Episode 033 – Eastern Washington University Director of Athletics Bill Chaves
Bill gives us the truth! From FCS football to hiring the right fit to selecting the color (RED!) of your turf field.
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Today we are privileged to be joined by two-time Athletic Director of the Year Bill Chaves. Bill serves as the Director of Athletics at Eastern Washington University, a positions he has held for 10 years.
His tenure with the Eagles is noted most often by one of two landmark achievements: a football national championship in 2010, and a first of its kind red synthetic turf installed on their football field.
Bill has spent time at Baylor where we first connected, as well as University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Northeastern University. Bill is a massive Red Sox fan and is likely lamenting the World Series that Theo Epstein recently delivered to the Cubs.
- Why don’t we start by having you fill in a few of the gaps in your bio I just referenced, and tell us how you got where you are today.
- Grew up in the “external” world.
- Began in sports information/media relations at Quinnipiac
- Progress through various tasks to a point where you are no longer doing the tasks so much as leading a team who were doing the tasks
- Remembers a moment at Baylor when he asked himself what he actually did that day, because he wasn’t doing the tasks anymore; felt strange.
- Let’s talk about Division I FCS football. For many in the audience that follow the NFL or Power 5 college football, give us some context around what makes FCS football special and unique.
- Been at several levels in D1 and DII; this is his third FCS school
- Ultimately perplexed why FCS football hasn’t taken off in a greater way than it does; there are great players who will go to the NFL; there’s a 24 team playoff/the March Madness of football
- Similar to the CFL; a great/niche following in Canada; similar in the FCS where there is quality football
- (Daniel) Even at DII Western Oregon we had several NFL players come through, and going against EWU, Montana, etc. we saw big-time football.
- Joe Flacco/Tony Romo/etc. all FCS players
- Having been around multiple levels of athletic programs, did you notice anything different about the leadership traits or tactics that an FCS program demanded (both from an AD standpoint as well as from a coaches’ standpoint)?
- Default to your principles
- When you’re looking to hire people, look for great character and a good moral compass to go along with a level of competence; and then a level of energy
- Comes down to fit: you can be the greatest candidate but the wrong fit; this is the difference between whether someone succeeds or not
- You see this in MLB free agents all the time; some players just aren’t a good fit with NYC or Boston
- Bill tries to lead with optimism and not fear / glass half full / how do we figure it out?
- (How do you identify fit?) – be as honest with the candidate as possible; there is a reality aspect after the initial recruiting/wooing part of the process; he needs the candidate eyes wide open; this leads to a lot of self-selecting
- That tracks with what Joe Castiglione said about how candidates look when the reality of the job sets in on them
- (Daniel brings in a conversation between Jerry Seinfeld and Howard Stern that is somewhat relevant!)
- What is the best job you have? It’s the one you have. If you do well with that job, you might have opportunities for other jobs.
- Tell us how the red turf idea came about, what the process was like to rally people around the idea, and maybe some hurdles you had to overcome to get it done.
- Needed turf and had to raise the funds externally
- Went with some friends to Boise one summer and watched people taking pictures on the Blue turf
- Brought the vision back and got half the funds from one alumni couple
- Has become a calling card for the university; that is what athletics can do
- (Daniel asks about any odd side effects) – people like to say it will turn pink, but it won’t (though it does look like it when there is snow on the ground)
- What is the greatest leadership challenge you have faced as an athletic director and how did you handle it? What did you learn from it/would you do anything different?
- Challenged when his leadership style isn’t the same as other leaders at the university; because his job is to make sure his boss (the president) and the university is doing the best it can, and all functions of the university must work/come together for that purpose.
- How do you go about implementing mission, vision, core values, etc. so that they aren’t just platitudes or quotes on a wall, but are actually lived out by everyone in the department?
- Every once in awhile you have to hit a reset to make sure the core tenants are what we are living on a day to day basis
- Is it good for our student-athletes? Is it good for our department? Is it good for our university? Put everything through that prism and you’ll make the right call.
- What the leader is working on speaks volumes as to what is important.
- Dialog among staff about these issues is what is important; we’re better off if we know the other programs are doing well, because that will make my program better too
- Crossover between Joe Parker last week and Bill is the simplification.
- As the leader of the department, how do you balance the goal of winning against the sometimes competing goals of doing things the right way, emphasizing academics, etc.?
- Nick Saban says it’s the process
- We all want to win, but that’s not his focus. Focus is on what are we doing on a day-to-day basis to give ourselves the opportunity to win.
- If you spend too much time worrying about the result, you forget about the important process in the middle
- Their football coach says panic = defeat. Doesn’t mean not panicking = winning, it just means you won’t lose.
- Stay between the 45s; the seasons administratively never ends
- (Daniel recalls the conversations we’ve had about John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and its focus on the process rather than the results)
- As an AD, you can set the tone; no panic and we’ll handle issues
- Is the customer (e.g. donor, ticket holder, fan) always right? Why or why not?
- The customer certainly always thinks they are right; and they might be right, because what they think is probably what transpired
- We may not have communicated well; or we may not have anticipated how people would react.
- There is so much passion, so you have to be cognizant of that; it’s a good thing if someone cares enough to give you feedback, so don’t worry too much about the fact you’re getting it, and see if it’s something worth acting on.
- You have the opportunity to work with Millennials day in day out, both with your younger staff members and the student-athletes. What advice do you have for Boomers/Xers on leading/working with Millennials? And what advice do you have to Millennials for working with and being led by Boomers/Xers?
- Every generation is the product of inventions and what have come out in their world
- You have to adapt to how it is that communication can occur
- How do you normalize communication so we’re all on the same page?
- At EWU there are people who have been in the department for 35 years, and others who are 17 years old!
- Don’t get too caught up in the mode/method of communication; there is no right/wrong with this
- Doing good / doing the right thing is not limited to one generation
- Whatever you’re going to do, do it as well as you can possibly do it
- This generation should have a voice at the table, because you can lead from any chair; he is happy to take a back seat if someone else is in control and has responsibility
- “I don’t give my advice; I give my opinion.” Be clear. To be unclear is to be unkind. Clarity is key. A diverse group of individuals will make your organization stronger / more creative / etc., but requires effort to be clear.
- What habit or productivity tool has been key to your success?
- Thirst of always trying to find something out there that will fit in our world
- He’s pretty imbalanced and treats his vocation as an invocation; so he is looking to EPL and CFL to see what can be learned and see if it will work here
- Then try it! Don’t be afraid to try things!
- Can you share something interesting about your well known alum and redturf donor Colin Cowherd?
- Colin likes to say that he wouldn’t have had the opportunities he had if he went to a larger school
- The difference between the first and last tapes he did while at Eastern were huge, and that couldn’t have happened with
- Antioch Live/Clear Day Media Group – music
- Jonathan Davis – production
- Clint Musslewhite – voice over