Todd Turner: Welcome to the University of Missouri. My name is Todd Turner. I’m the president of Collegiate Sports Associates and today on behalf of ADU, we’re going to speak with Jim Sterk, longtime athletic director at the Division I level and now the AD at the University of Missouri. Jim, thanks for hosting us.
Jim Sterk: Well, it’s great to have you here. It was great yesterday to have you talk to staff and coaches and just a really important time to… as they are developing their careers to have someone like yourself and Drew come…
…and talk to them.
Well, we enjoy doing that. And, you know, I spent a lot of time like you on campuses across America. I want to talk a little bit about your journey. And then I want to get into game day and what you’ve been doing this week. And you got the Gamecocks here and it’s 8:30 in the morning on Saturday before you play South Carolina, and you don’t kick off until three, and already the tailgaters are out there in force at 8:30 in the morning.
Yeah, they’re pretty dedicated.
So, a lot going on. So we’ll talk about that a little bit more. I’d like to know… you talked about our meeting with your staff yesterday, young people who are interested in progressing in the profession, talk a little bit about your journey, and in particular, people that enabled you to make good decisions and advance your career and maybe what you’ve learned from, from each of them.
Well, I was a… not a high-level college athlete but I… in the State of Washington and I was a high school coach afterwards and, and teacher; had gone to a basketball clinic; knew I didn’t want to… my principal was trying to get me to get my principal credentials. I didn’t… knew I didn’t want to be the vice principal in charge of discipline.
And I wanted to stay on the athletic side and so it was, look, at the University of Washington Marv Harshman’s last basketball clinic and Mike Luke was jogging around there, and I, I stopped him. I don’t know what… someone said, “Oh, there’s Mike Lude the athletic director,” and I asked him about master’s program at the University of Washington. At that time they didn’t have any and he had been at Kent State and he said, “You know, there’s two programs in the country at that time OhioU and UMass that had sports administration programs, you don’t have big time playing experience or coaching, that would be really good for you.” And so, my wife Debbie and I newly married and her best friend had just moved to Ohio. And we said, “Okay, well, let’s, let’s apply there.”
And I applied, and boy, you know, what a great decision. I was one of, I say the token West Coast guy that they let in because they only had let in a small amount of folks. And then from there, the collegiate side was opened up and I did my internship in Chapel Hill, had studied that. John Swofford was the AD at the time, had started off in tickets, and they had a ticket in internship open. I say, “Oh, so that’s not a bad way to go.” But he was a Rhodes Scholar, a little bit different than me but I thought that was a good place to go. So I interned at Chapel Hill.
Then my first collegiate job was at the University of Maine…
Wow, in Orono.
…as the ticket manager. In Orono.
I’ve been there.
Yeah, it’s… you… we always joke that you fell off the end of the earth after you pass to Orono and the University of Maine because there wasn’t much up in Rustic County.
But great, great experience and then had the good fortune of having a Kevin White come nine months into the… my job there and I could see that he was somebody that really was a professional, really was a driver, and, and started to jog just because… I’d never jogged before but Kevin was, as you know, a big jogger every day. And so, we started running. It was the only time that I could be with him. I wasn’t in meetings with him. I wasn’t in a high-enough level to be in meetings with him on a daily basis. But… so we just started… I was older because I had I started off later in my career. So he was… he has been huge in my life as far as giving me the confidence to, to, “Hey, Jim, this isn’t rocket science, you know. You work hard. You do the right things. And you can succeed in this.” And he had more confidence in me than I did in myself. And really, he kept saying, “I’m going to get a big job and, and I want you to come with me.” I ended up going out to Seattle Pacific for a year and then he was headed down to Maine and I think I had started the same day he did in Maine, I mean, at Tulane, sorry, from Maine.
So we went down to New Orleans and I worked there. He said, “Give me a couple good years in the Bayou and I’ll help you get a Big Sky AD job.” And ended up being four and I ended up… Portland State opened up and was moving from Division II to Division I and I was hired as the Athletics Director there. So that was my first, first job as an AD at… in 1995.
Wow. Wow. That’s a long time ago.
Yes. It was… I’m an, I’m an old guy.
You were like 14. You were 14 when you had that job.
No, no, no.
So, Mike Lude.
Kevin White who… those who don’t know, Kevin is the Athletics Director at Duke and has been AD and Notre Dame and Arizona State and Tulane in addition to Maine, a legacy AD. All those all those three gentlemen are all legacy people. What did you learn from… and you spoke a little bit about what you learned from Kevin. What did you learn from your time in North Carolina or from even just your casual interaction with Mike Lude?
