Sooners enjoying good times under AD

Saturday, April 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Moments after watching the Oklahoma men's gymnastics team win the national title, Joe Castiglione walked into a locker room at Lloyd Noble Center, grabbed a razor and shaved off the mustache he had worn for 25 years.

A promise is a promise, after all. And when you're director of athletics at a school enjoying a tremendous run of success, any razzing that may result is well worth it.

``As hard as we work, you have to keep an element of fun to it,'' said Castiglione, who has overseen a remarkable year on the field while continuing to transform the once cash-strapped department.

The recent gymnastics championship followed Final Four berths by the men's and women's basketball teams, a third-place NCAA finish by the wrestling team and an 11-win season by the football team.

The men's golf team, the softball team and women's gymnastics team are all ranked among the top 10. And not long ago, in 2000, the football team and softball teams each won national titles.

These are good times at Oklahoma, and the coaches say Castiglione deserves his share of the credit.

``When you start talking about the success of programs, I think it starts with the administration,'' men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson said. ``In my experience with administrators, they're either facilitators or inhibitors. Joe Castiglione is a facilitator.''

When Castiglione was hired four years ago, he took over a department that had a $26 million budget but was generating only $22 million in revenue. As a result, the department routinely borrowed from the university to balance its books.

Now the budget is at $32 million but the department is operating in the black _ the result of streamlining, belt-tightening, on-the-field successes and the cultivation of new sources of revenue, such as a $6 million multi-media rights contract.

Last year, the university's regents approved a 20-year repayment plan to pay off the $8 million debt that had been accrued during the 1990s.

``I said the only time I want to see us in the red anymore is when we're dressed and ready to go to a ball game,'' Castiglione said.

A $100 million capital campaign started in November 2000 has collected $82 million. The money is paying for expansion and renovation of the football stadium, expansion of Lloyd Noble Center, a new soccer field, enhancements of the softball complex, new tennis courts, resurfacing of the track, renovation of the field house and other projects.

``He's a man with vision. He's a man of action,'' wrestling coach Jack Spates said. ``There's a danger of paralysis by analysis when you're in government or education and you very often see that _ administrators who are afraid to move and act. That's obviously not true with Joe.''

In addition to overseeing the department, Castiglione gets to events _ not just football and basketball _ and makes it a point to stop by to visit his coaches when he can.

Men's gymnastics coach Mark Williams recalled Castiglione visiting practice three times during Williams' first year on the job. ``That was three more times than the last athletic director had come by,'' Williams said.

``He knows my assistant coaches names. He'll stop and talk to me,'' Williams said. ``There's more than just being the athletic director, I think he has a personal connection with us.''

Women's basketball coach Sherri Coale said the interest and support Castiglione has shown to all sports creates a willingness by the coaches to work even harder.

She also said that for all the tangible things Castiglione has done, it's the intangibles that may be most significant. She mentioned the monthly coaches round-table he started, which gives coaches and administrators a chance to get to know each other and learn more about their jobs.

``The biggest byproduct is the camaraderie that develops, especially on a campus this size where you don't always run into each other,'' Coale said.

That shows. When Coale's team prepared to head for the Final Four in San Antonio, football coach Bob Stoops came by to wish them well. When spring football began, Stoops wore a shirt and baseball cap that celebrated the success of the men's and women's basketball teams. On the afternoon before the men's gymnastics team competed for the national title, Williams received a good-luck call from the football coach.

``I've never been part of an athletic program that's more of a family,'' Spates said. ``Everybody is happy for everyone else's success.''

There has been plenty of that recently at Oklahoma, although Castiglione said it's a mistake to cast the spotlight on him. He points to the work done by his staff and the support shown by the regents and the university president.

But coaches and others in the department note Castiglione's ability to unite what had been a department hampered by a lack of continuity and a clear vision. Now everyone is pulling in the same direction.

So in a weight room last fall, when gymnasts talked of the sacrifices they were making to try to win a national title and asked Castiglione what he could sacrifice, he half-jokingly offered his mustache. Team members remembered, and even held razors aloft as they accepted the trophy.

``That's where I get my happiness, seeing that they're rewarded,'' Castiglione said, referring to the athletes. ``That's where you get your enjoyment _ seeing those you represent have success.''