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Volume 21 No. 39
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‘Not just to and through but arrive and thrive’

President, Robert Morris University

Long before Christopher Howard distinguished himself as one of the country’s youngest and brightest university presidents, he was a football player at Air Force, where he was awarded the Campbell Trophy, the nation’s highest academic honor for a senior college football player. Through each phase of his life, from his service in Afghanistan to his current post as president of Pittsburgh-based Robert Morris University, Howard’s football experiences have informed his decisions. After speaking at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum last week, Howard, a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, chatted with SportsBusiness Journal’s Michael Smith.

Howard talks about the influence sports has had on his life.
On the influence football makes on his daily decision-making: My coaches were all about selflessness, service, discipline, teamwork, attention to detail, the ability to deal with stress, deal with ups and downs. When you bring that into the boardroom or into the military, or higher education, it serves you very well. It gives you a framework and a set of principles with which to operate.

On being a university president deeply involved in sports (Knight Commission, CFP): Yeah, I guess I do more than the average president. I guess there’s a passion there — my brother played at Baylor. I just feel blessed to take the lessons from athletics to higher education as opposed to doing the athletic piece only, although they really do inform each other. From my seat, athletics is really helping the university from a marketing and promotions standpoint, and the growth of the university. I will say this: I have student athletes who inadvertently call me coach, and I take it as a compliment.

On sharing his story with his student athletes: Going back to my days as a vice president at Oklahoma, I try to share my value set and how sports has taught me to be a better person and a better leader.

On communicating with today’s student athlete: I don’t dictate their style, but I do say to come from the point of empathy. Try your best to put yourself in their shoes. We have this idea: “Not just to and through but arrive and thrive.”

What keeps you up at night: Not putting myself out of business trying to keep up with Pitt or Oklahoma. You can get so excited that you spend too much and you get too far in debt. We’re a great institution; we’re just not those institutions.

On his membership on the Knight Commission: My sense is the Knight Commission has done a good job historically of using its bully pulpit to communicate. To get the attention of the American people for any length of time is a challenge. But the commissioners, the presidents, they see it and hear it. We’re positioned to be heard.