Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos and Faculty Athletics Representative Jo Potuto sit down with AthleticDirectorU to provide insights on synergy between the AD and FAR positions. Moos and Potuto chat about accountability, communication style and frequency, differing perspectives, and much more.
Successful AD And FAR Synergy: Nebraska’s Bill Moos And Jo Potuto
- - How would you define the accountability between the AD and the FAR?
- - What is the structure of communication between the AD and the FAR?
- - How do you utilize the unique perspective of your counterpart to move the mission of the institution forward?
- - For the FAR, what is the onboarding process for a new AD?
- - What is your dynamic with previous FARs? (Moos)
- - How do you keep the FAR abreast of major decision happening regarding the athletic department? (Moos)
- - How do you reconcile with tough conversations or disagreements? (Moos)
- - What are the campus-facing side of the FAR responsibilities? (Potuto)
- - How have your experiences on various committees informed how you operate as the FAR? (Potuto)
- - What is the value for creating a relationship with the FAR for aspiring ADs? (Moos)
- - What advice would you give to those in, or aspiring to hold, leadership roles to help understand the FAR role and the perspective of the institution? (Potuto)
Tai Brown: Greetings. This is Tai Brown with Athletic Director U. I’m joined here by Jo Potuto, who is the faculty athletic representative at University of Nebraska and Bill Moos who’s the Director of Athletics also at University of Nebraska. Greetings. Thanks for joining us.
Bill Moos: Thank you.
TB: Now, I have you two on because I want to talk about that dynamic between the FAR and the athletic director, essentially, focusing on what matters, right. So, the first question I have, and I want to ask both of you for your perspective on it is about the accountability dynamic between the AD and the FAR. Now, you’ve been an AD for 26 years and you’ve been in the FAR opposition for 20 years. So, you guys have been in different environments in terms of leadership and then working with different FARs and then you were working with different athletic directors. So, we’ll start with you, Bill, if you can tell me about the accountability between the FAR and the athletics director.
BM: Well, first of all, there has to be mutual respect. And I have a great deal of respect for Jo. I knew all about her long before I came to University of Nebraska.
TB: Hey, we all have respect.
BM: And she takes this very serious. I know that I can always be comfortable in getting good read from her. And we really discuss things along with our compliance people. And we’re very good in communicating, I think, with our coaches and others on the staff to make sure we make the right decisions that in the end are going to benefit the student athlete.
TB: Right, right. Jo, we want to talk about that accountability, dynamic between…
Jo Potuto: Yeah, I think, I think Bill said it very well. You cannot have accountability if you don’t have a good working relationship. You can’t have accountability unless you have a really strong respect and trust that, for me, the athletics director is going to be doing things the right way, and have the right set of values and perspective on things. And then it takes communication. And I think… and it takes, it takes being around in talking to each other and being, feeling free to raise any issue without worrying that the other side is going to feel offended. Both of us are pretty direct. And I love people who are direct. I think tact is nice, but it takes a whole lot more time.
TB: I agree with that actually. Now, in terms of communication, is there a formal cadence between the two of you or do you just randomly text or call? How have you structured that communication side?
BM: I might, I might start with that. I, I think it’s important to have one-on-one relationship with that faculty athletic representative and it’s been my practice through the years to have biweekly sessions. And I introduced that to Jo when I came to Nebraska. And in those sessions, sometimes it may last 10 minutes, sometimes it may last two hours. And it depends on what’s happening around campus and on the national scene and within the Big Ten conference. So, I really savor that time because out of the multitude of things that are on my plate, I like to get them off that plate for that time with Jo because at the end of the day, we sort things out that really have a tremendous impact on what our mission is as the faculty athletics rep and as my direct.
TB: Now, Jo, the five athletic directors you work for probably had different communication styles.
TB: So, tell me about how you’ve learned to balance whatever style was necessary.
JP: Well, my view is obviously the athletics director has to run the department. And I think it’s the job of the FAR to coordinate and work with whatever their personality is and however it is they think they can be most effective and efficient. And so, I’ve tried to do that with, you know, with everyone in terms of the formal structure. It’s been the same on the informal side from Bill Byrne, who was the first athletics director within my work to Bill Moos, and that is, I think, informal communication is also important. The formal times keep you up to date. They keep you on the same page. But if you’re going to have a real feel for how the other person works, and a good working relationship, you have to have informal times when there’s really no set agenda and where you can just raise anything. And the only thing I would add to the formal structure that Bill described was that, obviously, if an issue comes up, then there are more meetings and, you know, they trump or they, they’re additional to the meeting structure that’s in place. Yeah.
TB: I wonder if this is kind of specific to Jo, right. And you’ve worked with Jo long enough now. I’ve known Jo for a long time. And Jo, we’ll take you down a psychology, law rabbit hole if you allow that to happen, right, the, which I appreciate, right.
JP: I don’t even know what that means. Do you know what that means?
BM: I’ve been down that hole.
