COLUMN: Decisions Bjork made here should pay off at Ole Miss

Brad Stephens

Ross Bjork hasn’t had much time to take a breath in the past year.

Twelve months of resets, bowl snubs and Harper Heads culminated last month when WKU’s athletics director was named to the same job at the University of Mississippi.

Bjork will leave WKU for good on Wednesday, heading south to Ole Miss.

Life won’t be much easier when he gets down there.

Bjork will oversee a football program stuck in the same division of the Southeastern Conference as teams like Alabama and LSU, trying to compete with a smaller stadium and fewer resources.

He’ll oversee a men’s basketball program that has yet to reach the NCAA Tournament in four years under head coach Andy Kennedy.

And he’ll oversee an athletics program that’s both changed its mascot from Colonel Reb to Rebel Black Bear and edited the marching band song, “From Dixie With Love,” in recent years because of racial overtones.

As the youngest AD in the Football Bowl Subdivision, one might think the 39-year-old wouldn’t have the experience to manage the many sensitive situations at Ole Miss.

Perhaps that would’ve been the case, had he taken the job in March of 2011 as opposed to 2012.

But Bjork’s choices over the last year, both good and bad, have shaped a portfolio of sorts for a guy who wants to be an SEC AD.

“I think you get tested as a leader because of that, and I think that also makes you attractive to a situation like Ole Miss and an SEC program,” he said.

Of all the decisions Bjork made in his two years at WKU, he said he was most proud of coming up with head football coach Willie Taggart’s contract extension in December.

The deal increased Taggart’s annual salary from $225,000 to $475,000 in an effort to keep other schools from snatching him up.

As for a decision he’d like to have back?

It would be a certain phrase he used at a March 14, 2011, press conference to announce he was keeping head men’s basketball coach Ken McDonald.

“My wife counseled me to not use the word ‘reset,’ Bjork said. “But I did it anyway because I thought it was the most apropos description of what we had to do, because we had to start over, if you will, so that took up a life of its own.”

And so “Team Reset” was born.

Then came the 5-11 start, the declining attendance, McDonald’s firing, Ray Harper’s temporary promotion, Harper’s permanent promotion, an improbable Sun Belt Championship and hope for the future of WKU basketball.

So, in a roundabout way, Bjork’s regret ended up working itself out.

Along the way, Bjork also replaced a baseball coach, led the school’s first-ever FBS bowl campaign, fired a women’s basketball coach and looked to represent WKU’s position in bowl and conference realignment conversations.

It was pretty much a one-year crash course in how to be a big-time AD.

Bjork’s two years at WKU may not have been enough for him to leave the type of mark he could’ve had he stayed longer.

But the decisions he made at WKU have definitely left a mark on him.

“I was in the chair. I made the decisions,” Bjork said. “I had to do what was best for the program, and you can’t put a price tag on the experience level that those situations bring.”