JSU basketball coach Ray Harper

JSU athletic director Greg Seitz introduces the new basketball coach. Jacksonville State University held a press conference Thursday at Pete Mathews Coliseum to introduce new men's basketball coach Ray Harper.

JACKSONVILLE – Larry Thompson was more than just the tennis coach for the University of North Alabama. He was a school ambassador of sorts, working at college fairs and visiting high schools.

One day at Waynesboro (Tenn.) High School, just across the state line from Florence, he met a student who kept stats for the school teams, wrote reports for local papers and had a gig with a local radio station.

“You need to come to UNA and work in the sports information office,” Thompson suggested. All the student knew about the SID office was he got a pass from there to cover a UNA game for his station.

Immediately, the kid made an impact. Recalls Jeff Hodges, his boss in those days and still UNA’s SID, “He had to be the most hyper young guy I’ve ever seen but also the most talented. He could do anything. He’d work endless hours. He never got tired.”

The endless hours continue.

Greg Seitz, that former wunderkind of the UNA sports information office, is now director of athletics at Jacksonville State. So, it’s utterly appropriate that the Gamecocks are hosting North Alabama Thursday night in Seitz’s first game as official, interim-tag-removed, for-real AD.

Except for a nicer wardrobe and a few brush strokes of gray in his hair, he looks the same today as he did then the day he came to JSU in 1993, immediately after graduation from UNA.

Seitz replaced Mike Galloway as sports information director in 1999 – and three times found himself replacing directors of athletics in an interim capacity.  The most recent was upon the departure of Warren Koegel, and Seitz was the fill-in for 14 months before new JSU president Dr. John Beehler wisely deleted the “interim” tag last February.

Seitz was confident and with each passing pinch-hit role became intrigued enough to apply for the job.

“For me, honestly there was never any doubt I could do the job, once I did it on the interim basis,” Seitz says.

The formula that created all this was a love of sports – “I wasn’t a good enough athlete to play in college, but I wanted to stay involved,” he says – combined with the work ethic built from growing up on a farm with four dozen head of cattle, where chores came before playtime. Then mix in his enviable organizational skills and his integrity – you may not like every answer from him, but it’ll be an honest one – and you have a pretty ideal director of athletics.

If you’ve followed Jacksonville State, you know all the accomplishments of recent years.

The run to the national finals in football. The renovation of Pete Mathews Coliseum. The recently announced baseball stadium project. The hiring of a new basketball coach, Ray Harper.

Then, leave it to an ex-SID to drop some stats on you: Seitz notes the 63 championships since joining the OVC. A 3.11 grade point average for student-athletes. Four teams that won conference academic awards last year. Ten straight semesters of a cumulative GPA above 3.0. Some 10,000 hours of volunteer community service performed by athletes.

“We’re doing all the right things on the field and off the field,” Seitz says.

No one person, even an AD, should get credit for it all. Seitz’s role: “I tell my coaches I’m here to help provide you everything I can for you to be successful on the field.”

What you probably don’t know about the director of athletics is the national respect he owns in the college athletics community.

He often assists in big events when there are no JSU conflicts. Among the assignments, he’s worked as a media relations coordinator the past seven NCAA Final Fours and he’s just been added to the NCAA FCS Committee.

“When I was put in charge of overseeing media operations for the Final Four, I inherited a great group of professionals who helped me tremendously. I also needed to add a couple of people to the media coordination team and Greg was the first person I reached out to,” says David Worlock, the NCAA’s Director of Media Coordination. “Greg is relentless in his work ethic, organized, has the ability to adjust on the fly and thoughtful in everything he does. That's exactly what I need from everyone on the team. Most of all, he is loyal and genuine as a cherished friend.”

What else?

Seitz used to have a share of New York Yankees’ season tickets – you sometimes wonder if he has more red adidas JSU apparel or Yankee stuff in his dresser – and still works in a trip or two to see the Yankees every year.

And he is one talented organist. He’s played at weddings and used to play regularly at church, when things weren’t quite so hectic.

Jerry Felts, communications manager for Intergraph Process, Power & Marine in Huntsville, has known Seitz since his UNA days.

“I got married in rural south Alabama in 1992 and we were in dire need of a keyboard player,” Felts says. “On a lark I suggested to my fiancée that we let this young guy she barely knew be the organist for the biggest day of our lives. For some reason, she agreed to it.

"Until I walked out with my father for the ceremony, I had no idea if Greg could actually play -- and he plays barefoot, which cracked me up. But he was great.

“And I learned that day that if Greg Seitz tells you something, believe it."

Mark McCarter writes a weekly column for The Anniston Star. Contact him at markfmccarter@gmail.com, on Twitter @markmccarter.