A Day In The Life Of Athletic Director Todd Turner
April 27, 2007
By Maks Goldenshteyn
If there's one constant in Todd Turner's work schedule, it's that no two days are ever the same.
Hired in 2004 as the UW's 15th athletic director, Turner inherited a massive athletic program made up of more than 600 student-athletes, 23 sport programs, 160 staff members and an aging Husky Stadium.
To say that Turner has his hands full would be an understatement.
He opens up his calendar program and spends a couple of minutes reading off his schedule.
"Last Thursday, I woke up at about 6 a.m. to answer e-mails," he says. "I had a 7:30 a.m. ... meeting with our media rights holder, ISP (the Washington ISP Sports Network), and my marketing director. I traveled that day to Spokane to speak with the Washington State High School Athletic Directors Association on Friday morning. Then I left and went to a meeting in Atlanta. I was there for two days and came back last night at 10:30 p.m."
He says he doesn't think his work schedule is ever too much.
"That's what I do. ... I like it," he says. "There's something new every day."
On April 18, I embarked on a journey to Husky Stadium to spend an eight-hour workday with one of the busiest men on campus.
9 a.m. -- More than just sports
Beads of water begin flowing off of Husky Stadium's north grandstand as the UW's coaching staff files into the Don James Center to meet with the athletic director.
While two dozen or so coaches and administrators situate themselves around the large, U-shaped table arrangement in the meeting hall, one can't help but notice Turner's absence. A staff member jokingly points to a spot midway through the agenda, the point at which she thinks Turner will likely show up.
Turner's early morning Tyee Executive Committee meeting has spilled over into the 9 o'clock hour. Tyee Club members contribute $5 million annually for football and men's and women's basketball.
In Turner's absence, Jeff Compher, Washington's executive associate athletic director, prepares to lead the agenda for the day. Given Turner's schedule, Compher is no stranger to filling in for Turner, whether it's for a few minutes at a coaches' meeting or for three days during one of Turner's out-of-state conferences. In a lot of ways, Compher is Turner's right-hand man.
"Our executive staff works pretty closely together," Compher says. "When [the athletic director] isn't available, I'll fill in for him. ... It gives him the flexibility to do what he needs to do on and off campus so we can continue to keep the ball rolling internally."
Until Turner's entrance at the 9:30 a.m. mark, the focus of the meeting had been on student-athlete tutoring, rising grade-point averages and nutrition, but Turner leads the conversation to a much more sensitive topic: Virginia Tech.
Turner advocates for his coaches to be more cognizant of the issues that come up in the lives of young people, to look for the warning signs in the athletes and mainly, to listen.
"Let's make sure we don't wish we had done something else," Turner urges.
He then opens up the floor for the coaches and takes notes.
"The unique position we have is we see [the athletes] every day," men's crew coach Bob Ernst says. "If you've been coaching well, you can read them better than anyone else."
10:30 a.m. -- Department-wide birthday bash
The coaches and several members of the administration leave the meeting room and move into a larger banquet hall, where two long tables of fruit, donuts, pastries, coffee and juice await. On first glance, the atmosphere here is much livelier.
As strange as it may sound, the athletic department holds a monthly birthday brunch for all of the members of the staff whose birthdays occur in a given month. Everyone is invited, and within minutes, more than 100 people arrive.
Turner makes a covert trip to the pastry spread, after which he exchanges a few words with men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar. He then heads up to the podium to serve as emcee.
He asks staff members with April birthdays to stand up; they are met with a warm applause. Soon after, he draws each coach to the microphone to talk about the progress of his or her respective team. At this point, Turner has loosened up.
When Turner calls on football coach Tyrone Willingham to speak, Willingham gets up rather casually.
"I didn't wake you up, Tyrone, did I?" inquires Turner, much to the amusement of the staff.
As the employees begin to dissipate, Turner decides to elicit one last laugh.
"There have been some big changes in the department, including the appearance of some of our staff members," he says. "So if you're pregnant, your spouse is pregnant or you've grown a goatee, please stand up!"
