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Episode 013 – University of Oklahoma Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione

Posted on Oct 17, 2016 by in Podcast Episode | 0 comments


Joe and I talk about his year as NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair, what he looks for when hiring coaches, his biggest leadership failure and establishing culture in an organization.


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Bio (full bio here):

Joe has served at OU since 1998, taking over a department and program that was at a low point, and restoring it to respectability, then greatness, and now to among the best in the country.

Prior to OU he served as Director of Athletics at the University of Missouri.

He was awarded national athletic director of the year honors numerous times by a variety of organizations, and this past year served as the chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.


  1. Let’s talk first about that experience as chair of the basketball selection committee.
    1. What was it like both throughout the year, and then particularly in the final days and hours of the selection?
      1. Easily one of the biggest personal and professional privilege
      2. Rare opportunity
      3. Prepare for leadership experiences like that even though you know there’s not guarantee you’ll get the opportunity to do it
      4. But it is still baptism by fire; and there was a lot of fire
      5. One thing to watch the chair have to answer for the selections as a member of the committee; whole different thing to be the one in the chair answering the questions
    2. How would you describe your approach to leading that committee?
      1. Starts before season gets underway
      2. Process is key – what people should focus on; data that will be collected through the season
        1. Important to not pay too much attention to the pundits
        2. Committee members aren’t told not to use individual metrics
        3. Pay attention to where games are played; injuries; look for contextual factors
        4. Communicate with committee how the process will go
        5. Mock selection in February
        6. So by the time the voting starts, the committee members have a good idea how the process is going to go
      3. Tried to get committee members to verbalize their thoughts – wanted to hear from everyone
        1. Never know what someone might say that could influence others in their thinking
  2. What was the greatest leadership challenge you faced when you first took over at OU and how did you work through it?
    1. Challenges
      1. The perception of the program and the various external/internal factions
      2. Morale issues
      3. Lack of identity
      4. Not a very strong connection with the institution’s mission
      5. Finances were in bad shape and the faculty didn’t like money going to athletics from the university
      6. Factions of former players in certain sports
    2. How he responded
      1. Had to deliver
      2. Went to the faculty senate meeting (against some faculty recommendations that it would be hostile)
        1. Thought it was critical to go to them
        2. Talked classroom performance, partnership with academics
        3. These were rough meetings in the beginning – fire, ready aim was their approach
        4. Still goes to the faculty senate once or twice per year
  3. Arguably the most significant successful moment you’ve had as AD at OU is when you hired Bob Stoops as the head football coach. We’re now almost 18 years since that day. When you think back what was it about him that made you say “that’s our guy.”
    1. Character
    2. Competency
      1. Not necessarily head coaching experience
      2. He had done all the right things to prepare for the roll when the time came
    3. Confidence
      1. Not arrogance
      2. Confidence in his skill, the plan, the ability to hire a staff and in taking over this situation
      3. You would be surprised how often (confidence in taking over this situation) is the tipping point
        1. Many who pursue a job; want it; maybe because of the name, the success, the type of program; they want to be the guy/woman, and when you start talking about the reality of what it would look like to start doing the job, you get a good luck and whether they are fully prepared
        2. They want the role, but they’re not fully prepared to do the job
        3. There is a wave of accountability that washes over them; facing the expectations
        4. So when they talk about the number of years, and what all they need, they are equivocating that they’re not that confident
        5. If you have to start making conditions and excuses before taking the job, you probably aren’t ready for that job
        6. Several times this has happened in head coaching searches; people aren’t who they say they are
        7. They might be the one people are speculating about
        8. His search process is all behind closed doors; then makes a recommendation to President Boren.
        9. Remember interviews are a two-way form of communication; you can interview the perspective employer as much as they are interviewing you. It might be that the interview convinces you as the candidate that it is not the best job for you.
  4. On the OU Athletics website is a section with the mission statement, core values, philosophy and operating principles. How do you go about implementing these and engraining them into the culture of the department
    1. Daily
    2. The process to be successful doesn’t happen in a day; it happens daily
    3. Purpose of the core values are part of every decision that is made, and how jobs are conducted
    4. Intentional about the process and the culture; what is tolerated and what isn’t
    5. Find people who are great examples of those values and put them up for everybody to see
    6. Has had a mission statement and values since the beginning
    7. Two years ago went out to staff and student-athletes, and tried to go about a different way to approach and celebrating culture; tied it to SOONER MAGIC
      1. Chemistry of people doing what they supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it
      2. (in coaches’ terms) making a play
      3. Extension of a belief system, and a process by which things come together
      4. Accountability is the basis of all of these
      5. Masterful
      6. Accountable
      7. Gracious
      8. Inclusivity
      9. Competitive
    8. Start, middle and end – always talking about the mission and values
