Rebels rank among top 50 for second straight year
Ole Miss also announces athletics director's contract extended through 2020
Recognition is First of its Kind to be Awarded by NCAA
Slive to Retire at End of Academic Year
Drive To Be Renamed For Ole Miss Football Great
Ross Bjork and his wife, Sonya, have two boys: Payton (11) and Paxton (7). Bjork was announced on March 21, 2012 as the seventh full-time Director of Athletics at Ole Miss and, at the time, was the youngest AD among power five conference institutions. In October 2016, he was named the university's first Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics. His five-year plus tenure with the Rebels has produced a new spirit surrounding Ole Miss Athletics.
Bjork’s desire to provide student-athletes with the best opportunity to succeed has resulted in the retention and growth of head coaches Hugh Freeze (football), Andy Kennedy (men’s basketball), Mike Bianco (baseball), Mark Beyers (women’s tennis) and Matt Mott (soccer), and a roster of eight new head coaches including Matt Insell (women’s basketball), Steven McRoberts (volleyball), Mike Smith (softball), Chris Malloy (men’s golf), Kory Henkes (women’s golf), Connie Price-Smith (track and field/XC) and Marsha Beasley (rifle), while promoting Toby Hansson, one of college tennis’ best assistant coaches, to head men’s coach.
Bjork reorganized the external relations structure of the department, headlined by a new partnership with multi-media rightsholder, IMG Properties, and the rebranding of the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. He 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. In addition, he appointed executive level administrators for academic support, finance and facilities/game operations.
Bjork’s vision in facilities has transformed the athletics footprint on campus. The basketball programs moved into the nation’s finest new arena in January 2016 with the opening of the $94.5 million Pavilion at Ole Miss. More than $65 million was infused into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium including a new north end zone, new field club, new and renovated suites, natural grass playing surface, new sound system, new lights, new entry plazas, and three new video boards. All of these enhancements improved on what was already one of the best gameday experiences in college football while increasing capacity by approximately 4,000. A development plan for the Manning Center saw the facility renamed to honor Olivia and Archie Manning while undergoing a $12.5 million renovation and expansion. A $13 million overhaul of the Gillom Center will be completed for the 2017 season, while construction of a new indoor tennis facility and baseball performance center are underway, among other future projects.
Ole Miss has enjoyed unprecedented support under Bjork. Football season attendance records have been shattered each of the last five seasons, while season ticket sales are nearing a fifth straight sellout. Baseball finished second in the nation in attendance in 2017, extending a streak of 12 straight seasons in the top five, while softball also experienced a record-breaking year for attendance in 2017. The athletics budget has risen from $57 to $113 million in just five years, and the Athletics Foundation established a record year for donations with $45.6 million in cash contributions in 2015-16. As of January 2017, the Forward Together capital campaign has risen from $62 to $172 million in cash and pledges toward its increased goal of $200 million.
Bjork’s leadership has translated to tremendous success in the competitive arena. The Rebels achieved their highest Director’s Cup finish in their history in 2016-17 at 39th among Division I institutions. In 2015-16, Ole Miss was the nation’s only school to win nine regular-season football games, 20 regular-season men’s basketball games and 40 regular-season baseball games, while the 2014-15 campaign saw the Rebels as one of only two to make a “New Year’s Six” bowl and the NCAA Tournament in men’s hoops and baseball. Under Bjork’s watch, the football team was one of just five to make the “New Year’s Six” in each of the first two years of the playoff.
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. After a 10-year absence, men’s basketball has advanced in the NCAA Tournament twice in the last five seasons, including 2013 when it claimed the SEC Tournament Championship. Softball claimed its first SEC Tournament title in the spring and made its second straight trip to the Big Dance after missing postseason each of its first 19 years of existence. Baseball, men’s hoops and softball are among Rebel programs to earn NCAA berths under Bjork’s watch, along with soccer (Sweet 16 in 2015), men’s tennis, women’s tennis, men’s golf, women’s golf, men’s track and women’s track.
Bjork’s reign has featured six national championships, including the first golf medalist with Braden Thornberry in 2017. Sam Kendricks took home the pole vault title at both the 2013 and 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Raven Saunders won the 2016 outdoor and 2017 indoor crowns in the shotput, and the distance medley team captured 2017 indoor medalist honors. 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 while the team finished top-10 in the polls. The men’s track program has reached new heights, finishing fourth in the nation in cross country in 2016 and eighth at the outdoor championships in 2013.
Off the field, Bjork established the goal of a cumulative 3.0 GPA among the student-athlete population when he arrived, and the Rebels achieved that for the first time in program history in 2015-16 and have since maintained the 3.0 mark. In the community, student-athletes are participating in more than 50 service projects per year, and baseball student-athlete Brady Bramlett has served as Vice-Chair of the NCAA Division Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. 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 launch a community engagement week, which has become an annual event.
Bjork has taken a leadership role in the Oxford/University community since his arrival. He is a member of the chancellor’s leadership team and has served on numerous committees, including the search for a new chancellor and the naming of Chucky Mullins Drive. Bjork has traveled the region each spring speaking to alumni clubs on the Rebel Road Trip and visited more than 20,000 fans in the first six years of the caravan. His commitment to the fanbase has also shown through gameday surveys and annual improvements to help maintain Ole Miss as the premier “bucket list” experience in college sports.
Bjork arrived in Oxford after a stint as Director of Athletics at Western Kentucky University, where he quickly established an atmosphere of success. 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. 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.
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 more than 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.
Bjork, 45, 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. Bjork was honored by Emporia State with the 2017 distinguished alumni award. 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 serving as Chair of the awards committee and representing the SEC on NCAA men's basketball oversight committee and the NCAA transfer working group.
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