By JOEL COLEMAN
Duncan McKenzie loves Mississippi State. That much has been apparent as the Starkville native has managed the finances for MSU athletics over the last 28-plus years.
After spending nearly three decades deciding when the Bulldogs should spend and when the checkbook should stay closed though, McKenzie has finally decided it’s time to move on to focus on things even more important in his life
Next week, McKenzie retires from Mississippi State, the school where he played as a tight end on the football team from 1974-77 before eventually rising to his post as an executive associate athletic director. As one chapter of Mckenzie’s life closes though, another exciting one opens.
“I’ve done this 28 and a half years and I want to spend more time with my wife and hopefully my two sons,” McKenzie said. “They’re both grown now, but I want to spend time with them. I love my wife and she’s my best friend so I kind of want to do all that and just see what opportunities God has for us.”
McKenzie leaves behind big shoes for MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin to fill. Since Stricklin became the head man of State’s athletic department six years ago, McKenzie has been right by his side.
“I like spending money and Duncan was always the guy that told me I couldn’t, so I’ve got to find another guy to help keep me from spending money,” Stricklin said.
Stricklin’s respect for McKenzie runs deep. It goes far beyond agreeing to or disputing potential purchases or expenditures. Stricklin says whenever he had a question or concern, McKenzie was right there to lean on.
“Duncan is such a steadying influence professionally, but then just as a person,” Stricklin said. “He’s got a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience. Those things usually go hand in hand. He’s just a salt-of-the-earth guy and has great values. The financial piece is pretty important and I never worried if things were being managed there the right way or not because I knew Duncan and trusted him and his character and his talents in that area. He’s going to be a hard guy to replace.”
Whoever takes over McKenzie’s role will have a challenge in front of them as they strive to masterfully run MSU’s budget the way McKenzie has. The Bulldogs are near the bottom of the SEC in terms of annual budget. During McKenzie’s tenure, that rarely slowed State down. It’s that success that sticks with McKenzie.
“Having one of the smallest budgets in the conference and still being able to compete and win championships has been really neat,” McKenzie said. “We’ve just always tried to compete in this conference which is really tough. Finding ways to spend money wisely has been the main thing we’ve tried to focus on.”
McKenzie’s influence can be seen wherever one looks around the MSU campus. Stricklin says there hasn’t been a stadium expansion or facility renovation that hasn’t had McKenzie’s fingerprints on it.
“There’s not a facility project where I didn’t have several conversations with Duncan leading up to the decision to move forward on it,” Stricklin said. “Oftentimes, he helped really craft the way we did it and make sure that it was beneficial to Mississippi State.”
For McKenzie, all the winning and facility growth over the course of his career has been great. He says it’s only topped by the relationships he’s gotten to build over time.
“It’s really the people,” McKenzie said. “The people that I work with are just wonderful people. I’ve just really been blessed to have people to help me along the way.”
One of his friends is the athletic director that now must look for his replacement. Even though Stricklin will soon put a new man in charge of MSU’s money, he says he’ll still be contacting McKenzie for advice from time to time.
“He needs to keep his phone and keep it on him because I’ll be calling him,” Stricklin said.
The good thing about retirement though is that McKenzie no longer has to pick up.
“I’ll check my caller ID first before I answer,” McKenzie said.