A busy homecoming

Sykes goes one-on-one with athletes during brief visit

FAMU’s new AD Tiffani-Dawn Sykes takes questions from the media during her homecoming visit.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

After less than a day in Tallahassee, Tiffani-Dawn Sykes can hardly wait to begin her role in earnest as the next vice president and athletic director at FAMU.

At the invitation of President Larry Robinson, Sykes spent most of last week at FAMU’s homecoming. She didn’t waste any time interacting with student-athletes who are in season, rolling up on campus before sunrise.

Her first stop was volleyball practice at 6 and at 6:30 she went to football practice. A half hour later, she was at strength and conditioning with the men’s basketball team.

Then, she was on time for the Capital City Chamber of Commerce homecoming breakfast, which started at 8 a.m. Later in the day, she made an appearance at the 220 Quarterback Club’s luncheon.

She obviously wasn’t bothered by her luggage not making it with her when she arrived on a flight at 10:20 p.m. last Tuesday.

“That invigorated me to want to hit the ground and get started as soon as I can,” Sykes said of time with the teams that she met early Wednesday. 

It was essential that she had the interactions, Sykes said.

“I think an athletic director really needs to understand the student-athlete experience so they could make decisions on behalf of the student-athletes,” she said. “There is no better way to do that than to be exposed and spending time with the student-athletes. That’s going to be a priority of mine as the athletic director.”

Sykes was introduced three weeks ago as FAMU’s next athletic director, replacing Kortne Gosha. She becomes only the second woman to serve in the position since Sarah Hill-Yates more than 30 years ago.

Sykes is currently an executive senior associate athletics director for varsity sports and the senior woman administrator at Dartmouth College. She begins at FAMU on Jan. 4, 2023.

Since being hired, Sykes said, several student-athletes have reached out to her by email. Those contacts and what she experienced on her first day in town was revealing, she said.

“The student-athletes are very passionate, very concerned, very invested and they found a way to make contact with me,” Sykes said. “I’m glad they’ve done so.”

Robinson obviously is impressed with the relationships Sykes has started with the teams and members of the 220 Quarterback Club.

“Hitting the ground running has taken on a new meaning with Miss Sykes,” said Robinson, who also attended the luncheon along with interim AD Mike Smith. “She met with three teams before sunrise. That shows you the level of enthusiasm she has.

“I felt a genuine desire to be here; something that you could feel and see and she expresses that in a way that people can connect with.”

Sykes was selected from a field of three finalists for what she calls her dream job.

“I had no doubts about her being able to come in and do this job,” he said. “She has 20 years of bona fide experience.”

Her homecoming visit was the third time that Sykes attended a FAMU game. She made her first trip to a game in 2009 after being unable to audit a doctorial class at a nearby state university. 

She recalled renting a car for the trip that turned out to be confirmation that she had to become AD at FAMU. She also remembers hearing the FAMU chant for the first time.

“When I heard it, I said I have to find a way to be a Rattler,” she said. “You have not experienced the best HBCU homecoming until you have experienced a FAMU homecoming.”

Before taking time to meet with members of the media, Sykes was serenaded with gifts. She gave a short speech that was interrupted with cheers.

“Everyone has been really great, continuing to affirm their support for the program even though there is a transition,” she said. “The thing about FAMU that I’ve learned is that they have a strong commitment to the university. So anyone could have been in this seat and they’ll be supporting at the level that they are supporting.”