Chances are, if you have watched or followed Gonzaga men’s basketball, you are well-informed that head coach Mark Few has been at GU for over 20 seasons. You might have even heard mention of Director of Athletics Mike Roth, who has been at GU even longer.
That consistency is common among GU Athletics’ leadership. The cohesive nature of the Athletic Department has allowed it to stay strong in its values even through significant growth since the 1990s.
“The culture that Mike Roth has created has always been family focused,” said Shannon Strahl, GU’s senior associate athletic director. “It trickles on down; everything we have done in athletics has had a family feel. As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve kept that tight-knit feel within our department.”
The senior leadership in the Athletic Department is made up of 10 associate directors of athletics. They oversee a variety of different specialized functions within the athletic department that enable it to operate smoothly.
These areas include compliance, student services, programs, facilities and business operation, among other responsibilities. This requires collaboration and communication to be at the forefront of most daily work.
That process is made easier by the consistency within the department. Many of the high-ranking staff members have worked together for years, which promotes effective communication within the department.
“Being able to interpret what they mean by what they say is something that you can only accomplish over time,” said Chris Standiford, deputy director of athletics. “The synergy between us is really important.”
The lengthy tenure for some in the Athletic Department stemmed from a love for the university while attending as a student — which prompted a desire to stay at GU.
Strahl played on the GU women’s soccer team before completing her undergraduate degree in 1999. She then stayed on campus to earn her master’s degree in business administration and worked in GU Athletics as a compliance and academics intern.
While she served that role, a full-time position opened as a compliance officer. Roth selected Strahl for the job, from which she has worked up to her current position as senior associate director of athletics.
“Mike Roth took a chance on a very young recent college graduate,” Strahl said. “I hadn’t even gotten my MBA yet and finished grad school. He offered me the job and [I] took it, and the rest is history”
Standiford’s path to deputy director of athletics draws some similarities to Strahl’s. As a Spokane native, Standiford has always seen GU as a special place. After he graduated from the university, he started as a facilities intern in the early 1990s. Then, he served in his first full-time role as the director of the Martin Centre and pool manager.
“To say I started at the bottom is quite literal, considering you can’t get any lower ... than the filter room in the pool,” Standiford said.
Timing was important for both Strahl and Standiford. Career growth has run parallel to expansion of the Athletic Department.
For Standiford, Strahl and others, this has allowed for titles and responsibilities to shift, while remaining at the same institution.
Change can also lead to a career in athletic administration. Associate Director of Athletics Heather Gores started her career at GU as a women’s basketball coach in the 1990s after playing and coaching women’s basketball at Washington State University.
Gores looked to transition out of coaching and wanted to focus more on family. She took on a new role in administration that fit those aspirations, but still allowed her to have important connections with student-athletes.
“I don’t want to go through a four- or five-year career with a student-athlete and really not know who they are by the time they graduate,” Gores said.
The connection to student-athletes is an important part of the job for many in GU’s athletics administration.
“My favorite part about this job is watching students come as recruits,” Strahl said. “Then, [they choose] to come here and [I] see them come in as a freshman and develop along the way until they’re seniors. Then, [they] come back as alums. That’s the fulfilling part of this job.”
Sport supervisor is another title of Gores (volleyball, tennis, cross country/track and field), Standiford (baseball, rowing, golf) and Strahl (soccer), alongside Roth (basketball).
In this role, those four try to attend as many athletic events as possible to support student-athletes. In addition to attending events, the Athletic Department has an open-door policy in its Volkar Center offices to encourage communication and connection with student-athletes whenever possible.
“To see student-athletes out there competing, working their craft, that’s the most enjoyable part to see,” Gores said. “If they have a tough game, we can pat them on the back and give them extra support.”
Daily work for associate athletic directors involves many meeting and conversations about how to achieve the department’s goals and uphold its core tenants as efficiently as possible.
“The hardest part about compliance is how the environment of college athletics changes,” Strahl said. “We have new rules each year. ... Social media has made things tricky with how quickly information flows and not being able to get ahead of things.”
While the NCAA landscape is constantly changing so too is the athletic department. As GU athletics has grown over the years, the department has expanded itself in an efficient manner to ensure student-athletes are given the necessary support.
“I’m incredibly proud and motivated by what the growth has been able to do for our students and for the university at large,” Standiford said. “It’s amazing to see the things that are accomplished by our staff that have led to greater outcomes for our students.”
Growth within the department — while sticking to its principles of supporting student-athletes on the field, in the classroom and in the community — has allowed for GU athletics’ long-time administrative staff to stay in-house.
“I’m blessed, I love being at Gonzaga,” Standiford said “This place has done far more for me than I’ve ever done for it, but I’ve appreciated every moment of being here. ... This is a truly great place.”