Tag Archives: Western Kentucky

Bjork named as Western’s next Athletics Director

President Gary Ransdell introduces Ross Bjork as Western's new Athletics Director in the Topper Club at Houchens-Smith Stadium on Friday, March 12. Bjork said he was contacted soon after Wood Selig announced his resignation. TANNER CURTIS/HERALD

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.”

Zach Greenwell

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Early Morning Outlook: Lady Tops move on; one team pulls big upset

Sunday’s action in the women’s Sun Belt Conference tournament saw things shake out mostly like they were expected to – with one big surprise. A quick recap of the quarterfinals:

The Lady Toppers (21-9) now meet No. 2 Middle Tennessee at 2:30 p.m. Monday. The Lady Raiders (23-5) cruised past 10th-seeded North Texas on Sunday, 106-66.

Western lost both of its games against MTSU in the regular season, falling by an average of 19.5 points. But senior forward Arnika Brown said during the Lady Toppers’ postgame news conference that the team just wants to let its effort speak for itself.

“As far as getting back, we’re pretty much going to let the playing kind of take over, and we’re just going to get out there and play our hearts out … and take it one possession at a time,” Brown said. “That’s about all we can do.

“We’re not going to sit here and speak on it, but we’re just going to get out there and play like we know how.”

MTSU Head Coach Rick Insell said that he was much more concerned about momentum than resting his players and that the Lady Raiders are in good enough shape to play 30-plus minutes each game.

So even though MTSU and Western have history, Insell said the Lady Toppers are simply a road block now.

“Western’s just another team that’s in our way,” he said. “We know where we’re headed – they are our rival school, but it’ll be a great game. They’ve got a great team, lot of good players, very well coached. We’ll just go out and play the game. I think they’ll lose a little sleep on us also tonight.”

  • Top-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock didn’t have much trouble Sunday in a 73-60 win over No. 8 Arkansas State. The Trojans will meet No. 12 New Orleans at 12:15 p.m. Monday.
  • Yep. Once again, you read that right. New Orleans continues to be the Cinderella of the women’s bracket, upsetting fourth-seeded Denver 55-48.

This will be the first semifinal appearance for the Lady Privateers since 1998. The program hadn’t won two games in the same postseason since 1988.

“Yesterday, I opened this conversation with ‘Wow,’ and I think it’s probably the same thing tonight,” UNO Head Coach Amy Champion said in her postgame news conference. “This team amazes me day in and day out. This team is real, they’ve been real all year … and this is no surprise to me.”

Herald Sports Editor Jonathan Lintner will once again have full coverage of the Lady Toppers’ game Monday, and he will also be on the scene for the men’s semifinal matchup with top-seeded Troy at 6 p.m.

Be sure to visit wkuherald.com for game recaps as well as www.twitter.com/chheraldsports for live updates from both games. You can also find the latest Western news on the Herald Sports Facebook page.

-Zach Greenwell

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SOURCE: Three will interview in Hot Springs

A source close to the situation confirmed that three candidates will interview for Western’s Athletics Director position this weekend in Hot Springs, Ark., the site of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Ross Bjork, currently in his fifth year at UCLA and a former coordinator for the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation, will interview, according to the source, as well as Chris Wyrick of Arkansas.

For more information on Bjork and Wyrick, click here.

The source said a new athletic director will be named in one to two weeks.

Jonathan Lintner

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The Herald’s short list of AD speculation

With a source close to the situation confirming that Western will interview candidates for the Athletics Director position this weekend in Hot Springs, Ark., it’s time to start speculating who those candidates may be.

The Herald has compiled a short list of people who could fit the bill for Western’s next AD. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order:

Ross Bjork – Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations, UCLA

Bjork is in his fifth year at UCLA, where he is in charge of fundraising, ticket sales, merchandising and other forms of revenue generation. During his tenure, UCLA has seen record highs in ticket sales for football and men’s basketball and in total monetary gifts for athletics.

Bjork, 37, has had similar success at Miami (Fla.) and Missouri, where he was able to greatly increase the amount of donations and total revenue of both athletic departments. He is a former president of the National Association of Athletic Development Directors (NAADD).

Bjork also has a tie to Western. Before arriving at Missouri in 1997, he worked as an assistant coordinator for the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation. Bjork’s name has been tied to AD openings at UNLV, San Diego State and Marshall over the past nine months, and he squashed rumors this week that he was a candidate for the same position at Rice.

Patrick Ransdell – Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Development, Coastal Carolina

This one could be a stretch, but his connections to Western are strong. Ransdell graduated from Western in 2002, played baseball for the Hilltoppers, and we all know his father Gary as the president of the University.

As part of his position, Ransdell works with Coastal Carolina’s Chanticleer Athletic Foundation – Western’s equivalent of the HAF.

Brian Wickstrom – Senior Associate Athletic Director, Texas-El Paso

Wickstrom doesn’t have any direct ties to Western, but his name has been circulated often with recent AD searches. He was speculated as a candidate for the Marshall, Houston and South Alabama AD jobs in summer 2009, and he denied any connection to the Rice opening today – much like Bjork.

The Mobile Press-Register (Ala.) reported on July 20, 2009, that Wickstrom was one of three finalists for the South Alabama position, but was not chosen.

The Houston Chronicle provided good insight into Wickstrom’s success at UTEP when it named him a possible candidate for the Houston job.