TB: Right, exactly. I actually appreciate that, that’s why I involve her in everything I do, right, because I appreciate that. In your meetings, your, your formal meetings, right, the biweekly. I guess that’s good, that’s keeping you informed and thing, if that happened while you’re talking to Jo and she’s giving you this brain thing that Jo does, that keeps you informed on things and in the direct communication, you know, how to use that information to move forward when you’re getting that free education that Jo can provide to?
BM: Well, Jo is very detailed.
BM: In depth; always has her homework done. She’s on top of the issues. Not every FAR is, is that way. So, we’re very, very blessed and fortunate there. So, we can get right to the meat of whatever we need to talk about and dissect it. And I all… many times come away with a little bit different view on things maybe sometimes Jo does as well.
BM: But again, I think it’s that respect of you sitting down at the table, discussing it and remembering that I don’t work for her. She doesn’t work for me.
TB: Oh, exactly.
BM: We both work for, on our case, the chancellor on our campus, and in the greater regard the university and that is a bottom line who we’re responsible to.
TB: Right. Accountability is important, right, like you just described it.
JP: Yeah, let me add. The one thing that I think probably is true, and I suspect that your experience certainly the FARs that I know is that athletics directors have tenure at a school sometimes for a very long time, but often, they move to other schools. The chancellors move on. The FARs, really, of that group tends to be the one who has the institutional memory and a better sense of who the people are on the campus and what the history was how, we got from here to there. And that’s what I think one thing that a FAR really can do to help an athletics director who may be new to the program and doesn’t know where, let’s say, the bodies are buried.
BM: Yeah, yeah, and, and I will, I will agree to that. I’ve really depended on Jo to get me the background and the setting of where I’m working right now. And not only has she been a faculty athletics representative for 20 years, but she’s been on that faculty and very, very prominent role. And so, she understands the basics of the University of Nebraska system and our campus specifically and that’s been very, very valuable to me.
TB: Right. Now, how did, how did that process go? The… this is for the lack of a better word with the onboarding process of the athletic director, right, from the FAR role with somebody who has the institutional knowledge. How did that process go?
JP: It’s onboarding both ways.
JP: I mean, I can bring the institutional history and, you know, actually a long history in terms of what, what’s gone on in the athletics department. But Bill brings many, many, many years and experience running major programs. And so… and a different style. So, it’s onboarding both ways. And it’s… I don’t know how you would describe it. I think it’s kind of, you know, feeling your way at the beginning.
JP: And then as you feel more comfortable with the person getting a little more comfortable with the person.
TB: And in your, in your role as athletics director and the stops you’ve been before here, has the, I guess, the relationships are different with everyone, but has there… has the dynamic been the same or tell me about the previous dynamics with faculty athletic representatives.
BM: I always have had good relationships, the communication piece, probably as good here as anywhere I’ve been. And again, this is still kind of wrapping up a learning process. You never really stop learning. But I had to learn not only about the institution, but also the Big Ten conference. And I’d spent most of my time in the Pac-12, knew it very well, knew the players, knew the commissioners, all of that. But I had to learn all, all of these folks in the Big Ten as well. And Jo has been very helpful in that regard. And I’ve felt that was very valuable and I’m still learning about them even today.
TB: All right. Now, the decision-making process, major decisions and that biweekly meeting is when you’re, when you’re contemplating a major decision that will affect student athletes or obviously the department, that’s something that is included in the conversations you make when it, when it, I guess, when it’s appropriate.
BM: Well, as complex as these jobs can be at the end of the day, yes, we’re responsible to the university, but our charge is the student athletes. And they are just that, they’re students first, athletes second. And to make sure, I’ve always felt that they reach their potential both in the field of competition and in the classroom, and also have experience that they’ll savor the rest of their lives. And when you sort all the other things out of the way and look at it, practically like that, then our conversations can be somewhat smooth, because we’re on the same page.
TB: Yeah. And that’s basically the topic, right.
JP: I agree, absolutely. Yeah.
TB: That’s, that’s the topic right, focusing on what matters and there is, like you said, there is a ton of decisions you got to make in terms of finances, in terms of a bunch of different things. But my assumption about this relationship, and from what I know about Jo here is that at some point in the conversation, it’s going to circle back around so, “Okay, look, is this good for the people we represent?” right, yeah?
TB: Excellent. I wonder, in terms of the FAR and AD relationship, and this is, come from both of you in terms of your careers and experiences, has there been times when it’s a challenge, when it gets challenging, right? Is there a strained relationship or even tough conversations because something as if, now, you got to lower your own hands, right? But as an FAR where, you know, obviously, they’re looking, thinking academically, they can, you know, how does it benefit as AD you think, “Hey, this benefits them also, the decision we want to make,” how do you reconcile when, obviously, the two sides are… there’s not an agreement and you have to figure out a way to move forward?
BM: Well, I think it gets back, again, to the respect, the mutual respect and, and I depend on Jo because in my, in my past, I’ve had faculty athletics representative that was an attorney as well, taught in the law school.
BM: And I feel very, very fortunate to have that approach. When we’re talking about things today in an industry that has gotten very big and very complex, there are issues that need to be looked at very, very closely. And not just from, “Hey, is this right? Is this right? We’re always going to go down that road, but what’s our liability and here and there?” and that’s been very invaluable in regards to having Jo at the table when we’re having these conversations. I value that a lot.
