Collegiate Sports Associates Founder & President Todd Turner moderates a conversation between Eastern Kentucky Athletic Director Matt Roan, Saint Mary’s Athletic Director Mike Matoso, and Cal Baptist Athletic Director Micah Parker on creating a culture and environment for success with limited resources. The trio of ADs discuss assessing the culture upon their arrival, implementing their own culture, tough decisions for a new AD, reallocating resources, and much more.
Success With Limited Resources: Eastern Kentucky’s Roan, Saint Mary’s Matoso, And Cal Baptist’s Parker
- - When you began your tenure as an AD, how did you assess the culture and prepare yourself to lead in that environment?
- - How did you implement your own style, set of values, and strategies after evaluating the current environment? (Parker & Matoso)
- - Did you have to make some tough decisions when you came in the new role?
- - Did you have to reallocate resources to make changes to change the culture and get it moving in the right direction?
- - How did you assess people’s performance with limited staff and possibly limited abilities to move them elsewhere? (Matoso)
- - How did your career path prepare you to become an AD?
Todd Turner: Good afternoon, I’m Todd Turner for ADU. I am the President of Collegiate Sports Associates, a consulting and executive search firm, serving Division I Athletics. And today, we’re joined by three very distinguished gentlemen who are athletics directors at some prestigious institutions. On my far right is Matt Roan, Matt’s at Nicholls State, Micah Parker from California Baptist and to my immediate right is Mike Matoso from Saint Mary’s. So good to have you guys with us today.
All of you have been in your jobs for a while, but when you first started you had to insert yourself into a new culture coming from outside. Talk a little bit about how you assess that culture and prepared yourself to lead in that environment.
Michael Matoso: I think for me coming in, having it been my second director of athletics position, I’d sent out a list of collections to everybody in the department to kind of assess the culture. What do you like? What about the job, about the college? Were there hurdles to your position? And really try to start picking out some different themes on what’s going right or some areas of improvement. I think it also gets some buy-in as you’re talking to your staff as well that they know that you’re not going to just coming guns ablaze and then making changes. That you need to kind of listen to figure out what’s going right, what are some areas that needs to improve upon.
TT: How they respond to that?
MM: Actually, really positive. Actually, it took a lot of time but I had individual meetings with every staff member in the department. So really, you could get a little even deeper dive into those areas especially that were for sure – for stress, for staff and as we all know change can be stressful, so trying to alleviate people, let them know that you care about them and you’re here to do what’s best for them and for the college.
TT: Micah, you’ve been at Cal Baptist for 11 years?
Micah Parker: Eleven years, yeah.
TT: So it’s been a while but what did you find when you walked in there and how did you assess the landscape?
MP: It was a little bit unique situation because they hadn’t had an AD for a year. The job was open for over a year. I did the questionnaire thing and I think that was good and helpful. I also asked our president and our VP and a couple other key campus people to give me names of people that I should call to say, “Hey, if you were starting the job as AD what would be some things you would need to watch out for sacred cows, make sure I didn’t kill any of those?” But then also, “Who would be the first three or four people you would contact if you were in my situation?” And it was interesting with a number of names kept on coming up no matter who I talked to. A number of names kept on coming up. So that helped me kind of come in to get to understand the culture of the university.
TT: Yeah, good. Good, yeah. Matt?
Matt Roan: I think if there’s one word that’s synonymous with South Louisiana, it’s culture, right? It’s a little bit different than anywhere else that I’ve ever lived and anywhere I’ve ever been. But some of the same things that we’ve heard this morning and these two gentlemen just pointed out that I wanted to come in and I needed to listen a lot. I was 32 years old when I was announced as the AD and so the last thing that I wanted to do was really fight the urge to be overzealous to make a name for myself. And I came in and I listened internally, I listened externally. And for us, I could tell very, very early on through the interview process, getting boots on the ground on campus that we needed to go a long way to establish trust or re-establish trust. That was internal and external to the department, so I thought listening was the most important thing that we could do.
