Dissecting Driscoll

Tomorrow Driscoll will discuss the recent history and the future of the Cal athletic department, as well as plans to renovate Memorial Stadium.

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Editor's Note: Last week, Athletic Director John Kasser announced that he would resign at the end of this month to pursue a job with Pac-10 Properties. Associate Athletic Director Robert Driscoll was named interim athletic director while the university searches for a person to fill the permanent position, for which he is a candidate. Yesterday, Daily Cal Sports Editor Matt Duffy talked with Driscoll about the time he has spent at Cal and his future here. What follows is the first of a two-part interview that will conclude tomorrow.


Cal Staff Photos/Johnny Hawkins

Daily Californian: You have worked at Cal for 14 years as associate athletic director. Why have you stayed here despite offers of the athletic director position at other schools?

Robert Driscoll: I really have a love for this university because I've been here for so long. My wife graduated from Cal, my daughter is actually a junior here. I was in the Ph.D program for a couple of years. When you spend that amount of time at a place like this it really becomes a great big extended family. I'm from the East Coast originally and I'm the only person from my family that is on the West Coast. One of my concerns was I wouldn't have a sense of family. But Cal and everybody associated with Cal, the Bear Backers, the people I work with, the coaches, the student-athletes, are really an extension of my family. So spending 14 years in this environment feels like I have this great big family where people really care about each other.

DC: Did you expect John Kasser to step down when he did?

RD: I really didn't. I knew that John, a couple years ago, had signed a five-year contract and I didn't think he'd go the entire five years. But I didn't think he would resign in the middle of the semester. But this was a job that would come along once in a lifetime for him.

DC: How did you get involved with athletic administration?

RD: My goal as a young person was to be a professional athlete - an ice hockey player. So I went to (Ithaca College) to play ice hockey and study physical education. When I got out, I got a Master's Degree in sports psychology. I coached for six years as an ice hockey coach. I travelled to real glamorous places like North Bay, Ontario and stood in the rink for eight hours a day. I decided I couldn't see myself doing that at age 50. So I was an assistant athletic director at a school called Union College and I did that at the same time I was coaching and I just made a decision that I wanted to stay in athletics. But I didn't want to just coach, so I thought the best way that I could be effective was to be an athletic director. So I moved to California and I became the athletic director and chair of the physical education department at Mills College over in Oakland. I did that for six years and then moved over to Cal 14 years ago and have been here ever since.

DC: Being an athletic director is such a demanding, life-consuming job. Why would anyone want this job and why do you want this job?

RD: It's kind of who I am. It's not the kind of job you do for money. You do it for the passion of being around competitive people that really want to be the best that they can be. And I mentioned earlier my goal to be a professional athlete, so it was kind of my fabric as a young person. I've been doing this for 26 years professionally and I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. It's really rewarding to be part of something where you see young people grow, change, achieve their goals and then actually go out and have families and come back and still look at their athletic experiences as one of the great experiences in their lives. It's a seven-day a week, 24-hour a day job, but it's something that I really love. To get the job at Cal would be the culmination of my lifelong aspiration. What better place to be than at the No. 1 public institution in the country? This is the epitome of academic and athletic success.

DC: You were one of the candidates for the athletic director position seven years ago when John Kasser was hired. Do you feel you were ready for the job then?

RD: In my mind, I believed I was. I had been in the business for about 18 years at that point. I think the organization was different too. We hadn't built (Haas Pavilion), we hadn't had the kind of success across the board that we're having recently. The organization was less developed. I really believe things happen for a reason. I'm much more prepared now. There is so much I've learned in the last seven years that I didn't know then. But you don't know it when you don't know it. Yeah, I wanted the job, but it worked out really well because I got a chance to work with John, who was more seasoned in terms of the business side of the business. I learned a lot from that. Being the No. 2 person you get to sit in on all the meetings and you're really in a decision making position. But you really get to watch, pick and choose the direction you want to go in.

DC: What are some of the things you have learned over the last seven years working with John?

RD: I think what you learn is that you really have to have a vision. If you are going to be the athletic director, the leader, you can't get bogged down in day-to-day management issues. You have to surround yourself with the absolute best people. It's a big organization and you're only as good as the people around you. As the athletic director, you have to be the person who has the vision of where you are going to go over the next 10 years. And so you have to think more strategically than you do when it's a day-to-day operational job. You also have to make tough decisions. You get really close to people in this business and you have to realize that it is a business. You may have to let someone go that is a close, personal friend of yours and it is something that you can't take personally because it will eat you up.

DC: What are some of the qualities you bring to the table as potentially Cal's next athletic director? Obviously you know this department, this university, inside and out.

RD: I think I have a vision of where this place can be. It can be the premiere academic-athletic institution in the nation. I really believe that. I've been around the people here. We have unbelievable resources in people. I don't think somebody on the outside can really see that if they've never been in it. I think I bring an energy and a passion for it that's unsurpassed. And I really believe that I can outwork anybody that comes to the table. The thing that I bring to the table is truly a love for this place. It took me about 10 years to really understand the dynamics of it and this really is my love. This is not a stepping stone to something else. This is a place that I truly want to be, I have great relationships with people around here and I think the continuity of what we're doing is really important. Successful programs, if you look at them, there's continuity in leadership from the top down. And I think I would bring that to the table. All you've got to do is look at our track record over the last 10 years. We've done some pretty exciting things here.

DC: What are some of the things you've helped to accomplish here and what are some of the things you are most proud of?

RD: We went through a strategic planning process about seven years ago that has allowed us to do things like (Haas Pavilion). That has allowed us to hire coaches that truly fit into this organization and create a culture that our student-athletes can strive and grow in. I'm particularly proud of the relationships we've established within the academic community and really focusing on the graduation rates of our student-athletes. The fact that our overall program has never been cut during times of gender equity - we still have 27 varsity sports and if you look around the nation they're being cut smaller and smaller. We have the second largest number in the Pac-10 - Stanford has more. But if you look across the nation, we're probably in the top five percent.

DC: Do you think there needs to be more of an investment from the university in the athletic department?

RD: I think there's been a real good investment from the university to the department. I think the department needs to do a better job becoming more involved in the entire academic community. Just by our sheer nature and notoriety we kind of become an island unto ourselves. We need to do a better job working with the academic community. I'm convinced that if we do that, then they will understand the value we bring to the university in terms of being a window to the world. There's no other activity on this campus where you're going to get 76,000 people coming on campus. It's a wonderful vehicle to show the world and it's also a great opportunity for the campus community to rally around Cal.


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