University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior associate athletic director Charlie Gross was named the next athletic director at Carroll College on Monday.
On Wednesday, Gross, who begins his new position March 1, discussed his outlook, approach and goals with Carroll beat writer Ryan Collingwood.
Q (Collingwood): Well, Charlie, in your various coaching and administrative tenures you've done most of your work in the Midwest. Before applying for this gig, did you ever envision yourself in this part of the country?
A (Gross): I think if you've looked at where I've been and what I've done, I take pride in the institutions I've worked for. I thought I pursued some good opportunities, and I'm always willing to go where I see a great opportunity to work in athletics -- and I see this as one. It's in a part of the country I haven't lived. I've lived in Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, so why not add Montana?
Q: What was your perception of this area and Carroll in general before applying and making your subsequent visit in November?
A: When you look at opportunities, you kind of have a wish list of what interests you. First of all, Carroll has a reputation that extends well outside that area and region. It's an outstanding liberal arts college that does a great job educating students. It's an environment in which I have familiarity. It's a lot like the school I attended in my undergrad (St. John's of Minnesota), so with the familiarity that I have with the institution, I know it's an environment that I know I'll feel comfortable working in and it's going to be an environment where I think I am going to be impactful helping students develop skills and values they can take with them as they graduate and move on into the real world. That was the thing that really turned my head when the position opened. Carroll is an outstanding institution, and when you look at its success athletically, it's not a coincidence. It's a commitment by the institution that they value sports it and it's an important part of the culture. What a great environment to get involved with, and success just doesn't happen by chance. The Helena community has demonstrated an engagement in the college and athletic program over the years and it's going to be exciting to be a part of that, too.
Q: When you interviewed in Helena, was that your first trip to Montana?
A: No, and I actually have a lot of familiarity with Montana. I have a sister who lives in Missoula, and I've been there many times. Even in my childhood years I made many summer trips to Montana, but not many times in the winter (laughs). I spent a summer working in Glacier Park in my college years, too. So I have a little bit of exposure to Montana and that environment.
Q: Just a few more mountains than Wisconsin, eh? (laughs)
A: On my way to work now, I drive the shores of Lake Michigan and look out over the water, so this will be a bit of a different change for me and the family. But life is interesting and you want to experience different things. We're excited as a family to be able to move to Helena.
Q: You mentioned some of Carroll's most attractive features. But what, athletically, stuck out to you this most about this athletic department as a whole?
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A: First of all, more than one program at Carroll having success at a conference level. Being able to compete for championships is important. I want to be part of a program that can do that across the board, and if it can be done in a couple sports, it can be done in all sports. The fact that football has been able to have success on a national level, there's no question that's exciting. The fact that Carroll offers football would be one of those wish list items of a school I wanted to be at, an institution that has a solid football program. A successful football program does so many things for the entire campus community, not only for the athletic department. I've been at places where football has been a game changer and it gives you an extra bounce in your step when the football team jump-starts the academic year and creates additional pride and energy and passion. There's no question that was an attractive feature and one which was important to me.
Q: What were some things that stuck out in the interview process that you hope you and the school can improve?
A: I think there's a higher ceiling at Carroll for the athletic program and the success that has been experienced. So you have to look at what has been done and at some of the challenges that need to be addressed in order to reach that ceiling. My time (during the interview) was quick, so based on my short time and off the numerous conversations that I've had, facility enhancement and development is definitely a must. Schools use facilities to attract students, and students are savvy in their selections of institutions and want to create as positive as experience for themselves as they can. Facilities come into their decision making, let alone servicing their training needs and ability to perform competitively in a venue that can give them and spectators a positive, competitive experience. Those things need to be addressed. The support area of those facilities, whether it's strength and conditioning types of facilities or sports medicine, across the board. I don't think there's a school in the country that thinks they're as staffed as they need to be. When you look at Carroll, the staffing in the areas of assistant coaches. I haven't spent a lot of time talking to individual head coaches about their needs. We will do that. We will need to create a strategic plan and strategic plans don't only include facility development. You have to look at the whole program under a microscope, so we'll be doing a lot of strategic plans for success and creating action steps we need to implement along the way to address those needs. Thirdly, if you want to call these challenges or immediate needs, assuring that your funding sources can sustain the level of success that you're committed to. If your funding sources aren't there, you have to go out and grow them and that's a major point of emphasis of every highly successful athletic program. The institution cannot be the sole source of providing the resources. You have to go external to secure resources and work very hard to enhance them.
Q: You're coming at a time when the new Hunthausen Activities Center is currently being built and will be ready in 2017. Was that a sell for you, too?
A: I think when you visit a campus and you see construction going on, that's a very positive feature and attractive element to the campus. It means the campus is progressing to best meet the needs of the students.
Q: You've been a finalist for athletic director positions at UW-Whitewater, UW-Stevens Point and UW-La Crosse. How thrilled were you when you got the nod to lead this department?
A: Very excited. I look back on my track record of where I've been, and I'm proud of the placed that I've worked. I've been a sponge along the way and a lifelong learner. Everywhere I've been I've grown professionally and personally. I've developed a very thorough and complete skill set and have attributes that have been refined along the way. I've been selective in my process of where I've wanted to work and what I wanted to do, so I'd put this right up there as one of those positions. I'm really excited, ecstatic and humbled to be able to be chosen and serve the needs of the coaches and student-athletes and help continue to move the Fighting Saints forward.
Q: I see you have two kids who are still in high school and multi-sport varsity athletes. Willy, a junior quarterback, point guard and baseball player at Homestead High (enrollment 1,300), and your daughter, Kacie, a basketball and softball player. Do you know which schools they will be attending when they move to Helena?
A: We haven't figured that out, yet, but they will be finishing out the school year (in Wisconsin). They -- and my wife, Barb, and our two younger children, Carlie and Henry -- are excited. It was a family decision. It wasn't made in a vacuum, it involved the entire family. A lot of people who go through this and know it's a complicated process and one where you want to make sure what's right and good for everybody. There's no question it's a little bit of a gamble when you do it, but it's also an adventure and an opportunity to grow. It will be exciting to get us all there.
Q: There's been chatter the last couple of years about Carroll possibly moving to NCAA Division II in the future. Was the prospect of that ever brought up in the interview process?
A: It was never a question posed to me by anyone at the institution, asking me what my feelings were and what my strategy would be in going that direction. I'm aware that those have been conversations in the past and there's been studies and analysis done about travel, locations and conference possibilities. But there's a value to the tradition and history where Carroll has been competing and who they've been competing against, and there's been an element of success ... a belief that there can be more success. You have to look at what's best for the institution. Sometimes those are out of the controls of the institution, you know, and more so who you're competing against and how close are the schools (in the conference) and if it's viable monetarily. Is it a pie-in-the-sky goal I have? Well, my goal is to become more familiar with the NAIA, its strengths, and to embrace those strengths and understand the challenges and prepare for those challenges. That's what my immediate goal has to be because that's what Carroll is and we want to be as successful as we can in the setting where we're at.