Interview and transcript by Matt Johnson
Questions by Matt Johnson and Matt Sparkman
Mike Bohn is in his sixth year as athletic director at the University of Colorado. Bohn, a Colorado native, has also worked for the athletic programs at San Diego State University, the University of Idaho, the Air Force Academy and Colorado State University. Bohn helped engineer CU’s move from the Big 12 Conference to the Pac-10 Conference, which will take place sometime in the next two years. We sat down with Bohn to reflect on parts of his first five years working for CU.
Boulder Weekly: Why are you excited to move to the Pac-10 Conference?
Mike Bohn: You have to remember the University of Colorado’s Western orientation. We’re the number one institution in the nation that’s relying on out-of-state tuition revenue, so it’s important for us to be visible in the California area. That’s where most of our students come from. It’s important to be visible in Arizona and Washington. Also, we have 50,000 more alumni in the Pac-10 footprint than we did in the Big 12, so that’s another opportunity to engage them. Academically we’re a lot better fit for those institutions. Ethically we’re a lot better fit for those institutions. It’s just a lot better fit for our faculty who collaborate with institutions in the Pac-10 already — numerous research institutions and issues that include biotech, the environment, space, sustainability — all those things. All those connectors really pull us west rather than into [the central region of] America.
BW: Do you think being in the Big 12 for so long will give CU an advantage when moving to the Pac-10? Why or why not?
MB: No. They’re both very competitive. The Pac-10 Conference has won more national championships as a conference than all the other conferences in America put together, so it’s going to be competitive in the Pac-10, just like it is in the Big 12. The advantage we may have is that we’ve learned some good things from 12 institutions in the Big 12, and now [the question is] how we transform that knowledge and that expertise into the Pac-10.
BW: What sport or couple of sports do you think are going to have a breakout season this year?
MB: I think football’s going to be a lot better than many, and men’s basketball. I think our investment in men’s basketball is starting to pay off — we were 12-3 at home last year. We’ve invested in a new floor, and we’ve invested in a new practice facility, new offices, new lights, new baskets, new charter jet travel — all those things. I think men’s basketball is going to have a great year.
BW: How will the upgrades to the Coors Events Center improve the overall fan experience?
MB: Fans are going to enjoy watching full-color video replays, they’re going to enjoy watching the … messaging [system], which is designed to create excitement for them and to be able to follow the statistics that are going on in the game. It’s just going to be a lot more fun, energetic, and a lot brighter, and I think that will be exciting for them. All those things just create a sense of pride that I think has been missing in basketball.
BW: What does the investment in the basketball practice facility say about the administration’s commitment to basketball?
MB: No disrespect to any of my predecessors, but we have never made a major commitment to basketball. To have our basketball teams practicing at 8 in the morning because we don’t have a facility to practice [in], or practicing at local high schools, [does not provide] an opportunity for them to be successful. Both men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball will receive a huge shot in the arm, which will help them in recruiting, and it will help them be more competitive. … There’s no question that that type of commitment is what I believe our fans have been looking for, and what I believe recruits and coaches want to have in order to be successful.
BW: Why did you want this job when you were applying for it?
MB: I think [it was] for a lot of reasons. You have to remember that my previous experiences were all at institutions that were not at the BCS level. Colorado is a BCS institution, and the Big 12 Conference is one of the most prestigious conferences in the country. To have an opportunity to be a part of an athletic program at that level, but also to be able to come home to a community where I grew up and to come back to a stadium where I sold Cokes as a kid — to pull all that together was very special. All those things, factored together, created an environment where I felt … [I had] a great challenge, and it has been all that and more. I wanted to be a part of that challenge, a part of the BCS level, and to be home.
BW: What are some positives and negatives about being an athletic director that most people wouldn’t know about?
MB: The negatives, obviously, are failures on the scoreboard and also in the community. I think any time as a leader you’re under attack because somebody doesn’t think you’re doing something right. It can’t always be a lot of fun. I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you one for failure — that’s trying to be everything to everyone. I just doesn’t work. The challenges are that sometimes you let people down or you upset people. You don’t want to do that intentionally, but, again, as a leader, that’s the result of decisions you make and things that you do. That can be very challenging and troubling at times.
The best part is working with people, whether it’s any member of the constituent group we work with — alumni, band members, cheerleaders, dance team, Spirit Squad, mascots, donors, community members … The ability to make a difference in young people’s lives, to be able to make somebody happy, to create a sense of great community spirit, to do things like creating the Stampede in downtown Boulder with the marching band, to be able to make a difference, and to lead and create opportunities for special things to happen is what makes it just awesome.
BW: How has working for so many other universities’ athletic programs helped you with what you’re doing at CU?
MB: I believe all those institutions that I’ve worked with and the people I’ve been on a team with, within those institutions, have provided opportunities to see what works and also experience some failures. It’s just a fact of gaining experience. Any time you have the opportunity to learn from others and watch what’s happening and see what they’re doing — that’s positive. You’re inspired by being around great coaches like Fisher DeBerry and Sonny Lubick. Having the opportunity to run [my] own program at Idaho was special, and then at San Diego State. Now I’m very fortunate to be at the University of Colorado.
BW: What to you appreciate about being an athletic director, especially at CU?
MB: I appreciate being home. I love the mountains, and I love Colorado. I appreciate the people that inspire me. I appreciate people that come up and provide encouragement to me [and provide] a sense of belief in our system and our principles that we put in place. People that invest in our program based on that premise, people that write checks and sponsors that help us. The partners, the teammates that make it go — that’s what I’m really appreciative of. It takes so many different people to make an intercollegiate athletics program successful, so I’m so appreciative of those that help me, and they help in so many ways. Like I said, donors, sponsors, encouragement, moral support, intellectual support, financial support, friendship — and watching a young student-athlete really emerge and grow as a person is special — all those things I’m appreciative of.
BW: What are you most proud of in terms of the athletic program at CU?
MB: I’m most proud of the fact that we run a good shop. What I mean by that is we play by the rules, we work hard, and we take great pride in doing what’s right … [That means] when we’re faced with a very challenging situation, we represent the institution with pride and distinction rather than taking shortcuts. I’m proud of that. That hasn’t shown up on the scoreboard yet for us, but that’s what we’re working on, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of the teamwork we’ve built, the partnership with the city, the partnership with the faculty, the partnership with the legislature and the partnership with so many other people that come together. I’m really proud of the teamwork we’ve been able to create.
BW: What’s something special that you’ve created in the CU community since you took this job?
MB: I’m really proud of the Stampede, the Friday night exercise with the marching band and the football team that marches up Pearl Street, and having over 5,000 people down there eating in restaurants, being excited about college football, uniting and being excited about the program. We’re very excited about the fact that we’ve averaged 50,000 fans for five years in a row. That’s really a great thing, and we’ve worked hard at that to pull [it] together. I haven’t seen too much more that I really [was] too excited about, that I didn’t already know. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have a stronger fan base and a stronger passion collectively for intercollegiate athletics, but we’re working on building that.