Don Staley, new CEO and president at Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, thought he’d be a soccer coach forever. He survived the grueling profession for 25 years—a lifetime for some people—including 14 years at the University of Alabama.
But fate had other things in mind. Namely, his time ran out on that career path. Forced to reinvent himself, Staley has become a towering figure in Alabama events.
It’s been a decade since Staley stopped patrolling the sidelines. But you can’t take the coach out of Staley, who spent the past three years as executive director of Foley Sports Tourism Complex after building the sports events market at Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports.
Now back with the Tuscaloosa CVB, Staley will concentrate on more than sports in the home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. But he admits he will draw upon his in sports, both as a coach and as an events professional.
“I think the organization was looking for leadership,” says Staley, who briefly served as interim CEO during his first stint at the CVB. “I’m excited to be taking the baton from [former President and CEO] Gina Simpson, who did an amazing job here.”
“I’m really excited to dig into the arts,” says Staley. He likes the idea of using Pensacola, Florida’s gallery nights as a model to highlight Tuscaloosa’s nonfootball attributes.
Staley plans to follow the lead of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox. “He has a vision for an experience-based economy,” says Staley. “What that means is we want guests to come a day early and stay a day late to enjoy the opportunities here.”
That’s nothing new for Staley, who promoted Foley’s proximity to the beach, as well as deep-sea fish excursion and golfing, to draw events. “We’ll be doing the same thing here,” he says.
First up for Staley is reintroducing himself to the city he’s lived in more than any other. He is already soaking in the experience, taking the time to read historic markers along Tuscaloosa’s riverwalk recently.
He’s also planning to use the first 60 days to meet with residents and stakeholders to gauge their ideas. “I’m in what I call a gathering mode,” he says.