Extras from Bjork, UCLA AD Guerrero about Wooden

M. Blake Harrison

Below is a transcript of an e-mail by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero about a Dec. 3 story regarding WKU athletic director Ross Bjork and his relationship with former UCLA coach John Wooden.

Wooden’s approach.

Coach Wooden’s life teachings are integrally involved in the fabric of our athletic program at UCLA. The establishment of the Wooden Academy for student-athletes, which, among other things, brings back alumni to lecture to our student-athletes about the various aspects of the Pyramid of Success and his other teachings, is the cornerstone of our student-athlete development programming.

It is powerful stuff, to say the least…and all of us who knew Coach, attended UCLA or were influenced by him in some way, feel a unique kinship to him. Ross and I visited Coach at numerous times at his condo in Encino. We also saw him at many UCLA events and games, or had breakfast with him at his favorite diner, VIP’s. In many of our conversations, Coach offered sage advice by not giving advice. He never wanted to tell me what he thought I should do in solving a problem or making a decision. He was a master at framing and talking through the issue to the point that the decision became either very clear to me, or it required more due diligence on my part before I rendered a decision. Ross often had the benefit of being a party to this interaction. It was often profound and precious conversation.

I have always believed that it is critically important to truly understand the problem before seeking a solution. When this is evident, I will choose to be deliberate. On the other hand, our business is dynamic and ever-changing and may often require the AD to move swiftly. Since Ross was a member of the senior staff, he was engaged in a number of important issues and decisions. He had the benefit of seeing it done in both ways.

Taking the approach to heart…

Ross is a very intelligent individual and a real student of our business. It took me 6 months to hire the right person for the job when I first created the Sr. Associate AD for External Relations. I was looking for someone who wanted to be “in the Chair” (As Athletic Director) at some point in time in his/her career. The hiring of a 33 year old for this critical position was a big step for me and initially raised some eyebrows around Westwood. But I knew I had the right person.

Ethical, hard working, mature beyond his years and a tremendous background at BCS institutions prior to his coming to UCLA. We had a collective vision for how to grow the revenue base in the UCLA Athletic Department and we move forward with a plan to make it work…and it did.

When I hired him, I indicated that he would be ready to take the next step in 4 to 5 years…and that is exactly what happened. He left our External Relations area in a good place, which is where I thought it should be…

UCLA family and pedigree…

One thing about Ross is that when he commits, he and his family, are “all in”. He is affable and was able to transition to the UCLA family very easily. He made a great deal of friends while here at UCLA…friends that he will have for a lifetime.

Difference between Ross today than before…

It is very important that everyone in an organization has a clear understanding of the mission of the organization and the core or guiding principals that will govern how that organization should function. My role as Athletic Director is to constantly articulate this to our administrators, staff, coaches and student-athletes (as well as other constituents), so there is no ambiguity as to what is deemed critical for the overall conduct of our program. My management philosophy is to hire talented, principled people, give them the road map and expectations…and let them manage their areas. As such, I provided Ross with a very expansive span of control, that required strong organizational and communicative skills. My role was to articulate the vision and allow him to implement with his staff, always with my support and guidance as needed.

This allowed him to grow as a manager, learning both through adversity and professional victories. I allowed, and encouraged him to be involved in national organizations, knowing that it would help both UCLA and his own professional career. He became an officer of his national professional organization, allowing him to present at conferences and conventions and to build a strong national network. I knew that this would benefit him personally as his career advanced.

While always confident in his abilities, Ross was able to grow personally and professionally on one of the most prestigious and visible stages in the intercollegiate athletic community. He did a great job at UCLA and will do a great job a WKU.

And some extras from Ross Bjork:

What was the biggest benefit of being around Coach Wooden?

Probably the biggest benefit would be that definition of success, and knowing that it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work hard, see things through and have a plan. You just have to try your best. If you make mistakes, overcome them, don’t let them happen again and continue to just do things the right way. I’m so fortunate — me personally and our family — that we had a chance to be around UCLA, which meant we were around John Wooden.

Where does he rank in terms of people who helped mold Ross Bjork, the administrator?

He’s definitely one or two on the list, and really No. 1 in terms of all these teachable moments. Because I didn’t see him daily, I learned a lot from other people from that standpoint, but in terms of the big picture — aspects of how to live and be successful — he would definitely be No. 1.

Is there anything you know about him that the general public might not?

He loved gymnastics. He loved the UCLA gymnastics program probably more than just about anything expect his family and his former players. He was a bigger baseball fan than he was basketball. The guy ate … and did not eat healthy at all. Every morning, he’d have bacon and eggs and he would come to basketball games and had to have popcorn and hot dog … he could eat.