A Q&A with CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn


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]

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

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

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.