(Daily Camera (Boulder, CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 16--Rick George needs work on the golf course, but he's not likely to fit it in any time soon.
The Colorado athletic director recently shot a 94 in the 20th annual Count Casotti Classic at Pelican Lakes in Windsor, a fun tournament featuring CU personalities and media members that is named after former CU sports information director Fred Casotti.
George's high scores on the links are one of few areas in which he has fallen short of expectations in his first year as athletic director. He was hired one year ago this week away from his job as president of business operations for the Texas Rangers. Prior to that he ran the PGA Tour.
His first day on the job at CU was Aug. 12. While the 2013-14 school year, George's first at the helm, won't be remembered in the department for an abundance of Pac-12 Conference and national titles, it without doubt set the new standard when it comes to fundraising and progress made toward facilities improvements. That's a step which many believe will eventually help CU become more competitive in all sports.
"It's really been a blur honestly," George said. "It's gone so fast. I think we've accomplished a lot. We got the strategic plan done, which was important. We got the facilities kicked off. We've been focused so much on the fundraising because we know how important that is to build these facilities."
George and his team have raised more than $40 million in donations toward a $143 million facilities expansion and renovation project that is now underway in and around Folsom Field. The fundraising nearly tripled the previous record of about $15 million in the department for donations in one year.
George also has completed a three-year strategic plan for the department and continues to work on the plan looking forward over the next decade and beyond. He also saved the department approximately $1.6 million by tightening belts and refusing to approve expenditures that were not already in the budget. And he submitted a balanced budget for the first time in several years in planning for the 2014-15 school year.
Quickly raising the bar
Chancellor Phil DiStefano said recently he believes George took only one day off between the time he was hired and the holiday season at the end of the year and has continued a similar pace this year. No wonder he can't make a putt.
"It's fast-paced. It's quick," said Tom McGann, associate athletic director for game management and operations of working for George. "I call it cobra (adds striking sound effect). It's clear. It's concise. When he says something, do it."
Department insiders who were hired by George's predecessor, Mike Bohn, and now work hand-in-hand with George every day say the biggest difference in the department now is that George has enlarged the vision of the department.
Jim Senter, senior associate athletic director for external operations, said George forced everyone to look at what they were doing and how they were doing it and set lofty goals when going through the process last fall and winter of completing the strategic plan.
Now everyone in the department is focused on trying to raise the bar to meet the goals they helped establish for themselves.
"That has been a good exercise for us because in a lot of ways I think it has helped crystallize where we're at today, where we want to go in the future," Senter said. "It's great to know where you want to go. The question is, how are you going to get there? That has allowed us to develop some metrics for how we're all going to operate in terms of what we do, how we do it and evaluate are we making progress toward the end result?"
McGann said George has simplified things to some degree, including using a new accounting system in which profit and loss statements are included.
"We're starting to keep books, not like the state keeps books, but like real people and businesses keep books and we can show you where your money went ... and what revenue we can attribute for in the future," McGann said.
George said his biggest challenge moving forward is finding ways to generate more revenue for his department. He is hardly alone in that regard when it comes to athletic directors around the country, but he said CU has a lot of ground to make up compared to its Pac-12 partners and other similar schools around the nation.
"We're really low," George said. "We've got to change that. We've got to put more people in the football stadium."
George said he expects to sell more tickets in football this season than last, but he said the department really needs a dramatic jump in football attendance to really make an impact on the bottom line. He said he doesn't expect that to happen this year even though the goal in the strategic plan for the football program is reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2007.
"Rick is very business focused," said Cory Hilliard, associate athletic director for business operations. "So it's a different culture in that concept. With Mike, I think we had a position where we were looking at community development and growing relationships. With Rick, I think there is a good component of that but at the end of the day, it's all about revenue growth and keeping us competitive in that category. That to me is the biggest change."
George hasn't made changes in his senior leadership team. Most of the core group of upper-level administrators who worked for Bohn remain in their jobs nearly a year into George's tenure. The only changes are the addition of Lance Carl to that group in a position that didn't exist under Bohn and the departure in December of former compliance director Julie Manning, who moved to Wyoming to become senior women's administrator for the Cowboys. Her position at CU still hasn't been filled permanently.
"I've always been one that I've been really slow to do that," George said when asked why he hasn't made changes to the group. "Sometimes it's your priorities, too, and what your priorities are. Our priorities were to put together a strategic plan, get the facilities going and fundraising. That's really what we focused on.
"If you look at my history, I've never gone in and just wholesale fired a bunch of people. I'm not certain that's the way to do business. You've got to put the right people in the right seats doing the right function for the department and then if there are some weak links, either they won't keep up or at some point you will have to make changes. I'll say this, my predecessor, Mike, he had some really good hires."
First-year hardships, triumphs
In George's first year, 15 of the department's 17 programs participated in the the postseason. The Buffs were honored by their peers in the Pac-12 with the conference's humanitarian award, and the department graduated 83 percent of student-athletes who were scheduled to graduate.
George said his most difficult moments from his first year were dealing with the flood in Boulder in September that displaced some student-athletes from their residences and forced the cancellation of a home football game against Fresno State. George had been athletic director for a month at that point.
Rescheduling another football game later in the season against Charleston Southern was another accomplishment of which George said he is proud.
One of the first moves George made when he took on the challenge at CU was deciding he needed to donate his own money toward the project he was raising money for. In doing so, he set the tone and changed part of the culture in the department. At this point, more than $500,000 has been raised from athletic department employees including gifts from George and his three most high-profile coaches, Mike MacIntyre, Tad Boyle and Linda Lappe.
"He doesn't take no for an answer," said Ceal Barry, senior associate athletic director for internal operations and senior women's administrator. "That's for sure. I think particularly in moving forward with the things we need most, the facilities, he knows that's what his charge was when he was hired and he has pretty good single-minded focus. That is the biggest thing I've seen."
Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @KyleRingo.
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