TB: Jo, a question for you. And most of this conversation has been about the athletics facing side in terms of responsibilities of an FAR, but what about the campus facing side, tell me about the process of informing and educating or reporting, I guess, to the president in terms of the FAR?
JP: Well, when I first became FAR at Nebraska, a FAR who had many years’ experience took me aside and said, “You’re going to have to translate the campus to athletics and you’re going to have to translate the athletics to the campus because in fundamental ways, they talk a different language.” And that has turned out to be really true. I think from the campus side, the faculty and administrators on campus have to have confidence that the athletics department is being run well, being run ethically and with the right values. And if they don’t have that, that relationship is going to go south as you can’t fix it.
JP: If they have that confidence, then the job of the FAR is to be sure that the right people on campus are kept informed. We have an intercollegiate athletics committee at Nebraska. Every university has some version of that. And I think it’s really important if there’s an issue that’s percolating in athletics, maybe even a problem to let that committee know, because they can be helpful in thinking about it. But it’s also helpful because it lets them know that nobody is trying to hide something or, you know, close them off. So, I really think that communication with the campus, regular communication and that requires knowing who it is that you should be talking to, which is why FARs tend to have, you know, you don’t get, you don’t come to a campus on day one and get appointed day two. Because you need to know, you know, where the, you know, and what they say in recruiting, “You have to know who’s running whether it’s mom or dad or grandma, you need to know that on campus too,” you know who the people are that really need to be kept informed, or who the people are who don’t need to be kept informed but they’re going to be problems if they don’t feel that they’re part of the system.
TB: Yeah, right.
JP: So, you got to be able to do that too.
TB: Excellent, excellent information. Now, Jo, you bring, also bring a perspective of having served on some pretty influential committees. And, and how did… how has that and does that inform your, how you operate as the FAR?
JP: Well, that’s been… I think it’s been really very helpful. I was on the Management Council, which of course is the precursor of the council, that was really useful in terms of not only seeing how the legislative process worked and how all the little committees fit, but also is very useful because he gave the opportunity to meet a lot of people in athletics in all different roles and a lot of people in the NCAA office, and you’re always better when you’re doing something to know the people and have them know you. The other committee that’s been invaluable with the infractions committee, because I not… I have a, you know, not only do I have a sense of what the bylaws are, but I have a really good sense of how that process works and how you have to work both on campus and in interacting with the enforcement staff if you’re ever have an issue, and I think that’s been really, I hope, Bill agrees, but I think from my perspective been incredibly helpful.
TB: I’ll ask two more questions here kind of an advice, advice role in terms of the FAR and athletic director, for you, Bill, for the people coming up that want to be an athletic director, is there value in getting to know the FAR at the institution that they’re at? I mean, is that something that happens in terms of whether it’s deputy, senior associate, associates, anything like that.
BM: And by all means and very proud that I think at last count I have seven Division I athletic directors in my tree. I guess that may just mean I’m old. But I’m proud of that and that I got to be a mentor to them. And one of the things that I really emphasized and some we touched on already is to step away from it and, and realize why we’re in the roles we are and to have a good relationship with your faculty athletics representative, because they’re going to have a view from a little bit different angle. They’re going to have a real good feel for the campus structure and, and the feeling of the upper administration. And don’t build fences around yourself. Make sure you’re embracing and welcoming to those individuals because they have a passion for what we’re doing as well. And if it’s utilized properly, you’re just going to be that much better.
TB: And that’s, that’s probably good advice no matter what role you’re in, in an athletics department.
TB: If you can get access. I mean, if, you know, you got to do the job or that kind of thing. Jo, any advice for those in athletics, in terms of the relationships with the FAR, in terms of operating from a point of focusing on with matters and just the thought process of people who are coming up who are in current leadership roles, or people who are coming up in leadership in college athletics?
JP: I don’t know that I would say I would give advice. I mean, I think they get better advice if they’ve got a good athletics director than I could give. I’m on the outside looking in in that sense.
JP: But if I had anything, I guess, to say, it seems to me that the more that they know how their operation within athletics works, the more they understand how a campus works, the more they understand how the NCAA works, the better off they’re going to be. And I think of those three parts, probably, I think, Bill may have a different view. I think the hardest part for them is the campus. Faculty do not operate the way, I think, most people operate.
JP: I think we have a different way of looking at things. And if you haven’t been a faculty member, I think it’s sometimes hard to understand what in the world we’re up to. So I think that would be something you know, the advice I would give is to not necessarily seek out the FAR but know what that role is, and really pattern if they have a good AD, to really pattern and learn from what that athletics director does.
TB: Well, this has been an excellent conversation. I really appreciate you guys joining us here on Athletic Director U.
BM: Thank you.
TB: That was Bill Moos. He’s a director of athletics at University of Nebraska; and Jo Potuto, who’s a faculty athletics representative also at University of Nebraska. And of course, I’m Tai Brown with Athletic Director U. And keep in mind, the role of a leader is to create and maintain an environment that people want to be a part of. And as always, be better tomorrow than you are today.