Former DCHS alum moves to SEC AD position
Former Dodge City High alumnus Ross Bjork has the distinction of the being the youngest athletic director among Bowl Championship Series schools with his position at the University of Mississippi.
In the past two years, Bjork has gone from senior associate director-external relations at UCLA to athletic director at Western Kentucky to his current position of leading the Rebels' program starting last March. Bjork has learned a lot since his current career in intercollegiate sports at the University of Tulsa.
"The adjustment is just getting to know people and learning relationships and understanding the culture around the community and the university and understanding how things work," Bjork said. "I think it's about spending time with people and learning the upside at Ole Miss and learning how to get things done.
"Our number one goal is to have the best environment and we want to win championships in the SEC. If you win an SEC title, then that means you're going to be one of the top-ranked teams in the country. This is the best athletic conference there is and it's about graduating our student-athletes at a high rate and that we're compliant and following the rules."
Bjork said his job is to provide the best atmosphere and the most amount of resources that we can provide to his teams so they can be successful and then trying to get out of the way and let the coaches coach and the players play and go to class and do the things they are supposed to do on and off the court.
"We try to give the ingredients to help," Bjork said. "That can be facilities or budget or unique attributes academically around campus. It can be morale and attitude around the program or great academic advising."
One ingredient that is about to take place is the breaking of ground on a $12 million expansion of their football indoor practice facility. There are also projects around a new basketball arena and expansion and renovation of the football stadium. The university will spend $120-$130 million in upscaling the athletic complexes over the next five years.
Bjork said the move from Western Kentucky to Ole Miss was everything he expected it to be.
"The one thing about our business about college athletics are that the fundamentals are the same," Bjork said. "No matter where you are, the issues are the same, but the scale and volume of communication and the microscope of being in the SEC is a lot different.
"It's nothing that I'm not used to because I've been around big time programs; but when you're sitting in the chair as athletic director, you have a lot more things coming at you from a communications point that you have to deal with."
Bjork was interviewed in an Associated Press story after most of the college football teams had finished their regular seasons and coaches were being fired, including Auburn coach Gene Chizik less than two years after the Tigers won the national title.
Bjork said it's important for an athletic director to find a coach for each of Ole Miss' 18 sports programs under his watch that can build a successful athletic and academic system. One example he brought out was football head coach Hugh Freeze, who had turned the Arkansas State program from being a doormat to a 10-win season for the first time in 25 years.
"Coach Freeze has a unique background because he was a girls high school basketball head coach not that long ago (at Memphis Briarcrest). If you look at his past, he has been a winner everywhere he has gone," Bjork said. "The thing that he does is that he gets people to believe in his coaching ability and in the system that he is running and that they can do it from an attitude and effort standpoint. I think 90 percent of what we do in athletics is mental because everyone has pieces of talent to bring out, but the mental side is what he brings out.
"And an added value he brings out is that he is a great fit for the Ole Miss family and he is a natural leader. He grew up 45 miles away and has worked in Memphis and worked for the program before. It's just a great situation to work with him."