TT: So and how long did you stay in that listening mode?
MR: I think we’re still in it. I have to be honest with you. I mean, I think any time that you have an opportunity like that we have to lead an athletics department, we play to peoples’ passions and you’re always listening to their wants and their desires and trying to make those changes. But at the same time, we had to show that we were going to be different, that we were going to be innovative and aggressive and have high energy. And so to be able to check off those low hanging fruits from time to time and to be able to show, “Hey, it’s a new day a new era” was very important for us.
TT: Yeah. And Micah, as you looked at the culture that existed, you probably had some ideas and opinions of how that might change. Were you able to implement your own style, your own set of values, your own set of strategies after doing that? And how long did that take for you to do that?
MP: It took about a year, I think, before we established this is what our mission is going to be and this is how we’re going to attain that mission. A lot of listening but also a lot of – I try to do a little digging into the history too of the athletic department for the last 10 years and then it’s also key to understand your president’s direction and where the president thinks the athletic department should go. And for us, I’ve had three different jobs at Cal Baptist, I’ve been the AD the whole time, but I was an NAIA AD, I was a Division II AD and now I’m a Division I AD. So very different jobs and very different ways in which I need to communicate to my department just because of the size of our department has changed so much to continually daily communicate that mission.
So, yeah, but I do think it took about a year and I think we all can say that we wanted to listen a lot and not do things quickly. I can honestly say that I probably did some things too quickly, because I wanted to get stuff going. If I had to do it all again, I’d probably slow down a little bit, maybe 50% of the things I did early on I would’ve just maybe slowed down the process, still doing it, but slow down the process a little bit.
TT: And Cal Baptist has such a distinctive culture as a campus. Did you have to assimilate yourself into that pretty carefully?
MP: I was the great fit for the university but when we talk about mission and who to bring in, I’ve hired over 100 people. We have 90 employees now, but I’ve hired over 100 people in 10 years. So understanding the unique mission of our university is key to that hiring process and that of course, your people is what makes your mission.
TT: And Mike, now before we went on air, we talked about these things. We were talking about if you had been promoted from within, the challenges that might create – talk about that from your view. What would that be like?
MM: I think it’s difficult to look into a situation where you had to pause and recreate yourself. You know, you don’t know that situation whether you have three or four other internal people that were going for the position. You now need to step into – and we could have other people now that were – you were supervising or they were supervising you, so now you need to step into that leadership position and establish yourself. So I think that could be a challenging position sometimes.
TT: I think all of us sort of agreed informally that that maybe is more difficult than coming in as an outsider.
MM: When you walk into like this situation, even specifically Saint Mary’s, I have relationships from my previous in the WCC, but I had the opportunity to basically come in, just with a clean slate in terms of what I want to do and establish that as I went along.
TT: Yeah, and part of your analysis is making sure you’ve got the right people in the right places. Did you have to make some tough decisions when you came in the new role?
MM: I did. Yeah, I think anyone does when they start this position and I said, strategically take advantage of those situations as I come, as you look at the big picture for your entire staff. I think I use an analogy of a 17-team and the staff, that’s what we are. We’re here to support the student athletes and the coaches. And if we’re not on the same page, it doesn’t jive with the coaches, so we have to make sure that we’re in sync, similar to – again, if there’s a discrepancy in the team and then argument with the coach or assistant coach or a student athlete, that you go behind closed doors, you resolve the issue and you come out on the same page. I think that’s really important. Something I really stress with our entire staff.
TT: So, how about you, guys? When you went to the new school, new role, assessing people’s performance and kind of making sure they’re in the right place on the bus.
TT: How much of your time was spent in doing that?