Turner is right: There are goatees everywhere.
11:30 a.m. -- Bandaging Husky Stadium
At the conclusion of the banquet, Turner runs into Chip Lydum, the UW's associate athletic director. Lydum is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the UW's athletic facilities, maintenance and scheduling. They decide to move downstairs to take a look at some of Husky Stadium's off-season restoration projects.
The rain has stopped, but water still drips from the base of the grandstands onto the concrete platform below.
"After a while, the water takes its toll," Turner says, eyes glued to a particularly battered stretch of stairs.
We move down to the student section. Near the playing surface, just a few yards shy of the east end zone, is a small construction zone.
"In an engineering test we found some voids, and we're filling them with concrete," Lydum says.
Next we traverse through several rows of seating to reach a scoreboard located near section 11 of the upper level. Turner and Lydum pull themselves up closer to the scoreboard's support beams. From here, the UW Medical Center comes into focus, as does Lake Washington just beyond it.
But Turner and Lydum are more interested in the condition of the scoreboard than in the view. Turner reports that it has taken a serious beating this winter, and like much of the stadium, could use some work.
"[Repairs] are a constant investment. If you did nothing to Husky Stadium, didn't add a thing but just wanted to make sure it was kept up-to-date ... safe, clean and so forth ... you'd spend $70-100 million in the next 10 years," Turner said. "If we're going to spend $70-100 million anyway, why not make some improvements at the same time?"
Noon -- Lunch break
1:20 p.m. -- E-mails galore
Turner's office, located on the second floor of the Graves Hall, doesn't dazzle the senses with high ceilings or marble floors, but what it lacks in luxury it makes up for with stuff.
The office houses several small tables. At the time of my visit, many of them are covered with packets of reports on the Husky Stadium renovation project. Among the more prominent features of the room is an enlarged copy of last year's Nov. 20 Sports Illustrated cover, featuring Husky basketball players Jon Brockman and Ryan Appleby. It stands atop a file cabinet.
Turner is firmly planted in his office chair, his feet on the table, his fingers clicking and clacking away.
In the rare event that Turner has a few free moments to spare, he occupies himself with reading and answering e-mails.
"Yesterday I had 37 e-mails in my inbox," he says. "That's not bad. Since six ... this morning, I've gotten 15."
When Turner is out-of-town, communication with his staff members and other athletic directors becomes difficult. He relies on his assistant, Liz McFarland, to fill the void.
"I'm kind of like the gatekeeper as far as people stopping by to see him, ... calling or communicating by e-mail," she says.
Since she often acts as Turner's representative, it helps McFarland to think like him.
"When he first came here in 2004 it took a little while, but he's really easy to get to know," she says. "I think I'm at the point now where I can guess how he might answer things."
As Turner switches from his e-mail client to a display of his monthly calendar, a pop-up box appears.
"Oh, don't send an error report!" he cries.
2:05 p.m. -- Getting down to business
Today's meeting, while touching upon the usual topics of employment and finances, will also serve to analyze King's financial models for tweaking ticket prices in certain locations, to generate excess funds that can be used against stadium renovation debt.
"It's one of the things that I work on under Todd's direction: ... different financial models," King says.
While Turner's schedule is always changing, a week rarely passes without a meeting with King.
King's findings, along with an assortment of other documents, will be placed in 12 colossal three-inch binders -- the summation of two years of research.
The binders will be stuffed to the brim with information regarding the renovation project.
4 p.m. -- Prep meeting with renovation committee
With just over a week to finalize these binders, it's time to tear through the pages of the preliminaries to figure out what fits and what doesn't.
They take the better part of an hour to discuss the sequence of the binders' content, any additions, subtractions, page numbers and various other details. By the end of the hour, stacks of pages have been displaced in the center of the table.
Still, the group isn't out of the woods yet. Turner wants the binders ready within two days.
When the meeting comes to a conclusion, Turner finally has some free time, but he's not really sure what he'll do.
"I think I'll go for a run," he says lightheartedly. Or maybe not. Sometimes my will doesn't meet my ambition."