Ross Bjork was announced on March 21, 2012 as the seventh full-time Director of Athletics at Ole Miss. Bjork, 41, is the youngest AD among power five conference institutions and came off a successful stint in that post at Western Kentucky University.
In two short years, Bjork's tenure with the Rebels has produced energetic hires, structural progress, team success and a new spirit surrounding Ole Miss Athletics.
Bjork set the tone early by hiring two of the country's top rising coaches in their sports in Brian O'Neal (track and field) and Matt Insell (women's basketball) and has since brought Steven McRoberts (volleyball), Mike Smith (softball) and Chris Malloy (men's golf) on board, while promoting Toby Hansson, one of college tennis' best assistant coaches, to head men's coach. He also appointed three executive level administrators for external relations, academic support and facilities/game operations.
The external relations post was a new umbrella position at the center of Bjork's reorganization of that area of Ole Miss Athletics, including the Foundation, ticket operations, marketing and communications and the relationship with Ole Miss Sports Properties. Progress has continued in that division with the rebranding of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation and a partnership with new multi-media rightsholder, IMG Properties.
Bjork also created the unit for Health and Sports Performance, which combined sports medicine, strength and conditioning, nutrition and counseling services and added a local orthopedic sports medicine component that provides primary sports medicine care for all student-athletes.
Bjork's vision in facilities has resulted in a development plan for the Manning Center, which was recently renamed to honor Olivia and Archie Manning. Projects include the Grill at 1810 (a full service dining facility), the Williams-Reed Football Foyer, Burns team meeting room, VanDevender Family locker room, weight room, player lounge and visuals throughout the complex. The $12.5 million renovation was completed in phases and is ready for 2014-15.
Ole Miss has enjoyed unprecedented support under Bjork. New single-season records for football attendance and season ticket sales were established for 2013, and six of the Rebels' seven home games were sellouts. During the 2012-13 season, 810,000 fans attended home events, with football and baseball recording the second-best attendance seasons in school history and men's basketball posting seven-straight sellouts for the first time ever. The athletics budget has risen from $62 to $75 million, and the Forward Together capital campaign has risen from $62 to $110 million in cash and pledges toward its goal of $150 million. Campaign plans include a new basketball arena to open during the 2015-16 season, a north end zone expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, renovation of the Gillom Center, FedEx Academic Support Center and Starnes Athletic Training Center, as well as other future projects.
Bjork's leadership has also translated to immediate success in the competitive arena. After a two-year postseason drought, the Rebel football team has posted bowl victories in each of its first two seasons under Hugh Freeze. The staff also assembled a top-five recruiting class, the highest ranked in school history.
Other highlights include the first College World Series appearance in 42 years, as the baseball team reached the final four in Omaha and captured the SEC Western Division title in 2014. In 2013, men's basketball claimed the SEC Tournament Championship and the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002. Baseball and men's hoops are among eight Rebel programs to earn postseason berths under Bjork's watch, along with soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis, women's golf, men's track and women's track.
Bjork's reign has also featured a pair of national championships, as Sam Kendricks took home the pole vault title at both the 2013 and 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The 2013 SEC West champion men's tennis team also vied for a national title, as the doubles team of Nic Scholtz and Jonas Lutjen advanced to the final four. Men's outdoor track & field registered a program-best eighth-place finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships, while men's tennis finished top-10 in the national polls.
Off the field, Bjork's emphasis on academics resulted in a record 2.88 GPA among the student-athlete population in 2013-14, and he has established a goal of 3.0 moving forward. In the community, student-athletes participated in more than 20 service projects, and even bigger plans are on the horizon. Throughout his career, Bjork has placed a great importance on diversity, and in 2013, the athletics department partnered with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to establish a Racial Reconciliation Week which took place during the 2013 football season.
Bjork's first full week at the post in 2012 was spent on the inaugural Rebel Road Trip, a six-day, 16-stop tour of the region that served to unite the Rebel fanbase. In the first three years of the tour, Bjork and Co., have visited more than 10,000 fans. He carried the momentum from the first RRT into the launch of a major sales campaign for football season tickets, which included television and radio advertising, billboards, internet marketing and a new outbound telemarketing call center.
At WKU, Bjork spent significant time with all head coaches to evaluate and understand the necessary ingredients it takes for each sport to reach their maximum potential athletically and academically. He oversaw an extensive search process that resulted in Matt Myers being named WKU's new head baseball coach in July of 2011.
After Bjork made a midseason coaching change, the Hilltopper men's basketball team went on to capture the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Women's Volleyball won the conference regular season and tournament in 2011 and reached the NCAA tournament each of his last two years, while men's and women's cross country each won conference team titles in 2011. Women's swimmer Claire Donahue finished second in the nation in the 100 yard butterfly, the highest finish in the program's history, and then won a pair of gold medals at the 2011 Pan American Games to become the only WKU athlete to ever claim Pan Am gold.