As the understudy to UTEP AD Bob Stull the past three years, Wickstrom oversees a handful of sports that include men’s basketball. Wickstrom has made perhaps his strongest impact at UTEP with his abilities in fund-raising and finance. He was directly involved in the fund-raising and planning of a recently opened $14.3 million basketball practice facility financed entirely by donations.

“They say he’s a money machine,” said one UH employee.

Chris Wyrick – Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs, Arkansas

Wyrick joined Arkansas in May 2008 and has been heavily involved in marketing, development and major gift fundraising.

He was previously Associate Athletic Director for Development at South Carolina, where one of his crowning achievements was the restructuring of its athletic foundation, the Gamecock Club. Wyrick’s efforts saw an increase in revenue from $13.8 million in 2006 to $27.8 million in 2007.

Wyrick is also likely familiar with the Bowling Green area, as he spent six years at Vanderbilt as an administrator and a fundraiser. During his tenure, he raised almost $80 million for Vandy, which helped fund the Memorial Gym practice facility, a football practice facility and the baseball stadium, among other projects.

-It’s clear that these candidates all have something in common – they’re heavily involved with their respective schools’ athletic foundations and they’re proven fundraisers, which are most likely things Western’s search committee will be looking for. The Herald will be following the situation closely in Hot Springs and will bring you any updates as they become available here and at wkuherald.com.

-Zach Greenwell

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REPORT: Selig to get substantial raise at ODU

The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., is reporting that Western Athletics Director Wood Selig will receive a three-year contract with an annual salary of $250,000 for the AD position at Old Dominion, starting on June 10.

The Hilltopper Athletic Foundation approved a $34,000 raise on Jan. 29 to Selig’s base salary of $141,480, meaning that he will make nearly $80,000 more at ODU if the contract is finalized.

-Zach Greenwell

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McDonald rides confidence into UofL

Just got in from WKU’s press conference going into the Toppers’ game at Louisville on Saturday. Head coach Ken McDonald had a few interesting points, and players Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch provided insight as well.

The Toppers are seemingly hitting their stride going into this contest and have history on their side. After their 76-69 victory over then-no.24 ranked Vanderbilt on Friday night at the Sommet Center in Nashville and considering last season’s 68-54 win over then-No.3 Louisville (also in the Sommet Center), WKU has the motivation to play the Cardinals, who are on a two-game home losing skid right now going into a game at home against Oral Roberts tonight.

But that is what McDonald believes is just one of the factors in getting the team ready for peak performance:

“It starts with our defense and our rebounding,” he said. “Once again, it takes a lot of pressure off our offense. Every possession, when you get down eight to 10 points, double digits, you start to feel a pressure that you have to take over the game and you have to make shots, and you can lose confidence in a hurry on the offensive end and it snowballs. So I think we’ve done a good job with that, turning that around and understanding that each four minutes, if we take care of the defense and rebounding, we’re going to have a lot more confidence on the offensive end.”

A game like this could also be a trap game for the Toppers going down the road. WKU followed its win over Louisville last season with a 72-40 loss at Evansville two games later. It was the Toppers lowest point total all season and the worst game offensively by far on the year. But McDonald isn’t expecting a drop-off in this type of game.

“If you can’t get excited and be intense going into Louisville, with one of the great venues in the country with an unbelievable environment,” McDonald said. “First of all, we’ve got to go in with an ‘us against the world’ mentality, because we haven’t been in this environment yet. It’ll be louder than we’re used to. We’ve got a chance to do something special with our team and with all that said, continue to build toward our goals of being a good basketball team at the end of the year.”

On the court, these teams couldn’t be going in more different directions. WKU’s win over Vandy, coupled with UofL’s two-game losing streak, could spell a second-straight victory over the Cardinals for the Toppers. A great majority of this team’s nucleus is back from last season’s win — most importantly, senior forward Jeremy Evans and junior forward Steffphon Pettigrew, who were instrumental in shutting down Louisville’s marquee forwards, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, in last year’s game. Clark is gone, replaced primarily by sophomore Terrence Jennings, but Samuels still remains. It will be up to those two again to make sure he doesn’t get many touches.

Added motivation comes from the Kentucky kids like Pettigrew, senior guard A.J. Slaughter and freshman guard Jamal Crook, who played in the state but were recruited lightly or not at all by Louisville.

“Every time you play a Kentucky school, you go in there and you play as hard as you can and play the best game you have,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew also added that the team will be focusing on the Cardinals’ 2-3 zone that has become, along with the full court press, one of UofL head coach Rick Pitino’s staples as of late. The zone definitely has holes, especially on the perimeter, which can lead to a number of good looks from three-point range if the Cardinals don’t close out. And with the quick trigger on players like Slaughter, Kerusch and freshman guards Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping, if the looks fall, it could get interesting.

“I think last year was last year,” Kerusch said. “And I think that (Louisville) can draw more motivation than we can because we won. Their coach can be telling them, ‘We underestimated them last year. We’re not doing that this year.’ It’s a big game, winning against Vanderbilt. We’ve got a great confidence, and I think we found our chemistry.”

On the guard end of the spectrum, Kerusch and Slaughter will be the ones asked to control the tempo. The loss of Orlando Mendez-Valdez shouldn’t factor too much. Mendez-Valdez only scored five points in last year’s game, while Slaughter dropped in a game-high 25. Kerusch will likely be the man counted on in this game to back up Slaughter. Kerusch only scored five points on 1-for-10 shooting last time out against the Cardinals.

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