Bjork Outlines Vision, Goals For Aggie Athletics
Ross Bjork, who in one month takes over as director of Texas A&M University Athletics, said goodbye to his football career decades ago, but recently admitted that he remains a fullback at his core.
Needing to possess equal parts raw athletic skill as a runner or receiver and tenacity as a lead blocker shaped his approach to athletics administration: take on diverse and multiple responsibilities, while approaching each with a high level of attitude and effort.
“We’re going to work hard. That’s going to take some energy,” Bjork said about his new assignment during a press conference following a welcome event at Kyle Field. “Again it’s not a job — it’s a lifestyle, so you have to have energy to do that. I have a positive attitude. I played Division II fullback. That’s not an easy position or an easy level to play at.”
He expects his staff to take this same approach.
“Here’s my belief: everyone in athletics can be an academic advisor,” Bjork said during his welcome event remarks Monday at Kyle Field. “We can always ask our student-athletes how classes are going. We are all compliance officers and we can all help sell a ticket. The logo never comes off and that’s my belief in athletics staff.”
Bjork’s announced his ambition to make Texas A&M No. 1 in the country in athletics and in the classroom, saying his biggest hurdle when he officially takes on his new role June 8 is finding out how to prioritize his time.
“The main challenge I see early on is not having enough time in the day to fit it all in,” Bjork said. “Until I figure it all out in Aggieland, my best answer is, I will go anywhere and do anything to help move Texas A&M athletics forward in a positive direction while following our core values.”
An active member of the community
During Bjork’s welcome event, Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said financial stability, the integration of athletics into the broader university and improvements to facilities were “hallmarks of his tenure” at the University of Mississippi, where Bjork served as athletic director since 2012 before accepting the Texas A&M role.
To be effective in each of those areas, Bjork understands he’ll need to be active in the community.
“I think as the athletic director, wherever I can provide value, whether that’s showing up to a swim meet, football game, basketball game or donor event, I want to be there,” Bjork said. “I want to be actively involved in everything that we do. This is not an 8 to 5 job. This is a lifestyle. You’ll see my family at events. I think having that presence builds confidence among your fans and supporters, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Raising the academic bar
Ole Miss athletic programs experienced their best academic years in school history during Bjork’s tenure were, including the top two best years in 2017 and 2018. He credits some of the success to a “bridge” program for all new incoming student-athletes and transfers to help them get acclimated to campus.
“We forged strong relationships with our student-athletes and had an intentional plan to allocate resources to ensure academic success,” Bjork said. “After assessing Texas A&M’s current approach to student success, we will work together in developing a plan to continue seeing improvement in the overall GPA and graduation rates.”
Last year more than 300 of the 600-plus Texas A&M student-athletes were placed on the AD honor roll after earning a fall semester GPA of 3.0 and above.
— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) June 3, 2019
Bjork outlined his essential duties as athletic director: staff development, ensuring student-athlete wellbeing, mentorship and fundraising.
“I must be involved in external resource acquisition,” Bjork said. “The 12th Man Foundation, The Association of Former Students, Texas A&M ventures, whatever the revenue sources are, I need to be involved in that as the athletic director.”
Bjork oversaw an athletic department at Ole Miss with revenue that more than doubled during his tenure from $57 million to $117 million since March 2012, while managing a staff of 260 employees.
“I guarantee every penny matters in today’s world. You may have a large budget but the margins are always thin,” Bjork said.
Bjork also said he will be in discussion with Texas A&M leadership, including Interim Director of Athletics R.C. Slocum and Deputy Director of Athletics Stephanie Rempe, regarding the Southeastern Conference’s (SEC) new policy regarding alcohol sales before officially reporting for work.
“We have the alcohol policy in the SEC, so I’m going to sit down with Stephanie and R.C. later this week to understand what Texas A&M has done to analyze that and prepare for that if the university says we are allowed to do that. That’s something that’s out there as an opportunity, but you also have to make sure you do it the right way.”
Bjork said he plans on being a good listener as he secures a greater understanding of Texas A&M’s athletic department’s needs and goals.
“When you sit in that [athletic director] chair for nine years, I think you understand the balance,” Bjork said of his time as athletic director at Western Kentucky University (2010-2012) and Ole Miss. “That’s really what I’m looking forward to, is I don’t have to come in and we have to add a bunch of money. Or we have to change this. I can really come in and just soak it all in and learn and listen.”
— Texas A&M Athletics (@12thMan) June 3, 2019
A commitment to Texas A&M
After Monday, Bjork said he intends to spend time in Oxford, Mississippi helping the Ole Miss staff transition. Until he joins the Texas A&M staff, he will look for opportunities to assist Interim Director of Athletics R.C. Slocum when opportunities arise and build bonds between athletics, the university administration and the larger Texas A&M University System.
“I think that will be a healthy conversation to learn more about how the system and the campuses all work together,” Bjork said. “So, it has been very positive, and I’m ready to learn and work with them.”
Monday’s whirlwind of events provided some perspective for Bjork, who tied the day’s activities back to his time as an Emporia State University fullback in Kansas in the early 1990s.
“I’m humbled and honored to be standing in front of Aggieland and to be a part of the 12th Man. I’m humbled because I’m a product of college athletics. Without a football scholarship I don’t believe college would have been an option and I’ve always believed in giving back to what was given to me. I’m honored because Texas A&M is a leading flagship university — a destination, a special place with strong core values, a place that’s piqued my interest for 20 years since my first visit in 1998.”
During his official introduction to A&M earlier this week, Bjork also made a promise to the Aggie community.
“You have my pledge that I will work hard every day for Aggieland and for our student-athletes to make sure we have the best academic and athletic experience possible while fulfilling the mission of the university,” Bjork said.