Yeah, I think Mike was really impactful as far as pointing in the right direction. You know, he asked me my background. You know, what are you what are you looking to do? And I wanted to get my masters and there weren’t many programs, sports administration master’s program. And he sent me in the right direction and Doc Higgins at Ohio U, he was, he was a tough one. He’s retired from doing it but I think he’s still teaches there…
Yeah, he does.
…and he’s involved. And he was a great one, and really, really wrote us pretty good there and I did an internship there in their… in marketing and things that we… within the athletics program there. So I started to see what collegiate athletics was all about and, and then going and being at a place like, like North Carolina when John Swofford was there and he gave me the time of day and talked to me a little bit.
And I had done a paper on the impact of athletics and Patrick Ewing and Doug Flutie and, you know, those kind of people that had impact. And he, he really showed me that higher level, I guess, of intercollegiate athletics that I hadn’t ever been around before.
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. You know, young people come to you today. I’m sure they knock on your door. They did when I was an athletics director, and even today. And they say, “How do I get where you are?”
You know, what kind of advice do you give the young folks that are looking to move in this profession?
One, because of what Mike did for me, I always try to, if at all possible, I’d meet with him or talk to him on the phone and because he did that for me and gave me the time of day. And so, I try to do that each time I can. But I tell them, as far as getting in the doors is probably the most important, in doing an internship, getting, getting work experience so that people see what, what kind of a person you are, what kind of effort you put into your job. And then once you get in and especially staff in our department and others is to do a great job at what you’re doing or you’ll never move up.
And people a lot of times, I think, that, “Hey, I want to be the AD.” Well, you know, it’s, it’s a long haul to get there sometimes and, and, and maybe you don’t get that. So love what you’re doing. Take a job that you can feel really good about and the people that you’re working with, and pour yourself into it and, and have passion about it. And, and I think that’s the way to success.
Yeah, that’s great advice. You know, your career has been interesting. You… your first AD’s job was at Portland State and then from there to Washington State and then the PAC-10…
…where we had a chance to work together when I was in Washington.
So… and then you made the choice to, to go to San Diego State which is kind of unusual. You went from a Power Five program to a group of five program, what was your, your thought behind that?
So I had been at Washington State 10 years and that’s sometimes a long time…
…for an AD to have that tenure. I had a change of presidents, had a president retire two years earlier. And, and actually, what, what brought it to a head was, you have kids, my two oldest daughters suddenly I came back from a meeting and they were in my office and I really haven’t told the story to them, but they were in my office and, and I go, and they were looking sheepishly at me and I said, “What is this an intervention?” And they go, “Yeah.” That’s the word. And, and they said, “Dad, you know, we know you’re not happy. What’s going on? We’re big girls now. You can talk to us.” And, and so that weekend, we, we had a family meeting kind of just talked about it. And I get emotional talking about it because it was, it was important for all of us to talk and, and Pullman was our home. But I said, “I think I need to… look, things have changed.”
“I think I need to look elsewhere.” And we talked about it, prayed about it. And, and Monday morning, San Diego State opened up.
I call Debbie and… my wife Debbie and I said, “This is one I think we need to look at it.” We had been down there for the holiday bowl, so our girls loved it. They thought it was all, all the theme parks and Sea World and all that. And it was going to impact our youngest more because she was still in… going into high school and all that. So we… it took two, three months to get, get it done. But eventually it was there but I really studied it, thought it was, had an opportunity. They had done… had a student fee that I called basically our TV contract because it gave us enough resources to be… opportunity to be successful and, and they had gone through some issues. And so I felt like I could help them, help them move forward. And it was… I ended up… every day I looked out my window and there were palm trees and a pool. And I, for a farm kid from the State of Washington, I thought I was on vacation every day.
And I thought it was just the weather that took you there. But it was, it was family involved in that.
You know, that’s kind of an interesting thing. You know, in your career, it takes a lot of time. You know, having done it myself, I know, you know, you’re always on.
So involving your family in your work, has that been something that’s been constant throughout your career?
Yeah, and more and more as they got older, I was able to. And as you move up, you’re able to involve them, involve them more. And I always encourage folks to have their, their families around because they do… you do spend so much time in this. You know, I left… I got home last night at about 9:30 and, and then I left this morning at about 7:30 or 8 o’clock.
And I told Debbie, “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
We can, you know, we can spend some time and… but it’s been fun to be able to go to a women’s game and you got a 3-year-old running around the concourse or, you know, I’ve had that at Tulane.
And, and Just to be able to bring them around and then they love it. They, they went to bowls and actually our kids, you know, met at the bowl game…
They did, yeah.
…where the Rose Bowl hosted us and, and it’s neat. And they… my oldest is just into everything. When, when Washington State had game day there last year, my two daughters were front row. They had, you know, right there and I sent them there. I helped sponsor the trip a little bit so I sent them with the Mizzou flag.
Oh, good. That was a good idea.
So they had the Mizzou flag.
