Oklahoma athletics: How Joe Castiglione built a powerhouse by sticking to his core values

As Joe Castiglione celebrates 15 years at OU, it comes on the heels of an academic year when the university experienced unprecedented athletic success. The overall health of Sooner athletics has never been better.
by Jenni Carlson Published: August 10, 2013
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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.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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