Nevins and others say men's basketball is the obvious vehicle for such an effort, because creating a powerhouse football program would be financially impractical and because those are the two sports most likely to compete for the public's attention.
Students feel the need for a rallying point as well.
"It seems that students are struggling to find what the Towson experience really is and what it means," says Daniel Gross, editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper The Towerlight. "I do think that if some of our major sports, like the men's basketball program, were to turn around and become winning teams, school spirit would be restored and there would be fluent excitement throughout campus."
The idea of lifting a campus through athletics is not without critics. In a 2010 report, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which includes Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan, called for decreased spending on sports.
"The growing emphasis on winning games and increasing television market share feeds the spending escalation because of the unfounded yet persistent belief that devoting more dollars to sports programs leads to greater athletic success and thus to greater revenues," the Knight report says. "In fact, only a tiny number of college athletics programs actually reap the financial rewards that come from selling high-priced tickets and winning championships."
Such reservations aside, if so many parties agree that Towson needs winning teams, why have the results been so bad for so long?
The internal task force, led by Nevins and Gill, identified problems in funding, leadership, marketing and facilities.
Though Towson increased its athletic budget by more than $10 million between 2002 and 2010, the October report says, the university did not keep pace with CAA rivals such as Delaware, which increased its budget by $19 million in the same period, or Old Dominion, which added $17 million to its budget. Towson also ranks in the bottom quarter of the league in ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, coaching salaries and alumni contributions.
"It's more than just saying it," says CAA commissioner Tom Yeager, when asked if Towson could be the next VCU or George Mason. "Those programs have invested heavily in their athletic program for a long time. They [Towson] have that ability. It's a matter of committing resources, developing those resources and then supporting the program."
The report recommends that Towson, whose in-state tuition in $7,656, increase its athletic budget by at least $2 million and, in an ideal world, as much as $5 million. That kind of money isn't readily available given the current state budget climate. But Nevins says Towson should strive to fund most of the increase with ticket sales, sponsorships and alumni donations.
In Waddell, the university hired an athletic director whose specialty at the University of Cincinnati was marketing. Every time he speaks, he bursts forth with ideas about revamping the department's websites, crafting storylines for each program and catching the attention of the local sports market.
For all of Waddell's plans, however, Towson officials acknowledge a chicken-and-egg dilemma — new revenue streams would be much easier to tap if Towson's major teams won more games.
Caret and others thought they had the right man to lead a revival when they hired Pat Kennedy seven years ago. After all, Kennedy had recruited future NBA players and led three schools to NCAA tournament appearances. But Kennedy went 5-24 in his first season and 4-26 in his last, with nary a winning year in between.
After resigning, Kennedy said Towson's lack of tradition and modest budget (compared to CAA powers) made a turnaround difficult. He said the athletic department was at a "Division III type level" when he arrived.
Towson officials agreed with some of Kennedy's points but also came to believe they had hired a coach on the way down. They pledged to do the opposite when they sought Kennedy's replacement.
That's where Skerry comes in. University leaders say they have hired the kind of coach who will sell the basketball program relentlessly, not only to potential recruits but to students, alumni, sponsors and the broader community. They think he could be Towson's version of Jim Larranaga at George Mason or Brad Stevens at Butler.
"I haven't run into too many people who exude the kind of energy he does," Nevins says.
"He's a Boston blue-collar kid, and this is his first chance," Gill adds. "I think he's going to work at it 24/7."
Towson will pay Skerry an initial salary of $335,000, less than Larranaga, Stevens or VCU's Shaka Smart. But he will make more than Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor did last season and more than 11 other coaches who led their teams to the NCAA tournament, according to a database assembled by USA Today.