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Letter To My Former Self: NCAA's Gragg

By Derrick Gragg, NCAA

Always Pay The Price

Derrick Gragg
Director of Compliance & Operations
University of Missouri


Dear Derrick,


As you contemplate your next move, I want to share a few things that will be helpful as you begin to navigate your journey that will hopefully lead to the Athletic Director’s chair.


First and foremost, remember that student-athletes will always be the most important people you encounter during your career; treat them with the utmost respect. You will reap many benefits throughout your life because of your own time playing sports in college, and you should work to pay forward all that you have gained from that experience to the next generation of student athletes. Being a sports administrator means that you are a partner and ally to the athlete, and you should always remember that you serve them, and that they are the only priority that matters.


Likewise, the many coaches that you will encounter and work with are the other critical key to success in our business. Always support, guide and stand by them all the while stressing integrity and accountability. And if things become uncertain and difficult decisions weigh heavily on your heart, remember that the values of the coach should align with that of the institution, and not the other way around.


You will have the privilege of working for and being mentored by some of the most iconic coaches and administrators in the history of college sport – Frank Broyles, Nolan Richardson, Lloyd Carr, Gene Smith, Carol Hutchins, Joe Castiglione, Bev Lewis – who will be known for their commitment to educating, training, promoting and propelling their top assistants into executive roles. Be sure to genuinely CONNECT with the highly-respected giants in this business that you will meet and work for. They are role models who will continue to inspire you throughout your entire career, and you must stand upon their shoulders to build an even better industry and provide even more opportunities for student-athletes.


Although you are working in compliance and internal administration right now, do not allow yourself to be pigeon-holed in these areas. Start to seek positions that require external expertise – such as marketing and fundraising – as soon as you can. If you want to be an athletic director one day, you will be required to have a wide range of experiences and skills across a number of different verticals, and most importantly the ability to adapt to an industry that will undergo continuous change. You and your colleagues will face challenges you cannot even begin to imagine, and the only way you can prepare yourself is to become as well-rounded as possible.


As you continue to ascend in the profession, you will also be involved in high-profile, career-threatening situations like serious NCAA violations committed by people who are not committed to integrity and student-athlete well-being. Stay focused and make decisions that are based on honesty and transparency. In other words, make decisions that are based on your core values and that allow you to sleep at night. You will never go wrong if you do this. Humble yourself and again, ALWAYS remember that the Student-Athletes are the primary focus. So treat them with the same respect that you expect from others. Lastly, keep everything in perspective and always remember that there are some things more important than your job. Don’t miss out on your life, your family and your health and welfare giving your all to your career.


Legendary basketball coach John Wooden (who you will get to meet in person one day) once said, “People usually know what they need to do to get what they want. They just won’t do it. They won’t pay the price.”


Always pay the price! Good luck and Godspeed young man, I am rooting for you!



Dr. Derrick Gragg,
NCAA Senior Vice President
Inclusion, Education & Community Engagement