NORMAN — The framed piece of paper sits in Joe Castiglione's office surrounded by pictures from the past 15 years of Oklahoma athletics.
It goes largely unnoticed amid the eye-catching images of football championships and softball titles and basketball triumphs and so much more that has happened during Castiglione's time in Norman. But no matter how many great moments have happened or will happen, that framed paper always has a place in the athletic director's office.
On it are the department's core values.
Accountability for self and others.
Passion for comprehensive excellence.
Commitment to continuous improvement.
Celebration of diversity.
Integrity in all our affairs.
It is his rule book.
“That is the backbone of every decision that is made,” Castiglione said. “It's about the best interests of the university.
“That's the constant.”
That wasn't necessarily the case when Castiglione arrived during the summer of 1998 — and it had created a fractured campus, an ugly divide between academics and athletics.
As Castiglione celebrates 15 years at OU, it comes on the heels of an academic year when the university experienced unprecedented athletic success. Even as football slid from its lofty heights, the overall health of Sooner athletics has never been better. There were more Big 12 titles in more sports than ever before. Men's basketball returned to the NCAA Tournament. Men's and women's gymnastics finished second in the NCAAs. Then, of course, came the crowning achievement, a softball national title team so dominant that it had historians digging in the record books to see if another team had ever been as good as Keilani Ricketts, Lauren Chamberlain and their crimson-clad teammates.
And for it to play out in Oklahoma City?
It was a party for the Sooner Nation.
That softball championship was the latest reminder of the strength and the depth of the athletic department that Castiglione has built. He didn't just clean up problems. He didn't just fix football.
He built a powerhouse, an amazing front porch for the university.
“Joe has not allowed for the athletics department to be an empire separate and apart from the rest of the university,” OU President David Boren said. “He has helped us become one community.”
Athletics are often called the front porch. An entry point for outsiders. A place for alums and supports to gather. But when Castiglione took over at OU, athletics' place was skewed.
“If they were the front porch,” Castiglione said, “it wasn't connected to the house.”
He doesn't want to venture a guess as to why. He wasn't there. It isn't his place to say.
Still, he knows what he experienced when he arrived on campus.
“I sensed a huge separation,” Castiglione said as he sat in a crimson chair in a corner of his office recently. “It was mostly that the athletic department was seen on an island. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it just was seen that way.”
Those who were on campus then say that the problems had grown out of several problems.
First came the ugly end to the Barry Switzer era. Football ran amok, machine guns and gang rape in the jock dorm. The lasting image for many was quarterback Charles Thompson on the cover of Sports Illustrated in an orange prison jumpsuit.
The headline: HOW BARRY SWITZER'S SOONERS TERRORIZED THEIR CAMPUS.
Over the next decade, football struggled with the aftermath of those days. It hit an on-field low in 1997 with a second consecutive losing season.
It was the first time that the Sooners had back-to-back losing seasons since 1924.
Then came news that the athletic department was millions of dollars in debt. It owed between $12-14 million, and the money to cover those debts had to be borrowed from the university.
Worse, athletics had no plan about how to balance its budget and stop hemorrhaging cash.
There was an uproar on campus.
Finally, in the spring of 1998, then-athletic director Steve Owens resigned only a week after dismissing nine athletic department employees, including two assistant athletic directors.
Boren tried to tell Castiglione about the problems that he'd be inheriting when he came to OU, but he didn't fully understand until he was on campus. One of the first things he did was call the head of the faculty senate to ask if he could meet with the group.
His request was met with stunned silence.
“Are you sure?” the man on the other end of the phone finally said. “I don't think you really want to do that.”
“No, I really do,” Castiglione assured him.
“It's a nice idea, but I don't think you want to do that.”
“No, I really, really do.”
The man finally agreed.
“But you'll hear a few things in that meeting.”
Castiglione raised an eyebrow.
“He was right,” he said.
The first meeting wasn't fun, but Castiglione didn't argue with the perceptions that were out there. People had every right to have the opinions that they had.
Castiglione figured it was his job to change them.
Some steps had already been taken in the right direction when he arrived, such as the golf teams getting a new practice facility and the Switzer Center being near completion. Several programs were also having success, including men's basketball and softball.
But football was a big problem that was only getting bigger.
Castiglione's first fall on campus would be another losing season, the third in a row, a first for Sooner football.
“The struggles with football here had candidly affected everything else,” Castiglione said.
There was a cloud over the campus. It was lifted not by the firing of John Blake but by the hiring of Bob Stoops.
“There's something about hope,” Castiglione said. “When Coach Stoops came to this campus ... even in that first year, you could sense that things were different. The energy level was different.”
Football hasn't had a losing season since.
That success helped spur a boom in fundraising with ticket sales, corporate partnerships and individual donations. Less than four years after Castiglione arrived, the athletic department had not only paid back its debt and balanced its budget but it was also running at a surplus.
In the spring of 2002, athletics committed to help establish a $1 million endowment for the libraries.
Now, in addition to having an all-sport cumulative grade-point average above 3.0, athletics gives $8 million annually to academics.
It is among a group of less than 10 Division-I athletic departments that are self sustaining. No state funds. It generates its own revenue.
“Every penny,” Castiglione said.
Castiglione hasn't just cleaned up the financial books. He has also reacted swiftly to bad situations. Larry Cochell. Rhett Bomar. Josh Jarboe. The episodes involving each left bruises, but because each was quickly handled, there were no deep and lasting scars to the university's reputation.
His guiding principle in those situations and every other major one he's faced has been those core values.
He believes those values are so important to everything athletics does, so vital in staying in step with the university's mission that he wants every athletic department employee to have a copy on their desk or in their office.
“They don't have to have them memorized,” he said, laughing.
He might've been joking, but from the look in his eye, you can bet that he has them memorized.
They are internalized.
“I know he acts like he talks,” said Kelly Damphousse, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and faculty athletic rep. “I sit in meetings behind closed doors (with him). I know where his heart is on this.”
It's in the right place, and as a result, so is OU athletics.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.