But they had to be there because they had grown up around it.
And, and it was such a big deal. So…
And they’ve got… they’ve got careers in sports.
Yeah, so my oldest was, was at Sacramento State and now she moved here about four months ago, but she was the assistant football ops and worked for Paul Wolfe and Jody Sears there and that had, had been at Washington State and they pulled her down there. And my middle daughter is at Central Florida working in their athletics program there and getting their MBA. So, yeah…
It’s a family deal.
Yeah, it’s a family deal.
I get it.
Yeah, yeah, you know, you know about it.
That’s great. So from San Diego State, you go to Missouri. Now, I want to talk a little bit about stakeholders.
You know, and people that influence your life and people that you have to pay attention. You have a lot of stakeholders that are part of intercollegiate athletics. Coming to Missouri, you know, where you didn’t really know anyone, what was your strategy to try to engage the stakeholders?
Well, I think it’s really important to see as many people as you can at the start. And, and at a place like the Mizzou, it is the flagship and what attracted me to this job after being in San Diego and then being in paradise and really on vacation every day, and, and they, you know, you led that search, you know, and it was, it was, it was important for, for me to feel like I could help. And, and they… agriculture is the largest industry in the state. I felt like my ag background had… could help. I think my other experiences in the PAC-10 at the time and at different levels and different jobs, I felt like I could, I could come here and, and help the program. Obviously, it was in, it was in the SEC and…
…in great shape. But they had had some issues. And so, I felt like I could, I could come and help, but… so it was important really then to engage as many people as we could so that they could, I think, at the time Brian White was here. I think he introduced me, “Here is Jim Sterk. He grew up on a dairy farm.” I think every almost meeting and around the state is…
You got a standing O, huh?
Yeah, exactly. But, but it’s really, you know, my experience at Washington State really helped me because here it’s, it’s one of the few schools that’s a research institution and it’s also a land grant institution, so it has extension and engagement around the state and every county of the state there are, there are Mizzou employees and workers around. And so, we, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to work with extension and, and that part, but also a lot of time in St. Louis and Kansas City and we’ve done some things to engage and we have an ambassador program from each of the counties. And so, I think that that was… it was important to reach out at that time.
Yeah. Good. You had an unusual occurrence in that you had an interim chancellor at the time who actually hired you.
So you came to Mizzou without knowing the most important stakeholder you got who would be your chancellor, your president, your boss. So what, what, what was your thought about that?
It was… it causes you… it caused me to pause and, and that, and I think Hand Foley was, was doing a great job and, and had hired a number of people like the vice chancellor for extension and I, and there were a number of us that were hired at that time. And we kind of banded together. We had… I think, initially disappointed that he wasn’t the one. He left and ended up doing, getting a presidency in New York. And I text him every once in a while now about certain things but, but a great guy and cared deeply about this place, but they ended up hiring a great individual in Alex Cartwright from Buffalo and, and he’s been a great one to partner with and work with, and I think he understands, allows me to do my job, but also… he’s there for resource and to strategize on a lot of the issues that we deal with. And so, we had a great, great working relationship and that, that ended up… it doesn’t always work out that way.
And so, it was a risk, but I felt like there were enough people on the committee, I just… you know, you got to get the right guy, or the right person here. And, and they, they really felt like they didn’t and I did… I now agree.
Well, you know, a lot of people would take Paul’s over that. I’m sure you did. But the decision you make… you made was, was good for you, good for Missouri. And, you know, here you are. So, it’s game day. You said you were up until 9:30 last night here at school, and then this morning back again early. And talk about your weekend and all the stakeholders that you’re going to interact with and what maybe you message is to them.
Well, we’re at the end of a university-wide campaign. And so, the campaign committee was on, on campus and we met with them all day. It’s directed by our central development, but I was involved and a lot of our key stakeholders are involved in that, and the ability to help move your program forward is relying upon people that want to invest in and help the university and athletics move forward. So spending time with them, talking about things. What’s the next big ideas that we, we want to tackle and, and how can we go about that?
We’re… we had yesterday, you met with some of our coaches and staff and professional development is really important and we want to… now that I got a few years here, I can, I caught my breath a little bit but to, to organize that and help our staff have opportunities that I had growing up in the business. So, then, it’s people coming from out of town, from all over the place, and we’ve got individuals coming from Dallas and I met with… had lunch with a couple from Atlanta and they only make one trip a year but support us in this significant way. And then we had reunions, the ‘69 Big Eight Champs and they played in the Orange Bowl and they were here, had 50 of their teammates all back together, which is, the Orange Bowl said they’ve never seen that many for a 50-year reunion.
And Dennis Pope was on that team.
No kidding, really?