WKU's football program posted the greatest one-season improvement in conference wins in the history of the Sun Belt in posting a 7-1 league mark and second-place conference finish. WKU football also signed the conference's top recruiting class each of his last two seasons. WKU's soccer program also reached the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game in 2011 before falling in overtime in their bid to achieve the program's first ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Operating at full speed immediately after being hired at WKU, Bjork immediately created full time coaching positions for both men's and women's golf, implemented a strategic budgeting process, started a master facility plan, restructured several key administrative units and created a new mission statement and core values to guide the athletics program. He also led the "Toppers on Tour" caravan each summer, in which coaches and administrators from the WKU athletic department visit six cities outside of the Bowling Green area in a 19-day span covering over 1,000 total miles. His team also launched the Power of One membership campaign to accelerate growth for the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation and a new telemarketing program for ticket sales also saw immediate success in new customers for WKU Athletics.
During his tenure, each of WKU's men's and women's athletic teams exceeded the NCAA required 925 Academic Progress Report Rate (APR), and WKU had more individuals honored for their academic achievements by the Sun Belt Conference than any other institution in 2011-12. For the first time in program history, the overall cumulative average GPA was over 3.0 for all 391 student-athletes and 228 maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Ten of the university's 15 athletic programs posted a cumulative team GPA of 3.0 or better.
The youngest athletics director of the 120 NCAA FBS programs when hired at WKU, Bjork has an extensive career in intercollegiate athletics with two decades of experience as an administrator and student-athlete, having worked on the senior staffs at UCLA, the University of Miami and the University of Missouri. He began his administrative career at WKU as an Assistant Development Coordinator in 1996-97.
At UCLA, he directed all fund raising activities, including the John Wooden Athletic Fund, marketing, promotions, ticket sales, branding, licensing, merchandising, corporate sponsorships, ISP Sports, radio rights, television rights, web site, and other sources of revenue generation. Total giving to Athletics doubled in his first year and season ticket sales for football and men's basketball increased to record totals. In 2009-10, his team raised a record $26 million in total gifts for athletics. While at UCLA, he established the Campaign of Champions Capital Campaign to raise the funds to renovate legendary Pauley Pavilion. He was involved in all strategic initiatives and major decisions for Bruin Athletics and was the day to day liaison to University Development, the UCLA Alumni Association, and other units on the UCLA campus. Bjork led the ISP Sports transition into the UCLA community and the Los Angeles market where they tripled sponsorships sales and revenue in the first four years.
Bjork arrived at UCLA in September 2005, from the University of Miami, where he spent two years on the executive staff and oversaw all revenue production for the Hurricanes. During his time at Miami, he directed the search process for hiring Frank Haith as the men's basketball coach, served as the day to day liaison with men's basketball, was the department contact for the University President's office, secured the naming rights for a $52 million on-campus arena, renegotiated Miami's Nike and Gatorade contracts, and increased total giving to Miami Athletics.
Prior to his tenure at Miami, Bjork spent six and a half years at the University of Missouri, where he oversaw all development operations that raised record funds each year. Total giving increased from $2.1 million in 1996 to $16 million in 2003. Bjork also directed the sales campaign of the football suites' project and implemented the seating program for Missouri's new basketball arena. He oversaw the generation of $88 million in donations for the Champions for Life Capital Campaign which laid the groundwork for Mizzou's recent success across the board.
Bjork has also served as Campus Recreation Graduate Assistant and Athletic Department Volunteer at Western Illinois University, Marketing Intern for the University of Tulsa, Front Office Intern for the Albuquerque Dukes, and Student Volunteer for Athletics at Emporia State University.
Bjork is a native of Dodge City, Kan., and received his bachelor's degree in recreation administration from Emporia State University in 1995 where he was a two-year starter at fullback. He earned a master's degree in athletic administration from Western Illinois University in December 1996. Bjork has quickly established a leadership role in the SEC by being appointed as Chair of the awards committee and selected to the NCAA basketball issues committee and the NCAA recruiting cabinet. He and his wife, Sonya, have two boys: Payton (8) and Paxton (4).
The Bjork File Age: 41 Hometown: Dodge City, Kan. High School: Dodge City Senior High School College: Emporia State University (B.S., Recreation Administration, 1995); Western Illinois University (M.S., Athletic Administration, 1996) Wife: Sonya Children: Sons, Payton Ross (8) and Paxton Ross (4)
Bjork's Career Timeline 2012-Present: Ole Miss, Director of Athletics 2010-12: Western Kentucky, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics 2005-10: UCLA, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations 2003-05: University of Miami, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations 2001-03: University of Missouri, Assistant Athletic Director for Development 1997-2001: University of Missouri, Athletic Development Officer 1996-97: WKU, Assistant Development Coordinator 1995-96: Western Illinois University, Campus Recreation Grad. Asst./Ath. Dept. Volunteer 1995: University of Tulsa, Marketing Intern 1994: Albuquerque Dukes, Front Office Intern