Stanford AD Muir keeps streak in mind when tasked with improving program
STANFORD, Calif. -- From the moment Bernard Muir moved into the athletic director's office at Stanford, he felt the burden of keeping alive one of the most impressive streaks in college sports.
When Bob Bowlsby left to become the Big 12 Conference commissioner a year ago, the Cardinal had won 18 consecutive Directors' Cups, given annually by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics to the top-performing program across all sports. The last thing Muir wanted was for the unprecedented run to end in his first year on The Farm.
''That was a pressure cooker,'' Muir said. ''Let me tell you, I was sweating this spring. As we were checking every week, looking at the calculus each week, I said, 'OK, what does it take for us to secure it?' ''
In the 20th year of the competition, Stanford sealed its 19th consecutive title by the closest margin ever.
The Cardinal finished just 16.5 points ahead of Florida in late June, closing out an athletic year highlighted by the football team's first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years. The Stanford women's tennis team also kept alive another streak for the department: 37 consecutive years with at least one NCAA title.
''I'm glad it unfolded the way it did,'' Muir said, ''but it was a little too close for comfort.''
As Muir heads into his second full year at Stanford, he's only beginning to make his own marks.
The 45-year-old athletic director spent most of his first go-around learning about his new surroundings on the Silicon Valley campus. He met constantly with coaches, student-athletes, faculty and donors to elicit feedback about what the department was doing well and what it could do better.
He also had to gain a better understanding about sports such as water polo and gymnastics that he didn't oversee in previous stops as athletic director at Delaware and Georgetown. With 36 sports and some 850 student-athletes in his care, the sheer size of Stanford meant opening more lines of communication and learning when -- and to whom -- to delegate responsibility.
''It's such a vibrant program, you just try to get your arms around that,'' Muir said. ''You can see it on paper, but when you're actually walking it and living it and breathing it, it's just a totally different thing.''
Muir said the support from donors and the commitment from coaches have been among the most impressive things he has witnessed. Such wherewithal and work ethic from those around him also has pushed Muir to strive for more.
Among his biggest goals: upgrading facilities for as many sports as possible and building the Stanford brand.
The football staff outgrew its offices and is moving into a new building -- complete with a weight room and locker room -- in a few weeks as part of a $21 million project that began in 2011. And more projects will surely be needed in the coming years for Stanford to compete in the arms race of college athletics.
As with most in power at the prestigious private university, Muir prefers not to talk about specific plans publicly. But a renovation of Maples Pavilion, home to the basketball and volleyball teams, and the game-day facilities for the football team figure to be among the most notable upgrades needed.
''Every coach has a list,'' he said, chuckling.
More than anything, Muir wants Stanford to capitalize on its success -- especially the exposure that comes with football, which the university was mostly unprepared for in past years. While fundraising is at the core of his job, Muir is most passionate about promoting the program.
''I think the story of 36 varsity programs competing at the highest level and kids competing in the classroom at the highest level and making the most of their experience is really one that we want to tell in numerous ways and fashions,'' Muir said. ''And that's what we're going to be working toward in the near future. That's our primary goal: to get the word out.''
Muir made sure two of Stanford's loudest sounding boards are staying put. In his first year, he signed Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer and football coach David Shaw to long-term contracts, calling the negotiations for both ''pretty seamless."
But he also understands some sports need to raise expectations, too.
In March, Muir practically mandated that men's basketball coach Johnny Dawkins take the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 next season -- ''We've now had ample time for him to really get us to take that next step,'' Muir said at the time -- or a change could follow.
Muir has still managed to get away from the job, too.
Muir said he and his wife, Liz, feel lucky to be able to take their daughters, Libby and Millie, to Stanford events and let them find their own sports passions -- which include lacrosse and volleyball. Muir, a former basketball player at Brown, also goes to the weight room to stay in shape. And every now and then he plays golf on the Stanford course.
''I'm not very good, but I enjoy it,'' he said.
Every day still brings the same task: keeping Stanford at the top of college athletics. And while there are other goals to reach, that means going for a 20th consecutive Directors' Cup, knowing schools are lining up more than ever to end the Cardinal's reign.
''I think they'd like to see us displaced. There's no question about that,'' Muir said. ''As one AD said when I got the job, 'Hey, Bernard, congratulations. But we're gunning for you.' ''