In early March, Gonzaga Director of Athletics Mike Roth was selected as a recipient of the NACDA Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year award. This achievement has been awarded to a man who’s helped lift GU athletics to unprecedented levels during his 22-year tenure.
While Roth’s contributions to the GU athletic department have been beneficial to its advancement, two aspects have remained consistent in his efforts: teamwork and humility.
Roth’s relationship with GU dates back to when he was a freshman living in CM. Back then, Roth was playing for a JV basketball team at GU, with hopes to establish a career as a student-athlete. This dream was sidetracked when the coach of the JV team told him he wasn’t going to get the playing time he wanted.
“I wasn’t good enough in his mind to play for him,” Roth said. “He wanted me to stay and help in practice and everything, but I wasn’t going to play in games, and that’s what I wanted.”
This led Roth to transfer to another school so he could continue playing basketball. As his undergraduate years came to a close, a career in basketball for Roth was not panning out as he hoped. So, he pursued a career in athletic administration. With a new goal in hand, Roth came back to GU in the early 1980s to earn his master’s in sports administration, while also having a job as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team.
“It was a tremendous experience,” Roth said. “It really got my foot in the door for the future to be quite honest with you.”
While this period was a great introduction for Roth into the workings of the Zags athletic department, life was still a struggle.
“I was getting paid $200 per month and my rent was $187 per month,” Roth said.
Since making ends meet was a constant issue for him, Roth, again, left GU with his wife, so she could invest in her career.
After a few years away, Roth and his family came back to GU in 1986, where he was given an administrative position in athletics. This offer stemmed from Roth’s years as an assistant coach in the men’s basketball program and the department’s familiarity with him.
Since then, Roth has been with the Bulldogs.
Roth’s main responsibilities were to oversee the athletic department’s facilities and make sure they were well-kept. As the years went on, Roth gradually moved through the ranks of the department, gaining more responsibilities until he was finally promoted to GU’s Director of Athletics in 1997.
“Being the AD at Gonzaga wasn’t on my radar,” Roth said. “That wasn’t something that I foresaw, things just fell into place in the spring/summer of 1997 … It was a tremendous opportunity for me, and it took a lot faith of some people who were making that decision.”
This promotion also brought challenges along with it, as the Zags athletic department was coming out of a dark period. One of the biggest challenges was creating a new identity that would not only resonate nationally, but also within the Spokane area.
“We were so different back then, we were really small,” Roth said. “We didn’t have the same number of sports we have today and our coaching staff was smaller.
“We had no identity from a outside of Spokane standpoint, and even in Spokane, our identity was pretty small … Each year we knew we could be better than what we have been. We knew we could do things better than what we have done before.”
These changes involved altering the school colors from light blue to navy, amending schedules for teams and even creating the modern Bulldog logo, which GU uses today.
“We have changed our mentality that we are not ever going to be satisfied with what we have accomplished,” Roth said. “Whether that be what we have accomplished in winning games, winning championships, or the success of our student-athletes academically.”
While Roth said he appreciates being honored as Athletic Director of the Year, he looks at the recognition as more of an accomplishment for the entire athletic department rather than just himself.
“The reality is that this isn’t so much of an award that’s specific for me as much as it is for us,” Roth said. “This is about our staff. I am just one person.”
This team-oriented mentality, as well has Roth’s selfless nature, are why his coworkers said he is such a strong leader.
“He is the best person I have ever worked for,” said GU’s Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer Chris Standiford. “He is a humble leader who cares about everybody that works with him.”
Roth recognizes the importance of establishing a team-first atmosphere.
“There are very few things in reality that we ever do completely by ourselves,” Roth said. “In sports, it’s not just one player that wins a game or loses a game, everybody has to grab on to the rope, and pull it in the same direction.”