You would know and just someone from the NCAA, I worked at the NCAA a long time. And so, great group there. Baseball had a golf tournament and reunion and they… they’re here. And then it starts right away this morning, the tailgate started 8 o’clock.
So we walk through and engaged with folks and just carry on conversation, what, what’s your strategy on game day?
Work with our Tiger Scholarship fund of who’s into town that we don’t get maybe a chance to see. I have a list of all the suites and club areas and who’s here this week that we might have a chance to talk to that we don’t normally, but then also the regulars that are key people that are invested heavily in what we do. And so, I try to, try to spend time, time with them. Try to see them early and then, at least, in the first half. And then, today, I don’t think I’m going to get up to the suite where I’m hosting some people probably until after halftime.
Yeah. And, you know, when I was in your role, I was always torn between really paying attention to what’s going on on the field…
…you know, and my responsibilities that dealt with the media or with, with fans or donors, trustees, etc. How do you balance all that?
Yeah, that’s a great one. I try to watch as much as I can too, and then, and then I try to record it so then maybe see it tonight…
…when I didn’t get to see, see the game. But yeah, you know, I’m doing the radio, pregame radio, show an hour before and it’s, it’s fun to see people engaged at that level and coming to and spending time at the university and we’re that conduit, and so, I take that role very seriously. And so we try to create a great atmosphere around in our South End Zone that we built that people are raving about it and really love the engagement points there. We have a huge club, a bunker club that’s at field level where the team goes through. And some things that, as I was in San Diego and we were starting to develop a football soccer stadium together, wanted to, as we, that South End Zone was starting, I told the architects, “Here’s what we want. We need to engage them at that level,” and that’s what I think will bring… continue to bring people to games.
Sure, yeah. So game is over. What’s your relationship and your plan when you sit down with a coach or do you?
You know, I try to see them right after and then…
Do you go to the locker room?
I do. I don’t ever go before the game but then afterwards I, I feel like I want to be there to support, win or lose, and, and just, just observe and I don’t say anything other than to the coaches and congratulate the kids and things like that, but I try to stay in the back and listen and listen and observe where are we. You know, we… when Barry first started, he was highly criticized, you know, we didn’t start very well. And I kept telling people, he’s got the locker room. They’re there. And they… there was a core group of players that really believed in what was going on and wanted to do better. And so, he had to build that culture too and it’s proved a point. And he’s been he’s been very successful, I think, most successful in his first three years since like Warren Powers here at Mizzou.
Yeah, great… great.
So it’s a really… we have good momentum that way.
You know, another group for your stakeholders are you students, and particularly your student athletes, I guess, I’m really talking about. So, in looking at the job that your coaching staff is doing, how much do you interact with your students to try to assess their experience?
That’s… probably not as much as I’d like to. And I need to do more. And I feel like I get pulled a lot and I… this year, I really have asked to, you know, schedule it so that I am going to all our leadership groups and throughout the year and throughout the week. And I do, sometimes I do have to rely on our key leaders, our leaders, our deputies and exec associates that, that are there. They’re, they’re assigned and they have that day to day with that sport. So that if I’m not there, then I, I can really… they can be the eyes and ears on what’s going on because I can’t be everywhere at once.
And a lot of times I get stuck in meetings across campus and things. So I rely on those staff to really be the conduit.
Yeah, I think one of the things I miss, the more I… responsibilities I took on, the further away from your students you got. And so, the informal interactions with students.
So you have interactions with the leadership…
…probably in some fashion. But informal, you know, having a lunch with a kid or, you know, bumping into them across campus…
…that became difficult, do you find that to be true?
Yeah. And, you know, almost have to schedule it. So we have a couple of different meal areas now with the South End Zone. So yesterday I had lunch in there and sat by the academic advisor as she was talking to the students as they were coming in.
And it was a way to just see, see them on a, on a basis I don’t normally. And then I go over to the other, other meal, our “Matsy” we call it, and be there around lunch and see, see them and just so they see me a little bit more.
But I need to do it. You know, it’s one area where I feel like I’m… I can really, really improve into that and that connection because you, you only have them for a few short years, you know, four short years and they come in as teenagers, leave as young adults, and you obviously want to hire and retain the people that are going to have the most impact and that’s the coaches and, and your staff around that sport. But you miss that, you know.
I’m sure you do.
And I missed it, yeah, when I coached high school and then moved out of it was, it was really hard.
Well, I can assure you that you’ve had a meaningful impact on the lives of those students, even though you don’t see him every day by hiring the good people and putting their priorities first. So I want to congratulate you on.
Oh, thank you.
And I want to thank you for taking time this morning on a busy day. Go beat the Gamecocks.
Yeah. All right, thank you.
And we’ll see another big Southeastern Conference football game a little later this afternoon.
Thanks, Jim Sterk.
Thanks, Todd. Thank you.
University of Missouri.