University of Missouri

New A.D. Jim Sterk on state of Mizzou athletics: ‘It’s not like it’s broken’

University of Missouri interim chancellor Hank Foley (left) introduced new athletic director Jim Sterk in August.
University of Missouri interim chancellor Hank Foley (left) introduced new athletic director Jim Sterk in August. AP

New Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk met with a group of reporters on Thursday, and no topics were off limits, including his brief foray as a thespian during high

school and college or growing up on a rural Washington dairy farm.

But he also spent plenty of time discussing more meaty subjects as he digests his first month with the Tigers.

Sterk shrugged off the notion he inherited a chaotic mess after he was hired last month as new Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades’ replacement.

“I think there’s a lot of great things going on, so it’s not like it’s broken,” Sterk said.

MU’s prominence as the state’s flagship school and a member of the Southeastern Conference along with the town of Columbia enticed Sterk to leave San Diego State, but he also said he believes he can make a difference at the school.

Sterk, who signed a seven-year contract in August, also doesn’t plan on retiring soon.

“I’ve always joked that I have three daughters and I would have to work until 85,” Sterk said. “That’s probably not far from the truth, but I haven’t thought about retirement. I thought maybe 75 or something like that. I’m an optimist that way.”

Men’s basketball remains a challenge, Sterk acknowledged, but he’s already had several conversations with third-year coach Kim Anderson.

Progress will be the barometer for Anderson moving forward, given the difficult situation he inherited, but the Tigers need to improve from a 19-44 overall record and back-to-back 3-15 finishes in conference.

“You take that into account that, the past two years, you kind of set it aside,” Sterk said.

“It’s there, but I’m new and I can look at it with a fresh set of eyes of what’s happening this year and what’s going on and see where the program goes from here. It was an unfortunate situation that he inherited, so I think he feels really good about his team.

Sterk — whose wife, Debra, remains in San Diego to sell the couple’s house — declined to lay out specific goals.

“I don’t look at it that way,” Sterk said. “Is there progress being made? What direction is the program going? Is it going up or is it going down? That’s how you look, I think, in the end. … He’s the coach until he’s no longer the coach. Hopefully, he has a great, long tenure here and that I help support him at a critical time in his tenure here and that we enjoy some great successes together.”

Sterk also said his hiring provides a “fresh start” for Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine, who was the subject of an internal athletic department investigation and a Title IX investigation last spring.

Earleywine isn’t on a social contract with the Tigers’ athletic department, which outlines expected behavior, according to Sterk.

“He’s looked and analyzed internally what he needs to do,” Sterk said. “From the department, we are doing the same thing. Is it a clean slate? No, but it’s a fresh start, for sure. He has that opportunity, so I’m excited about moving forward with him.”

Sterk didn’t see any parallels between Earleywine’s situation and that of former San Diego State women’s basketball coach Beth Burns, who he fired for improper physical contact with an assistant coach.

Sterk testified at Burns’ wrongful termination trial last week in San Diego, an issue he also addressed Thursday: “I’d do it again. I felt like I had to protect employees within the department.”

The Earleywine investigation centered on alleged verbal abuse of players and not allegations of physical abuse.

Among other pressing issues for Mizzou athletics:

▪  HOK, an architecture firm with offices in Kansas City, is on retainer to design the proposed football facility in Memorial Stadium’s south end zone, which received a boost earlier this month with a $10 million donation from the Kansas City Sports Trust.

“I think it is in endorsement of what we’re planning to do and a precursor to others,” Sterk said. “I’m hopeful that’s the case. It’s not an endorsement of me, per se. I think it’s an endorsement of the program and what (first-year coach) Barry (Odom) is doing with football.”

Shoring up the stadium’s infrastructure — originally, it was built on a landfill — is an integral part of the project, which also will include new locker rooms, meetings rooms, a weight room, sports medicine facility and coaches’ offices that overlook the field.

“I think we need to be unique and create something,” Sterk said. “That’s kind of what I challenge the architects.”

Sterk also said, while Memorial Stadium’s capacity doesn’t need a boost, there is a need for additional premium seating.

“We are 97 percent sold out of our east-side premium seating,” Sterk said. “I have a good friend that’s in the apartment business. When you’re in the 90 percent filled range, it’s

time to build. Premium seating will be a part of that as well. Not necessarily a capacity increase, but maybe taking some of those top rows … and creating a premium seating area.”

Sterk hopes to present information to the University of Missouri System Board of Curators at its October meeting.

“It will probably be after the first of the year as far as approval, so we got a lot of work to do to get it to that point,” Sterk said.

▪ The second phase of planned facilities upgrades remains a full-length indoor practice facility, which could be located adjacent to the new south end zone complex and will cost approximately $24 million.

Devine Pavilion, which is used by other sports — including baseball, softball, women’s soccer and track and field — during inclement weather will remain.

The new full-length facility also could be built on one of the Kadlec Athletic Fields, located behind the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex.

▪ There are no current plans to demolish the Hearnes Center, which Sterk said was an enjoyable place to watch volleyball on Wednesday and remains a terrific venue for wrestling and other sports.

MU will invest $1 million to improve the airflow in the Hearnes Center, but there are no “firm or final” plans for the future of the Hearnes Center.

“It’s not blowing up in the near future.” Sterk said.

▪ Sterk said it’s not possible to install a turf baseball field at Taylor Stadium in time for the 2017 season, but he wants it to happen as quickly as possible — perhaps in time for

2018.

▪ Sterk doesn’t plan to hire a deputy athletic director.

Instead, Mizzou’s senior associate athletic director for development, Brian White, will absorb many of former deputy athletic director for external relations Wren Baker’s duties.

Baker was hired in late July as North Texas’ athletic director.

Meanwhile, executive associate athletic director and senior women’s administrator Sarah Reesman effectively will become the athletic department’s second in command, running day-to- day operations when Sterk is away from Columbia.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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