lessons learned from that movie.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant?
A: I like barbecue. I would say all the barbecue restaurants in Greenville. They’re all excellent.
Q: Who is your favorite pro athlete?
A: I’m going to go Josh Richardson of the Miami Heat. Josh was at the University of Tennessee when I was there. He was not highly recruited. He’s from the state of Oklahoma. He worked extremely hard. Just a great person and individual.
Q: Who did you want to beat the most when you were at Alabama?
A: Auburn, no question.
Q: Who did you want to beat the most when you were at Tennessee?
A: The Gators.
Q: Who did you want to beat the most when you were at Southern Miss?
A: Louisiana Tech.
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Q: When did you realize you wanted to be in sports administration?
A: I was coaching and teaching in Lakeland, Fla. Coaching football and track. I really thought my professional track was going to be coach, principal, etc. My wife, who swam at Alabama and was a really good swimmer there, they offered her an assistant coaching job while we were living in Lakeland, Fla. We actually moved to Alabama for her. … I arrived in January of 1995. Alabama offered me a full-time, temporary job for the sum of $12,500 a year, plus benefits. When I was teaching and coaching, obviously I was making a lot more than that. But I also knew that the opportunity to work in a Division I program like that didn’t come along very often. We didn’t have children at the time so I was able to take a substantial pay cut to get my foot in the door. Once I had my foot in the door, I realized the opportunity to work in a place like that might be a better track than coaching. That’s really when I started thinking about athletic administration. About a year later, I was promoted to director of event management there in the athletic department. I really feel like had I not taken that step back, both from a pay standpoint and certainly the position, I wouldn’t be in the chair today had I not done that. That was a really important step in my career.
Q: You were at Alabama when East Carolina played at Legion Field in 1998. What do you recall about that?
A: I got to visit with Henry VanSant. Henry had been at Lenoir-Rhyne. Two people I had heard about when I was at Lenoir-Rhyne were Clarence Stasavich (former ECU football coach and athletic director) and I also heard about Henry VanSant (former ECU football player, assistant football coach and athletic administrator).
Q: What makes Alabama special to you?
A: It certainly was a special time there for me. I learned so many things over a long tenure (17 years) there. I still have very good relationships there. Both of my children (daughter Larsen, son Kent) were born there. It is a place that I care about.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I do like to exercise. I’ve done a few triathlons and marathons. … I also love the water. I can’t wait to get out on the water of eastern North Carolina. I like the outdoors from a cycling and hiking standpoint.
Q: Who was the most influential coach you played for?
A: Probably one of my high school coaches, Ernest Joe. I played for Ernest and then I later worked for him as an assistant coach when I was coaching high school football in Florida. His son (Errin) played at Georgia Tech. He went on to be a principal. He’s a senior administrator in the Polk County School System in Lakeland, Fla.
Q: What was your position in football?
A: Tight end.
Q: What was your personal athletic highlight?
A: In high school, you play for the love of the game. I was fortunate enough to play in college. I think the most important thing for me was the relationships I was able to build. I played with a lot of great people and was coached by a lot of really good people, relationships that I keep to this day. Reggie Lucas is the high school coach at Wake Forest High, certainly one of the more successful programs in this state. Reggie and I had not connected since our playing days. … We have been in communication since I arrived here. Relationships like that where you go your separate ways, you pick right back up where you left off. I’ve had numerous relationships like that throughout this state where I’ve heard from so many people from Lenoir-Rhyne that are near and dear to me. We haven’t seen or heard from each other for awhile, but we’re all reconnecting now and it’s just really special to pick up exactly where you left off. That, to me, is the most special thing about playing athletics.
Q: Who is going to win the Super Bowl?
A: Who’s playing? (Kidding) I don’t have a favorite. Given their track record, I think it’s hard to go against the Patriots and what they’ve done as an organization. It’s truly remarkable to have the sustained success that they have had.
Q: Have you had a better view from your office than East Carolina?
A: I have not. I can see not all of our athletic facilities, but I certainly can see Dowdy-Ficklen. I’ve got a great view of the Murphy Center. I can see the basketball arena. I’m here early in the morning. To see the sun come up over Dowdy-Ficklen, I know it’s a great day to be a Pirate.