Beau Bordewyk: When looking at an athletics program like Augustana’s, what are aspects of the program that attract you to come here and think that it’s a program with real promise?
Josh Morton: It starts with the people. The head coaches that are there are a big reason why, and once I got to sit down and learn about the president, [I discovered] President Herseth Sandlin is a dynamic leader. When you have great leadership in place, great head coaches, and they’ve proven they can win and do it the right way, it’s really intriguing. That’s why I’m so excited about it.
B: With your experience at large programs such as UND and most recently Michigan State, there is a lot of talk of the program going D-I. What are your thoughts on that as a goal or possibility for the program?
M: Well, I think the President’s approach is the right one: to take a fresh and fair analysis as an institution, not just as an athletic department, to see where we want the institution to be in ten years. I really like her approach—that it’s inclusive and wants to get some feedback from a lot of different groups to see where we want Augustana to be in ten years. And it’s not just an athletic department question—it’s for the whole institution, so I think that’s neat as an athletic director. It’s really neat to be a part of that leadership team that she’s putting together to help guide those decisions.
B: Coming from your experience with two large universities, and especially a university like Michigan State that has one of the largest athletic programs in the country, what do you think are the differences when you come to work at a program like Augustana versus a larger program, whether it be challenges or the benefits of the smaller school?
M: Honestly, I’m excited to learn because I think there are a lot of things about that change that I probably don’t know. I think you have to have an open mind to understand the context. And coming from where I’m coming from with, my experience at a large university, going to a small private school, there are a lot of things I think will work that may not and a lot of things I think won’t work that maybe will.
So I think that it needs to be understood that there’s a context to it and you have to be able to adapt and really listen. And that’s the focus of my first three months—just doing a lot of listening, learning about Augustana and then kind of evaluating from there.
B: Do you think your time at UND helped you understand how the athletics programs of schools in the Dakotas fit into the territory, and do you think that will allow you to be more comfortable in the job?
M: Oh, absolutely. As a student athlete and then working there too, I definitely understand how important the schools are to the region and I do think that’s valuable. As a student athlete at UND competing against Augustana, we always had great football games at Augustana coming down to play at Howard Wood field. So I always think back to then and I do have a lot of respect for the program in part because I’ve had that experience. And I do think that gives me an advantage coming in. I understand the region, I know the kind of people that are in the upper Midwest and it feels a lot like home.
B: Looking at the athletics program going forward, and including the possibility of transitioning to D-I, what do you think Augustana needs to remain conscious of as it considers that transition?
M: I would say any transition like that at a university is going to be difficult. It’s hard, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. There are financial challenges—sure, no question. I don’t know without being at Augustana yet, but learning the important context is part of the process as President Herseth Sandlin looks at the university.
B: Do you think that the challenges that a large athletics program presents are different than the ones that would be present at a program like Augustana’s, or is it the same ball game just on a different scale?
M: I would say it’s a different scale because at either program you’re dealing with student athletes who want to be the best at what they do athletically, academically and in the community.
That’s the same either here or there. You’re dealing with coaches who are the same in that they’re competitors—they want to win; they want to do it the right way and they want to recruit great student athletes. Yes, there’s a level of recognition maybe nationwide, but at its core, college athletics is such a powerful tool for young people to develop and it doesn’t matter what level its at. I was a walk-on football player at a Division II school and I had an unbelievable experience.
I think if you asked someone from a big ten school what their experience was like, I think they would say that they had an unbelievable experience.
At a place like Augie, where the academics are so strong and the expectations for our student athletes are so high the experience is still rewarding. The amount of attention may vary, but at its core, the experience is still about providing the holistic development we want to see in our student athletes.
B: So fostering a strong personal experience for the athletes is important going forward?
M: My number one principle as an athletic director is the student athlete experience. That means academically, competitively, because we do want them to be competitive, in the community and in their career preparation, too. We want to use these four years to help set up their next forty. Those are the most important things because we are educators first and foremost.
B: How do you think an athletic program that helps to promote those qualities in student athletes is maintained?
M: I think it starts with our leadership, from the president on down. And really our coaches are the ones that day to day are with our student athletes. So that’s how that kind of integrity is fostered, and that’s part of the reason why I’m so excited for Augustana, because I knew some of the coaches, but I know more people who know them.
I did my research, and that was a big part of the attraction to the job, to come in and be a part of the group of head coaches that are already there.
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