Down Shifting

August 7, 2017

This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Athletic Management.

For many years, Jim Wooldridge was at the top of the college sports pyramid. Having worked his way up the steps, he served as Head Men’s Basketball Coach for several NCAA Division I teams, most notably Kansas State University from 2000-2006. Shifting to administration, he became Athletic Director at the University of California, Riverside for two years, enjoying an athletic budget well into eight figures and a cadre of assistants to help him.

He’s also had his share of down times. He was fired at Kansas State after failing to take the team to the NCAA Tournament, and he resigned from UC Riverside following a difficult personnel issue.

Now Wooldridge is Director of Athletics at Riverside Community College, where his staff and budget are smaller, the spotlight has dimmed, and he answers his own phone. Yet he’s happier than ever.

RCC just finished a stellar year, winning the Orange Empire Conference Supremacy Award as the league’s top overall program while finishing tied for second in the California Community College Athletic Association’s all-sports competition. Wooldridge enjoys leading “the most dedicated group of coaches I’ve ever seen.”

In the following, the coach-turned-administrator offers a first-person perspective on his career shifts, how he sells his vision, and why consistency in leadership is important.

On working at a two-year school:

I love this level of work. There’s no entitlement here. We don’t give scholarships, and we don’t have dorms. A lot of these kids come to school on the bus and many of them work while taking classes and competing as student-athletes. They’re very motivated to move on to the four-year level, and they’re asking for our help to get them there.

It’s a very tangible thing we’re doing. To see them graduate and watch the college recruiters come in and offer them scholarships is the greatest feeling in the world.

On using his coaching skills as an administrator:

Being an athletic director is really about building a team. And you do that by having common goals, being a good communicator, and leading by example. In both coaching and administration, you have to solve problems and create healthy relationships so when you run into tough times, you trust one another.

I also tap into what I learned while recruiting. A recruiter lays out a vision of something that people want to be part of. I do that every day with our coaches, other departments on campus, and our community. We’re selling what we are and what we want to be, and that is the same thing I did as a coach.

On the ups and downs of his career:

I don’t know very many people who have followed a perfect path in their career. After I was fired at Kansas State, I kept my head up and concentrated on looking for other opportunities. Fortunately, I had built good relationships across the country and that helped lead to UC-Riverside. Life will knock you down, but you have to get back up, keep your confidence, and remember what you have accomplished.

The key to advancement and opportunity is to not look past today. Do a great job at your job. Create relationships. Be a willing worker. Show people that you’re loyal and honest, and that you care about the kids. People will notice and you’ll gain respect in your industry.

On working with coaches:

I think the main thing is to be a good listener—understand what a coach is saying and make sure they know you will do all you can to help them succeed. I try to never say no. I might say, “That’s a tough ask right now” or “I’m going to look into that.” Then I work hard on getting them what they want.

On his leadership style:

People want a leader who cares about them and is consistent. My dad always told me if you’re consistent, people will trust you. I work hard at acting the same way every day. Sure, we have to deal with problems that come up, but that doesn’t mean my demeanor has to fluctuate from way up high to way down low. If you ask the people who work with me, I hope and think they’d tell you I’m pretty much the same guy day in and day out.

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