SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2000/Special Report

Turn-around specialist Castiglione working his magic at Oklahoma


Conference: Big 12
No. of years as an AD: 6
No. of NCAA-sanctioned sports: 20
Education: Bachelor’s degree, sports marketing, University of Maryland, 1979
Career highlights: Has served on several Big 12, NCAA and NACDA committees; helped found the National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators and served as its president from 1992-95; oversaw the development of a licensing program at OU.

It's not every athletic director who has been called upon twice to turn around losing football programs at major universities where fans had come to expect success.

For Joe Castiglione, both those challenges came before his 42nd birthday last October.

And both were met, first at the University of Missouri and now at the University of Oklahoma.

"It's been both challenging and rewarding to try to put these proud programs back in place," Castiglione said between road appointments on a typically hectic day. "It's just really fun to see the enthusiasm come back to the program."

Bringing back that enthusiasm was part of the reason Castiglione was named one of this year's NCAA Division I-A NACDA/Continental Airlines Regional Athletic Directors of the Year.

After rabid Barry Switzer-era fans endured several losing seasons watching their former national champion Sooners disintegrate on the field, the OU football team went 7-4 last fall and earned a trip to the Independence Bowl under new coach Bob Stoops.

"It's a great first step. We appreciate that progress, but we still have a great deal of work ahead of us," said Castiglione, who is finishing his second year at Oklahoma.

Castiglione says the secret to being a successful athletic director is to have a varied background, surround yourself with good people and then provide them the resources they need to do their jobs.

He's scored on all counts.

His background is peppered with sports administration, marketing and fund-raising experiences that experts say are essential to a modern-day college athletic director.

"Joe's one of those guys who's paid his dues and come up through the ranks," said Bob Vecchione, associate executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

"There's been a tremendous evolution in the position of director of athletics," Vecchione said. "Twenty years ago all you had to be was a former coach. Today there are so many different hats that athletic directors have to wear, and without a doubt Joe's come through those ranks and he's really earned the position where he is today."

Castiglione is unapologetic about focusing on Oklahoma football as well as men's basketball, which under Castiglione's watch advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in 1998-99, its first trip in 10 years.

"There must be success in those two sports because they provide the financial means for the other sports to aspire to championships, and that's my primary goal — championships," Castiglione said.

He's getting closer. Of 20 sports programs under his administration, 15 Sooners teams reached postseason play this past year, up from eight the year before.

Castiglione also is overseeing a major renovation and expansion of the basketball arena, a redesign and replacement of the football practice fields, a new wrestling center and development of a master renovation plan for the football stadium. Still, he has — through a combination of money-raising and cost containment — balanced the athletic department's budget this fiscal year for the first time in nearly 10 years.

"The goal is to make it profitable," he said. "We're getting there faster than even I thought."

Friends say Castiglione is a likable, modest man who, despite all the attention to winning and revenue, makes the student athlete his primary concern. Along those lines, Castiglione says one of his goals is to raise Oklahoma's athlete graduation rate, which was a dismal 42 percent in 1998 for athletes who had enrolled during the previous six years.

"The box score, while important, is not the most important thing," Castiglione said. "More than winning games — which is important — is making sure the student athlete has the best possible experience they can."

And Castiglione has his own litmus test to gauge the success of his student athletes' experience: Senior Day, when teams play their final home games.

"You always see how emotional it is because people have gone through a lot in four or five years — they've grown a lot," Castiglione said. "You can just tell that if it's really emotional, then they've had the right kind of experience and you've done your job well."

Dan Crawford writes for Business First in Columbus, Ohio.

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