More than his wife, Rockie, or executive assistant, Sandy Matthew, or his Tiger-logo lapel pin, Missouri athletic director Mike Alden’s most constant companion over the last 17 years has been an ever-growing three-ring binder.
Meticulous hardly does justice to Alden’s nature, and the binder serves as a repository for the minutiae of his job, collecting his thoughts poured out on paper and neatly archived.
“He’s got every page, and the holes have to line up just so,” Matthew said. “He has his to-do list for the week. He keeps it written down, and whenever it’s done he checks it off. … We go through it and, once everything is checked off it goes into the binder.”
Senior staff members in the Tigers’ athletic department are intimately familiar with Alden’s stream of to-do lists. Each one — from the first he jotted down weeks after being introduced as MU’s 15th athletic director on July 16, 1998 — is catalogued in that binder.
“It’s kind of thick binder now, but I’ve got it all organized, and I’ve always kept it like that,” said Alden, who turns 57 on May 15.
Every few weeks, Alden has flipped through that binder in an attempt to make sure no stone’s been unturned, no project neglected and no obligation unfulfilled.
Alden, and his binder, will officially retire Sunday as Missouri’s athletic director, ending the second-longest tenure in school history. Former Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades takes over the post Monday.
So what will become of the binder?
“I’m going to keep it,” Alden said. “From a memorabilia standpoint, I’ll keep it in my office at home and maybe be able to reference back on it — ‘What was I doing 10 years ago this week?’ or something. It’s like a journal, and it allows me to go back and reflect on some of the things I was doing.”
Seven years before becoming the Tigers’ athletic director, Alden brought Rockie, whom he met and was engaged to while serving as an assistant athletic director at Arizona State, to the family farm to introduce her to his dad, Bill, and stepmom, Linda.
Visiting Columbia, he parked in front of the Kappa Alpha Theta house on Kentucky Avenue and told her: “One of these days, Rockie, I’m going to be the athletic director at Mizzou. That’s my dream job.”
It was 1991.
Nearly a quarter-century later, Alden’s tenure at Missouri will be remembered as a prosperous one by most measures.
He inherited a $13.7 million budget, which now is projected to top $95 million during the next fiscal year.
Alden spent 6,129 days in office and was athletic director for nearly 130 victories in football, including four appearances in conference championship games with five division titles and seven bowl wins.
There also have been nearly 350 men’s basketball victories and two Elite Eight appearances, four conference titles in wrestling and nearly 225 dual victories, nearly 550 baseball wins and nearly 670 softball wins, including three appearances in the Women’s College World Series, along with nearly 340 win in volleyball and nearly 200 women’s soccer victories.
Alden was instrumental in building Mizzou Arena, which opened in 2004, and oversaw significant upgrades to the facilities for football, baseball, golf, tennis, gymnastics, swimming and diving, as well as plans for a new softball stadium.
He’ll be in fan mode on his final day as No. 15 Missouri softball hosts No. 3 LSU for the middle game of a three-game set at University Field.
“My last official act as the AD will be cheering on the Tigers in softball on Sunday,” said Alden, who also served as associate athletic director at New Mexico and was Southwest Texas State’s athletic director from 1996 to 1998.
Alden — whose son, Jake, is a student at Purdue — said publicly that he never wants to be athletic director anywhere else and has no interest in a conference-level administrative position.
Instead, he’ll teach in the College of Education as an instructor in MU’s Positive Coaching Program and spend his days mowing a 100-acre swath of the family’s 440-acre farm outside Williamsburg, Mo.
Alden readily acknowledges there were missteps along the way.
Freshman linebacker Aaron O’Neal’s death in 2005 and former swimmer Sasha Menu Courey’s suicide in 2011 were tragic low points of Alden’s tenure. He also said he wished he handled the Ricky Clemons fiasco and the controversy surrounding the alleged sexual assault and Menu Courey’s death better, and been more out front in those times of crisis.
“There’s a lot of sleepless nights you go through as you’re trying to balance those types of issues,” he said. “It’s emotional. It’s taxing on you. Each one of those you go through, it’s hard to bat 1.000. … There’s always going to be issues you wish you would have handled differently.”
Alden, who hired four basketball coaches during his time in Columbia, also wishes he’d found the right formula for sustained men’s basketball success.
“To see it (so inconsistent), that’s extremely frustrating,” he said.
But Alden has no interest in trying to define his legacy, which includes Missouri’s move to the Southeastern Conference from the Big 12 three years ago, preferring to leave that job to others.
“It’s definitely become quite a bit more real that I’m retiring in the last couple days,” said Alden, who endured a lot of short-timer jokes at the Collegiate Sports Summit in Santa Monica, Calif. “Those guys weren’t shy about reminding you that you only have a couple more days to go.
“It’s been interesting, and I’m feeling much more comfortable now that I know that end is coming, but it really hit me in the face the last couple days. … As it comes to a close, I’m excited. I’m anxious a little bit, but I’m excited.”
Alden cleared the personal belongings from his office roughly a month ago.
“He set that date, because he wanted us to be able to shampoo the carpets, clean the grout on the restroom floor and just get the office ready for Mack,” Matthew said. “If he came for a visit, he would have a place to stay and would be able to get situated in his office.”
Alden has a temporary office in the Trulaske College of Business as he waits to join the faculty in the College of Education.
“We’re going to miss him around here,” said senior football player Evan Boehm, a Lee’s Summit West graduate and co-president of MU’s Student Advisory Council. “It’s going to be awesome to still have him around. I definitely asked him to send me his office number so I can still come and visit him and stuff.”
Ever-prepared, Alden led a series of meetings with the athletics staff in recent weeks, which he titled “Passing the Baton,” according to Matthew.
During those meetings, Alden directed staff to create binders — of course, he did — with all the information he thinks Rhoades might need as he takes the reins.
“He’s basically held our hand through the transition, which is pretty special,” Matthew said. “I don’t know if that happens everywhere across the country, but I think it should. It’s given us a sense of confidence and made it a little bit easier.”
It will come as no shock to those who know him best that Alden’s first day as a retired athletic director is already mapped out. Alden will work out at the rec center Monday morning.
“Then I think Rockie and I will probably run out to our farm, which is in Callaway County,” Alden said. “I’ve got a little work I want to do out there.”
That evening Alden will attend MU’s Spring Roar Awards banquet.
“I’ll see Mack there,” Alden said, “but I won’t be at the office. I won’t go into Mizzou Arena or any of that.”
No binder needed.