With apologies to the guy in the commercials, the rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee has a nickname for Doug Fullerton.
He is -- the most interesting committee member in the world.
Fly fisherman and oil painter. Former Army helicopter pilot and trained mathematician. He went up the steps of his career in the same orderly way you would go up a Stairmaster, starting as a coach in junior high school, then high school, then college, then an athletic director, and for the past 19 years conference commissioner of the Big Sky.
“I’ve lived,” he said, “a bunch of different lives.”
And he has enjoyed working on the committee as much as anything lately, adding a math devotee’s perspective to the deliberations.
“I love working strategically and I love the game of basketball,” he said. “The last few years the committee has been really grand in its view of its responsibilities. I think we’ve really moved the needle on a couple of issues. The basketball committee is one of the very few that has that kind of bully pulpit to really make people pay attention to what you want to get done.
“That’s a long way of saying I’ve had a great time.”
Fullerton does like to stay busy, starting with the boyhood days in Hamilton, Montana. “A town of 3,000 in one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. He won 10 letters in high school.
Then came the pre-med years at California Western, where he played baseball and basketball. But all future plans changed the moment the government drew birthdays in the 1969 military draft lottery. Fullerton was born Sept. 14. Guess which date came out No. 1?
His path swerved to the Army, where he started out as a private and tank driver and ended up a pilot. He later spent 21 years in the National Guard, flying training missions over some of Montana’s finest scenery. “People would pay to be able to go where we went,” he said.
He also had to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Fullerton had a math degree, but as he said, “You can’t hang out a shingle and say, `I’m able to solve your math problems for you.’’’
So he moved to teaching and coaching at a small school in Ennis, Montana. Then to Bozeman, later to Montana State, then the Big Sky.
Fullerton never lost his love for the outdoors, and never will. That is one reason he’s stayed so long. The Big Ten might mean 14 next year, and the Big East might now include Creighton, but there are still big skies in the Big Sky. “I’m sitting here,” he said, “within 15 miles of a cabin which is within 15 miles of the downhill course for the 2002 Olympics.”
Another reason to stay is he has been notably successful in guiding a league of FCS football programs successfully through uncertain times.
“I’ve got something like seven top 100 research institutions, but yet we don’t have the television sets,” he said, explaining why the league needed to keep level heads in regards to football. It has moved on “without breaking the bank, without chasing big salaries and big money.”
Then there is his painting, mostly landscape and Native American. “Absolutely an escape,” he called it. “I can get involved in that and lose, four, five, six hours so quickly.
“I’ve always admired people who can create. The most successful coaches and even the most successful administrators are usually creative people.”
Some of his works adorn the walls of his home and cabin. Some he sells. One customer is none other than NCAA president Mark Emmert, who has two on order. “I need to get on those,” Fullerton said. But he’s been a little busy. There’s a basketball tournament to put together, so Emmert might have to wait.
“It’s his own fault,” said the most interesting committee member in the world.