COLLEGE STATION — In athletic director Ross Bjork’s seven-year tenure at Mississippi, the athletic department budget more than doubled from $57 million to $117 million — a tidbit Texas A&M touted upon Bjork’s official arrival on Monday in assuming the same role.
“We have to look people in the eye, ask them what they’re passionate about and connect that passion to what our vision is,” Bjork said concerning the primary key to raising money. “It’s all about relationships. You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Hey, we want you to give a million dollars,’ and we’ve never met that person and we don’t have a connection.”
Bjork, 46, began connecting with Aggies on Monday during a spirited introduction that was open to the public in Kyle Field’s Hall of Champions. While A&M did not release Bjork’s salary, he’s expected to make between $900,000 and $1 million annually as the Aggies’ 20th athletic director in the department’s history.
“When the coaches that you have left not just at Ole Miss but at Western Kentucky are all unanimously saying wonderful things about you, that’s the best sign you could ever have,” said A&M chancellor John Sharp, who attended Monday’s festivities. “No one said anything derogatory about Ross.”
A&M president Michael K. Young vetted candidates and ultimately made the decision to hire Bjork to replace Scott Woodward, who left A&M for his alma mater LSU in April.
“I’m not big on committees, it’s more efficient to do it this way,” Sharp said of Young serving as a one-man show in making the hire.
“We wanted somebody who aspires to the same level of excellence that we do at this university across the board,” Young said of why he hired Bjork. “… We’re going to win, and we’re going to win a lot. But we’re going to win the right way.”
Bjork, too, was asked the inevitable question: Did he see A&M playing Texas in football in the foreseeable future? The Aggies and Longhorns haven’t played since November 2011, or just before A&M exited the Big 12 for the SEC in the summer of 2012.
Bjork said while A&M is booked in football for nearly the next decade, he would at some point sit down with Young and football coach Jimbo Fisher and pick their brains on the matter.
“We’re going to do what’s best for Texas A&M,” Bjork said.
He strolls into a stable situation among the major sports at A&M. Fisher, who led Florida State to a national title in 2013, is entering his second season after guiding the Aggies (9-4) to at least nine victories for the first time since 2013.
Woodward in March dismissed basketball coach Billy Kennedy after Kennedy missed the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in his eight seasons at A&M. Woodward hired native Texan Buzz Williams from Virginia Tech, and Williams is piecing together his support staff this spring and summer.
A&M baseball coach Rob Childress just made the NCAA tournament for a 13th consecutive season, although the Aggies bowed out in a regional on the road for a second consecutive year. Bjork has said Childress’s program is one of the “standard bearers” in the SEC.
Bjork, a native of a Kansas and a former fullback at Emporia State, said he first visited Kyle Field in 1998 when he was with Missouri as an assistant athletic director.
“If I remember right, I was in the press box and it was shaking,” Bjork said with a grin of his first Kyle experience, nearly 10 stories off the ground. “I thought, ‘Is that an earthquake? The band?’ There’s just a ton of passion here.”
A&M’s old press box on the west side was notorious for swaying when fans rocked back and forth during the “Aggie War Hymn.” The new press box on the east side sways much less now that Kyle has been rebuilt and is connected among its four primary sections.
That’s another thing — Bjork won’t have to do any big-time fundraising for a new football stadium. A&M rebuilt Kyle to the tune of nearly a half-billion dollars four years ago, making it the largest stadium in the state and in the SEC at 102,000 capacity.
“This is not an eight to five job,” Bjork said of his primary approach to directing athletics. “This is a lifestyle.”