Below is the results of an interview between Richard White, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Bill O’Neill, the Associate Director of Athletics at Southwest Missouri State University. The interview was conducted in the spring of 2001.
Q: Can you describe a typical career path?
A: I served as a graduate assistant upon graduation in 1964 at Illinois State for two years. I got my master’s degree and was hired by Illinois State in 1966 as an instructor and assistant football and assistant wrestling coach. I began work on my doctorate that summer. I was there for three years working on my doctorate. In 1969, I resigned at Illinois State and went to Wisconsin State University as an assistant professor and an assistant coach for football, wrestling, and golf. Stayed there for one year, joined the staff at SMS as an assistant professor and assistant football coach. I got my doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado in 1973. I was promoted to associate professor. I was appointed assistant athletic director in 1981 and continued teaching and coaching. In 1986, I got out of coaching completely and went full-time administration. I still teach one class in physical education each spring. I have been teaching since 1966 and probably will until I retire.
Q: Do you have any insider tips on how to land a job?
A: Athletic Administration is tough. If I were a young person looking to get into administration, I think one thing you want to do is go on to graduate school. There are now programs in sports administration. If you want a realistic way into it, I would try to get an internship with the NCAA or some institution. There are a lot of opportunities out there. After an internship with either the school or the NCAA, opportunities will open up. You are not going to get a job in sports administration without some experience. If possible, some experience in coaching would definitely help. I don’t thing going into teaching and coaching is a sure fire way to get into administration, but getting that degree in sports management and maybe working for the NCAA in some fashion will open up some doors for you.
Q: What are some typical salary ranges for an athletic director?
A: Salary ranges for sports administration is probably the most variable in the business. A beginning person in the field will be lucky to make $25,000-$30,000. You have some athletic directors $250,000-$500,000. Not at this level of course, I am talking about the Division I level. You know, guys that work at Alabama or Texas. Obviously, experience plays into that too. You must remember at this institution Bill Rowe has been here 39 years, I have been here 36 years. When you serve an organization for many years, your salary will of course get up there. My starting salary here at SMS in 1970 was $10,500 for a nine-month job. My starting salary at Illinois State was $750 a month for a nine-month job.
Q: What are some essential skills and personalities for this job?
A: I think 1, you got to have communication, both oral and written. It would be very helpful, especially in this day of age, to have some sort of business background because you are always dealing with budgets. In addition to that, there are so many things to do. You have to have a personality that can handle the public. You are going to be involved with some aspect of fundraising. That is especially important here. You got to have leadership; I oversee 12 of the 21 sports. I handle all the scholarships and the budgets for the sports. You got to have a little patience and be a good listener. People are going to come to you with problems. I have staff members and students coming to me. Sometimes you have to sit and listen. The fundamental part of this job is that you can’t be afraid to make decisions. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Philosophically, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with making mistakes; all of us make mistakes. The biggest thing that we don’t want to do is admit that we make mistakes. But if we are willing to admit it and make the necessary changes to get it back on track, then I think you are an effective person in our jobs. But those of us who won’t do that, I think struggle, for what it is worth.
Q: Do you have any recommended education and training?
A: Anymore, one of the things that all young people need to look at are job descriptions. There are a number of sources. Each week, the NCAA comes out with The NCAA News, and in that news in the back is the job market. That has job openings and descriptions at schools. They are pretty specific on what they are looking for in the terms of qualifications and characteristics of people. In addition, The Chronicle of Higher Education has jobs. Occasionally, the National Association of Athletic Directors has job listings. Of course, just your contacts out in the world and people you know. A lot of jobs are never advertised anymore. Most of the time, with all the things going on in the world, we almost have to advertise the positions.
Q: What are some pros and cons of the position?
A: I like associating, I think what has kept me in it was my association with the students. Dealing with people, we do a lot of traveling. You meet a lot of great people here. Work with the community in a lot of different ways. You know the negative part of it is you got to be attuned to working a lot of hours, and there are a lot of times when you don’t see a day off. I can give you an example: a month ago, we had two soccer games on Friday night, we had a football game Saturday afternoon, two volleyball games on Saturday night, and two more soccer games on Sunday. It just goes on and on. And you know, do I have to be at all of the events? No. But, if they are in town I try to go to them. I do travel with the football team. I try to go as often as I can with the men’s basketball team on road games if that’s feasible. I try to make all the conference championships for all the sports that I oversee. I am responsible for all post-season travel for basketball and it gets to be, not the word burdensome, but time-consuming. You have to have a family and a wife that is willing to accept that you are going to be away. I don’t think it is any different from coaching, but sometimes there are more things to do in administration.
Q: What would you say the advancement opportunities are like in this position?
A: For example, you may start out as an Administrative Assistant and then the obvious steps are Administrative Assistant or an intern, to an Assistant Athletic Director position, to an Associate, to an Athletic Director. Frankly, if you want to move, upward mobility in this profession, like any other, means that you may have to change jobs often. It is something that I haven?t done. Why? I have enjoyed my career here. I never came to SMS here with the idea of staying here for more than a few years, but I enjoy the quality of living here. It is a growing and expanding University, and I have gotten to fulfill a lot of my lifetime aspirations, too; and I have been offered Athletic Director positions at other schools and I have not taken it. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do at the time. I have been offered Administrative positions at much larger Division I institutions, in fact making a quite a bit more money, and I have not done that. The question is why? Well, there are other things in life than money. My wife has a good job. One of my parents here had passed away and I didn’t want to leave my mother hanging. So I didn’t take those. Do I regret it? How can you regret something that you never had, so I don’t think so.
Q: What are some key professional affiliations for this field?
A: National Association of Football Coaches. I maintain that membership because it is something I like to belong to. I belong to a lot of teachers associations, but I am not active in them. I am active in a lot of things here, in the community as of clubs and service organizations. I am active in the Missouri Valley Conference. We have attended NCAA meetings, but we no longer have to do it anymore.
Q: Do you have any recommended readings for the Athletic Administration field?
A: I would always look at the NCAA News. If anything else, I talked about the National Association of Athletic Directors, and there are a lot of magazines that come out. Athletics Administration and Athletic Business are two of the ones I have seen. Those are essentially the ones that come out in our field. Keep up do date with any text in sports administration, you know, I haven’t seen many. It is a relatively new field and there are only about ten or twelve schools that have programs in sports administration. Ohio University, Ohio State University, Louisville has one. Some of them require experience in teaching and coaching before they let you in, some don’t. Some are very selective of people they let in. You have to be a strong student to get into those. Some people that get into those don’t have to have education degrees, but business backgrounds. If you look at a lot of Athletic Directors, they have business backgrounds.
J.R. White: Thank you for your time today, I really appreciate you talking to me.
Bill O’Neill: No problem. You better get an A on that one (laughs).
J.R. White: I hope so, thank you again.