    9. Tactics and tools are great, but at the end of the day the culture is what makes things happen. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. The culture of people will overcome.
    10. Once he gets people in the right place and believes in them, then empowers them to be part of the plan and solution; motivating and gives him chills to think about how successful they are at people excelling in what they were hired, trained to do. This is a huge source of motivation.
  5. Don Yaeger in his book says there are four leadership types: command and control, relational, expert, and charismatic, with a fifth/synergistic being some combination of the best of the other types. How would you describe your leadership style?
    1. Humbly, a little bit of all
    2. Certain situations call for certain styles
    3. Certain people respond to certain styles
      1. Sometimes people need an authoritarian figure; need to be directed and know the outcome will be measured
      2. Some are more self-starters; just tell them what is being asked and the expectation and they are down the road doing their job
      3. Some may have the skillset, but they don’t want to work with others; thinking about themselves; Joe doesn’t believe everything is a democracy; but does believe there is a role for everyone and it’s important to get them to buy in and take ownership.
        1. Further, if all you ever do is dictate how things are to be done, your team might do it, but hold back on letting you know of a potentially better way
        2. And why wouldn’t you want to give them that opportunity to
        3. That adds accountability on them and their idea
        4. Better all around because
      4. Visionary leadership is collaborative; but very specific on doing it this way as part of the culture
      5. But when dealing with large number of people (250+ staff; 600+ student-athletes)
      6. Situational leadership styles are not the same as situational ethics
        1. Core values are front and center in every single thing they do
        2. Unwavering bone deep conviction to the core values
  6. Thoughts on Millennials and how they should be approaching their work with those of other generations?
    1. Observations of millenials
      1. Do best when they understand what is being asked of them
      2. Very experiential; imagery is important
      3. Exceedingly bright
    2. Teaches a graduate level class and gets to be with them; leadership and ethical decision making
      1. Classes are very interactive
      2. Tries to provide them with skills and personal development that they will take with them
      3. Most of the material is not from a textbook, but from everyday life – how someone has ruined their lives and careers by not making ethical choices.
        1. Didn’t respect the culture or brand
        2. Didn’t make decisions grounded in the right values
      4. The insightful questions asked make it one of his favorite things to do
  7. Can you describe an initiative or circumstance when you failed or underperformed, and what you learned from it?
    1. Several even in spite of best intentions and preparation
    2. Made a few hires that didn’t work out as he would have liked
      1. But his gut told him that was the case and he kept thinking things would be okay; can work with the person; but not fully sure they could do the job
      2. Hiring good people more an art than a science
      3. Even after doing all the checking and references, etc., you can still get a hunch that the person isn’t quite right, but the other candidates weren’t strong enough to beat that person out, the mind starts to play tricks and telling you well this is the best you’re going to get; the better choice would have been to stop, not hire either, not settle for second, and take some more time.
      4. The part that disappointed him was the thing he had a hunch about was the thing that came back as the issue.
      5. Tough because you’re dealing with people, and people aren’t perfect, so
    3. Stick to what you believe (Ohio State football scheduling example)
      1. Two top five teams in the first three games
      2. Look for a balance and historically Houston was not top 5, so got a bit unlucky
      3. Everyone gets excited about the game appearing on the schedule, until you don’t win it
      4. Walking out of the stadium the night following the Ohio State loss, people were yelling saying don’t schedule these games anymore. He responded that they were talking to the wrong person because these are the types of games we’re going to play.
      5. If you believe, and the reasons are right, and the purpose behind doing it is right, and there is a risk associated but you go and do it to the best of your ability but it doesn’t work out, you can’t look back and say you shouldn’t have done it…it may not have worked out that time, but it will if you keep pursuing that level of an expectation.
      6. So the scheduling issue this year didn’t work out as they would have liked, but knowing what he knew then, wouldn’t make a different decision
      7. Would they have been better if scheduled two opponents that weren’t competitive? No, just got exposed earlier.
      8. Whose expectations were on these kids anyway?
  8. What habits have been key to your success?
    1. 5:30am workout every day; has tried to do the middle or end of day, but something always got in the way
    2. Helpful to workout around the student-athletes; provides some interactive opportunities
    3. Staff is small by nature and they are crazy busy, so first thing each morning brings issues and tasks that need to be dealt with
    4. He uses the evening hours to unwind, but also to put some thoughts down about how the day went, and what he needs to do tomorrow. Did the day follow a plan?
    5. Constantly reflecting on what he did
    6. Very intentional about communication; did I get the information to as many people as we should have?
  9. Closing remarks
    1. People must feel appreciated
    2. Could be just a note/call
    3. You never know when a staff member is going through a tough time, and what a little word of respect/admiration will mean
    4. Does the same thing with donors
    5. Must stay grounded and let people know that they play a big role, and be intentional 

Thank Yous/Acknowledgements:

  1. Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Groupmusic
    1. More here.
  2. Jonathan Davis – production
  3. Clint Musslewhite voice over


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