MP: For me, the first year was – that was a lot of time. And I told people upfront when I came in, we’re going to evaluate where they were and we’re going to evaluate our structure on who is going to be on what seat on the bus. And so, it took about a year. But with communication throughout that year on how everybody is doing and where I thought their strengths were, I think it went pretty good. But we’ve been in an evolving – we’ve been changing and evolving so much because of our growth. I feel like I’ve had to do that every year. I’ve had a year where I felt like, “Well, here we go. We’re set and this is what we’re doing.” We’ve always had to be changing because of our growth, so hopefully I’ve gotten better at doing – better at doing that year after year.
MR: We were kind of the same way. So I came into a little bit of a unique situation where my predecessor left middle of summer on 2016. I got hired in October of ‘16 and then by the time I arrived in November of ‘16, there was a lot of attrition. A lot of people concerned about, “Hey, what’s going to happen in this interim period?” Some financial concerns, all of that type of stuff. And so when I got there, we were – we were a shell of a department. Not really many people at all but – so I couldn’t necessarily come in and say, “Hey, we’re going to replace.” And so you observe, you evaluate. And I think any time that you place expectations on people, with a new vision, a new direction, some of that stuff just happens organically. They weed themselves out. And so, ultimately, once we got to the spring of ‘17 and really started planning for the ‘17, ‘18 season which was a special one for us, we had the right people. And then since that time, we’ve been able to add to it and had a lot of growth to complement that.
TT: Yeah and always in major programs – like every program, resources become a huge issue in making decisions about changes. Did you have to reallocate any of your resources to do some of the things that you needed to do to change the culture and get it moving into the direction you wanted to?
MR: So, I – the president who hired me, after about a year transition resigned and in transitioned into a different role, and so a new president came in and so I’ve had the chance to work for two presidents at Nicholls now. And so initially, it was take the resources that you have, what was vacated and build the team as best as you can and then fortunately, we’ve been very successful and lucky since Dr. Clune arrived on campus like I said in January of 2018 to have the support to try to grow this thing together. And so we’ve been fortunate in that way.
TT: In hiring new people, if you’re at a place where you’re growing so much, you got to develop your own resources. The universities got to provide for you. Did you have to compromise in any way and the talent that you were hiring because of resources? Particularly when you’re competing against larger schools with bigger budgets?
MP: I think there’s a little bit of that but that can be looked at as a blessing. I mean, I might be able – and I might not be able to hire the person that was going to get a salary at UCLA or USC, so that may mean I need to hire somebody that needs a little more grooming or a little more experience but you get to be the one that shapes that. And so, there might be some times when we hire somebody that’s a little – maybe a little younger or maybe doesn’t have the same resume as a Power Five school but you get to shape and be a part of that growth with that individual. And I think that helps your culture because you can – you can help shape them into what you want them to be and how they’re going to best fit your university whereas if you – sometimes, if it’s someone else that’s been at a bigger place, they might have their own preconceived notions on how things should be done and maybe that doesn’t work out so well.
TT: What did you find in your situation?
MM: Yeah, it’s the great thing about schools like us is that you have the opportunity to get so many different experiences. I’ve spent close to 18 years now and been major. I came in as an academic coordinator, moved over to compliance, got in, got my feet wet in the game as a sports supervision, so I have the opportunity to move within the organization. So I think the one thing that we can – if you’re not good at your job or school, it’s going to show right away because there’s no place to hide. We don’t have nine marketing people or nine sports information directors, it’s like you got to go and sometimes you get a little bit thrown into the fire but I think you get stronger from that. And again, I think the opportunity that we can allow people to grow professionally, it’s something that you can’t get at a Power Five school.
TT: How did you move – assess people’s performance with limited staff and maybe limited abilities to move them elsewhere? Did you make changes, did you mentor them? How did you – what did you do about that?
MM: I just watched them and their work. I think the one benefit I’ve had is really other than taping ankles, I’ve done every job in the department, you know? So really just sitting down and getting to know people, figuring out where their strengths are, then try to put them into those roles. I had a couple opportunities where people really weren’t even sure why they were coming in the office and then saying, “Listen, I’m actually going to give you this additional opportunity. I’m going to – you’re going to get a raise and a title change. So go prove to me that you can do this.” So I think it’s similar to a coach with a student athlete, building people up, letting them know that you’re there and giving them an opportunity to be successful.
