It’s been over a decade since Ross Bjork served as Assistant Development Coordinator at Western, making just $600 a month.
Now he’s returning as the big man on campus.
Bjork, who has been Senior Associate Athletic Director at UCLA for the past five years, was officially named Western’s new Director of Athletics during a Friday press conference in the Topper Club at Smith Stadium.
Bjork succeeds Wood Selig, who is leaving Western after 11 years for the same position at Old Dominion.
“There are big shoes to fill,” Bjork said. “We acknowledge that. We embrace that. We like to compete in everything that we do, so we are going to pledge again to work hard to make this program better.”
Bjork interviewed for the job during the Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark., last weekend, and President Gary Ransdell said he came away impressed with Bjork’s wealth of experience.
Between his first and most recent positions at Western and UCLA, Bjork was involved in athletic development at both Miami (Fla.) and Missouri.
“Sooner or later it’s going to come down to chemistry, confidence and trust, and Ross and I share that chemistry, confidence and trust,” Ransdell said. “Ross is ready. Ross has spent several years preparing for this job, and … I could not be more pleased.”
Bjork’s name has swirled around several AD openings in the last nine months — including UNLV, San Diego State and Marshall — but he said there’s a reason that he was passed over for those opportunities.
“I believe in destiny,” Bjork said. “I knew it would be an honor to work with (Ransdell), having no idea that Wood would ever leave, and then this thing just came together. It’s really just a dream come true to come back where you started.”
Several things have changed since Bjork’s last stay in Bowling Green.
Millions of dollars were spent on renovations to Diddle Arena, Smith Stadium and other athletic facilities, and Bjork said it was all a little overwhelming when he stepped on campus for the first time in 13 years on Thursday morning.
“I saw the baseball stadium, I saw the football stadium … and then I saw Diddle, and I said, ‘Where is this place?’” Bjork said. “It doesn’t look the same. I had followed the transition obviously, but I knew to get this job is very special because of the foundation and the things that had changed.”
Bjork has earned a reputation during his career as a proven fundraiser.
His team at UCLA raised a record $25.4 million in total athletic gifts during 2008-2009, and season tickets for both football and men’s basketball reached record numbers during his tenure. Donations also greatly increased during his time at Miami and Missouri.
“His experience in the external operations of an athletic department, including fundraising, was an important factor,” Ransdell said. “We needed to have that in this appointment.”
Bjork said that the athletic department will have to consider finances while also keeping its own house in order, and that he plans to be directly involved with fundraising and external development.
“We can’t ignore the internal stuff, because a lot of times, that may bring you down if you don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “I’ll be heavily involved in fundraising … so it’s going to be a priority to build those relationships and make sure we have the resources to be successful.”
Ransdell said that April 26 has been slated as Bjork’s starting day at Western, allowing Bjork to get everything in order back at UCLA.
He also said that the next month and a half will give Bjork and Selig some time to meet and create a smooth transition before Selig’s departure to ODU in early May.
But Bjork said he’s not looking to change Western overnight. He just wants to improve upon the work that’s already been done.
“Not a lot of things are broken,” Bjork said. “Some things are going to need to be tweaked, things are going to need to be analyzed, but there are not a lot of broken things here with his athletic program. It’s a great opportunity and a great foundation has been laid here.”