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Baylor Athletics Thriving as McCaw Begins Second Decade

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Sep 8, 2013

By Jerry Hill

Ian McCaw is a glass-half-full kind of guy.

That's why he uprooted and moved to Waco 10 years ago to take over a Baylor athletic program that was going through the darkest days in school history. With football winning one conference game in the previous four seasons and men's basketball banned from postseason play, image was at an all-time low.

"The most difficult days were the early days," said McCaw, who left the University of Massachusetts to become Baylor's Director of Athletics on Sept. 8, 2003. "But certainly, we took a forward-looking approach."

Focusing on Baylor's assets rather than its flaws, McCaw said the program already had a lot of great coaches in place, good facilities constructed, membership in the Big 12 and a "great university with a wonderful education."

"I just felt that Baylor had a number of great assets in place and had the potential to be competitive with the best programs in the Big 12 and nationally," he said. "But we needed to capitalize upon our niche. Baylor's not for everybody, and everybody's not for Baylor. I think what we've been able to do is we've put people in the right seats on the bus and they've been able to excel."

This is the kind of amazing recovery you only read about in books or watch in the movies. From the depths of despair, Baylor athletics has morphed into one of the nation's most well-respected and successful programs.

Over the last decade, Baylor has won three NCAA national team championships and 41 Big 12 Conference titles while tripling its annual department budget and raising more than $305 million toward capital, endowment and fundraising needs, "which is a credit to our donor base and the outstanding work of our athletics development team," McCaw said.

"Certainly the vision we've cast is to become the nation's premier Christian athletic program. That's been our goal since Day 1," he said. "With credit to our coaches and our staff and our student-athletes, we've made progress in literally every area of the athletic department - athletically, academically, spiritually, socially and administratively. It's been a team effort, and everyone is committed to being the best."

One year into his tenure, McCaw released a five-year strategic plan, "Above and Beyond," that called for Baylor to provide student-athletes with the best academic, athletic and social experience possible; achieve competitive success in every program; develop and maintain an environment that abides by the rules and promotes proper sporting conduct; enhance all revenue streams; and provide superior leadership and management.

Check, check, check, check and check.

The high-water mark came in 2011-12 - "The Year of the Bear" - when football won its first bowl game in nearly two decades and quarterback Robert Griffin III took home the coveted Heisman Trophy; women's basketball captured its second national championship in seven years; men's basketball made its second Elite Eight in three years; and all 19 teams advanced to postseason play.

"Our commitment, really from Day 1, was to have success in a broad-base basis," McCaw said. "Many of our Olympic sports, of course, were already successful. But to be able to translate that across our entire athletic program was a challenge. Obviously, with programs like women's basketball, men's basketball and football experiencing success over the last decade, that's really enabled us to generate revenue and generate exposure and done a tremendous job of branding the university."

Through an ambitious "Victory With Integrity" development campaign that raised over $95 million, Baylor's capital improvements included the Highers Athletics Complex (that includes the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center and the Allison Indoor Football Practice Facility); the Grant Teaff and Letterwinners Plazas at Floyd Casey Stadium; the Lt. Jack Whetsel Jr. Basketball Practice Facility; Willis Family Equestrian Center; Getterman Softball Practice Facility; the Hurd Tennis Center; and Jim and Nell Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center.

But the best is yet to come with the $260 million Baylor Stadium and an on-campus track stadium both due to be completed next year.

"The great news is we've accomplished all the facility projects that were called for in `Victory With Integrity,''' McCaw said. "And we've now come up with some new ones that we'd like to do, which is always the case. But we've made great progress."

Baylor's success could not have been done, McCaw said, without a donor base that "invested before they saw success."

"It was critical that we did that, because if people had just waited until success occurred, it may not have occurred," he said. "So, I feel particularly indebted to the donors that invested early on, allowing us to get some of these facilities in place and get our resources in a position where we could compete within the Big 12 and nationally. It enabled us to create some momentum."

But it hasn't been one or two revenue streams, "it's been every revenue stream," McCaw said. Annual television revenue from the Big 12 Conference has more than tripled, from $7 million in 2003 to $22 million this year, while the Bear Foundation annual giving has also tripled and reached a record $9.3 million this year.

"We've had dramatic increases in ticket sales, fundraising, licensing, and obviously the Big 12 has been a big growth area. . . . That's what has put us in a position where we've been able to develop a very competitive budget within the Big 12 Conference (and) have a program that can compete."

Baylor went from 12th out of 12 teams in 2002-03 with an annual budget of $23 million to fifth in the current 10-team league with a $73 million budget for 2013-14.

"We've been fortunate. Baylor Nation has been very generous," McCaw said. "And it's their support that has fueled the rapid ascent of our athletic program."

In an era when coaches change jobs at the drop of the hat, McCaw's leadership has helped Baylor keep its stable intact.

Baseball coach Steve Smith is going into his 20th year at the helm, men's tennis coach Matt Knoll just finished his 17th and women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey, softball's Glenn Moore and cross country's Todd Harbour have all put in 13 seasons. Art Briles is beginning his sixth season, making him the most tenured football coach at Baylor since Grant Teaff's 21-year run.

"Ian's the best there is in the business, and that's why he's recognized nationally," Briles said of McCaw, who was the NACDA West Region Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year and one of five finalists for the 2012 Sports Business Journal Athletics Director of the Year in 2012. "All you have to do is pull up the facts, and the facts don't lie. He's loyal to you and extremely supportive, and those are definite needs for someone in my position."

To that end, McCaw said he tries to model servant leadership, "and that's the approach we take in running our program."

"But there are times when you have to say no and times that you can't do everything," he said.

During his tenure, McCaw has also added Equestrian and Acrobatics & Tumbling, bringing Baylor's total number of intercollegiate varsity programs to 19 and adding "more than 100 opportunities for women and putting us in a position where we are substantially proportionate.'

As he starts his second decade, McCaw's list of objectives includes "continuing to have state-of-the-art facilities; recruiting and retaining great personnel; and that our program remains cutting edge. And with everyone working together, as has happened in the past 10 years between all of our constituents, we have a chance to continue to thrive."