SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. -- In college football, a coach usually gets a four-year pass, when he finally has his roster filled with his recruits.
The new B.A.S.S. ownership group of Jerry McKinnis, Don Logan and Jim Copeland are starting their second season, highlighted by the 42nd Bassmaster Classic this week.
A year ago on Classic Night in New Orleans, the owners stood together at the front doors of the House of Blues and greeted each of the Classic anglers. In addresses that night, each pledged to make B.A.S.S. better for the anglers, fans, sponsors and everyone involved.
We sat down with Jerry McKinnis to get his thoughts on how they’ve done so far.
“I was fussing not long ago about not having got anything done,” McKinnis said, “so I wrote down all the things we’ve done, and there’s quite a few things. I guess we’re getting somewhere. We just have a long way to go.”
McKinnis said he was a little disappointed that getting youth involved hasn’t progressed as far as he’d like, but there are plans to do it. The basic thought is teaching them how to fish.
“We’re going to try to get high schools to our Elite events all along the way,” he said. “The goal is to have kids come in and three or four pros speak to them, just a lot of educational information.
“I’m not so bent at having them compete and getting in contests yet, I want them to learn more than anything else. That’s really where the emphasis will be. At All-Star Week this year, we intend to have a big high school jamboree of some kind, again with a lot of teaching and even some on the water stuff.”
While the College B.A.S.S. circuit continues to see refinements, he is pleased with the ongoing efforts and path, saying it has stepped up.
“I think it’s pretty exciting that we’re going to have a college kid in the Classic this year,” he said. “That’s an awful good carrot to hang out there. It’s good for them and it’s good to promote College B.A.S.S. fishing, so it’s good for us as an organization.”
In their first year, the new owners have hired a number of people, but none impresses McKinnis as much as Noreen Clough, who returns as B.A.S.S. conservation director.
“One of the first things we did when we came aboard was to get Noreen Clough back on board. She’s so great,” McKinnis said. “We do some really good things in conservation, but we really don’t do a drop in the bucket compared to what we should be doing. I hope we are able to get in position to do more there.
“Noreen is like an angel sent from heaven. As we speak, she’s probably on the phone with somebody or off somewhere doing something. She’s just fantastic. We can’t just set back and let her handle the whole thing, it’s too big a project.”
McKinnis, who has been known to drive five or six hours to a tournament to address the anglers then turn around and drive home, has traveled to a number of Federation Nation functions.
“I think we’ve done well with our Federation Nation. We’ve grown it just a little, but we’ve done a lot more to make our existing members happy,” he said. “Most of them knew me, so I got a real easy opportunity to go to clubs and speak at their banquets and let them feel comfortable that everything is going to be OK.”
One of the really important things B.A.S.S. has done is the work on the web site. Jim Sexton was hired as Chief Digital Officer to oversee all strategy and execution, including content, for Bassmaster.com and B.A.S.S. social media, mobile and online video properties.
“We’ve put some really great people in place, including Jim, who comes with a background of developing web sites,” he said.
“When you see how different it is from when we started, you see how much we’ve accomplished. There is a lot of good stuff -- it is wall to wall. It doesn't just happen during the Classic, it’s all year long.”
The extensive coverage of Elite events, from live blogs starting before daily launches to the live weigh-ins, photo galleries and recap stories on the day, has drawn in viewers like moths to a flame.
“I’ve heard guys complain that it ruins their whole day, that they sit there all day long,” McKinnis said. “I think that’s really a good thing.”
As far as television, Bassmaster shows have branched out to air on Outdoor Channel and that has made a huge impact, McKinnis said.
“We’re still solid with ESPN -- that’s where we want to be forever -- but we’ve developed a really good relationship with Outdoor Channel,” he said.
One of McKinnis’ biggest goals is to make the highest level of bass fishing similar to the top circuits in other sports, where the competitors won’t have such high entry fees.
“That’s actually going to take longer than I thought it would take,” he said. “That’s still my goal. One of these days we’re going to surprise everybody, but not a deal with no entry fee, but considerably less. And I’m very hopeful we can get to that point.
“What we’re doing now, and a lot of anglers are doing it themselves, is trying to get them into positions with our television and internet where they have a better shot at going out and getting some sponsorship. We’re working hard with them on that.”
There have been some internal and personnel logistics that cost time, but McKinnis wasn’t making any excuses.
“I up and lose four months of the year,” he said of his heart surgery. “We moved from Orlando to Birmingham. The general public doesn’t really care about that, but it took up an awful lot of time.
“The reason a coach has a hard time the first year or two is he’s playing with the last guy’s recruits. In a way, we’re doing a little bit of that. It’s not a problem, it’s just a situation we had to get squared away. The people we have in place are a lot different than we had a year ago, and we’re still working on that.”
With most of the organization in place, McKinnis said the second year should produce more results.
“There’s a lot of stuff to go through in a year when you’re still trying to get your feet on the ground,” McKinnis said. “It’s ever evolving. The dust has kind of settled there and in a lot of ways we have a better shot this year.”