TT: So all of you have achieved maybe an ultimate goal, which is to be a director for athletics, but you didn’t fall into those jobs, you evolved over time. Talk a little bit – this is a little off script but talk a little bit about your path and maybe how that prepared you for that AD job.
MM: Yeah, I started off, I was a Division II student athlete. Worked my way, played baseball at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, kind of fell into this after graduation and got my first full time job at University of Southern California, I was there for five years on the academic side, went to a similar position at University of San Diego, moved up from a coordinator to a director to assistant AD to associate to senior associate and was kind of ready to be an AD and was going through the process of interviews and just wasn’t getting the looks and an opportunity came up at Division II, so it kind of went full circle and took a – I kind of took a leap.
I left San Diego that I loved, it was a tough place to leave, I left Division I but what I found going back was coaches are still coaches, student athletes are still student athletes, the university’s still a university. So it was in a lot of ways a breath of fresh air and at that point as I started looking back at Division I opportunities, I was more I think at peace with the process of just letting it play through and not so worried about whether or not I got a job or not. I felt like I was in a good place and like hey, if this is where I’m supposed to be, this is where I’m supposed to be. I always felt like I could do this job, but I wasn’t. Once I kind of stopped worrying about it, it all just kind of fell into place.
TT: That’s great. Micah?
MP: For me, I was a basketball coach for 17 years, various levels, so I got to experience University of Nebraska, I got – as a director of basketball operations, I got to experience mid major at Drake University and then I also worked at a small Christian university, so I got to see really every level as a coach.
I think being a coach for that long has helped me in my relationship with coaches because I understand the anxieties and the uncertainties that they’re going through and I’m not coaching the athletes anymore, I wouldn’t say I’m coaching coaches but I’m alongside them and I can – because I’ve been one of them, I understand them a little bit more I think. But having worked at a smaller school too and you’ve done everything and worn every hat, I think that helps being at a school like ours because we can have some empathy for someone that’s maybe have four or five plates up in the air at the same time and then trying to help them focus on okay, I know you got all of these things going on but let’s prioritize those things and go from there, so my experience as a coach I think has helped me tremendously.
TT: Yeah, I expected. Matt?
MR: I think for me kind of the younger guy in the room and what I lack in quantity of years of experience, I think I make up with quality of years of experience but similar to him, I was a student athlete. As you can tell from my frame that I was a long-distance runner, just kidding. Played football for Virginia Tech for a couple years, then transferred to Southern Utah University and I’ve had great people kind of guide me and mentor me along my path and once I finished playing, I had the opportunity to go to law school at the University of Kentucky where I really – it was confirmed to me that I wanted to work with 18 to 22-year-old young men and young women and make an impact hopefully on their lives the same way that my coaches did for me and upon finishing up there, I had the chance to go back to my alma mater, Southern Utah, where a guy by the name of Mike Benson was the president who gave me an opportunity to really do it at the executive level right away.
I’m two weeks out of graduation from law school and I’m sitting with the VP for finance and administration and the provost and working on special projects for the president and I spent a year and a half with him there, then he asked me to come with him to Eastern Kentucky University where as we talked earlier, I have a chance to watch firsthand a guy like Mark Sandy do it the way that he does it and it’s always the right way and so really understood and loved the academy. it’s just rather than faculty and the student population at large, I’d rather work with coaches and student athletes and this opportunity presented itself at Nicholls and was kind of really a perfect meshing of that, of a smaller sized school with kind of a little bit of a chip on its shoulder and we knew that we could make an impact and have had a blast ever since.
TT: The one commonality I think all of you share is a variety of experiences, mentors and people that shaped you along the way and helped you into the state you’re in today where you’re making tough decisions and providing leadership and doing a really fine job, so thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I’m Todd Turner with Collegiate Sports Associates and this is for ADU. Thanks very much.