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Mike Lopresti | | February 7, 2014

Meet the members: Joe Castiglione

The killer tornado struck less than two miles from his house, cutting a swath through the land where Joe Castiglione has called home for so long. Suddenly, the job as athletic director at Oklahoma meant something a little different.

Dozens died last May 20 around Moore, Oklahoma. Hundreds were hurt. As for the devastation, Castiglione says now, "it did damage that even when you see it first hand, your mind can't comprehend. There's nothing that can prepare you for it."

In the days that followed, he was out there with so many other Sooners to aid in the relief effort, even joining the human chains that cleared away debris hand by hand. One of his favorite stories is the day Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops manned the lines.

Plenty of hobbies for Big Sky commish
"Bob was out there 30 or 35 minutes before anyone really recognized him," Castiglione said. "He was just part of a long, long chain. Someone finally turned around and said, `You look like Bob Stoops."

More than eight months later, Castiglione still remembers the images of devastation. He still remembers the anxiety that night, when his son could not get home from school, the destruction having blocked every road.

And he still carries a new understanding from those days, of what role an athletic department can play in a crisis.

He remembers the concert in the football stadium that Toby Keith helped put together in 23 days, drew 63,000 people and raised $2 million to help the victims. He remembers how the citizens of the area wanted the Big 12 baseball tournament to go on as scheduled only days after the storm, for a respite of normalcy. He remembers the inspiration the Sooners softball team became, on its way to a national championship.

"In some ways, you would say what we do (in athletics) pales in significance to what's most important in life," he said. "On the other hand, it's incredibly powerful to see people get inspired and encouraged during some of the most difficult times they were facing.

"When you hear from so many people that sport can be a diversion from what they're going through, you realize it does serve a level of importance."

Eight months later, Castiglione is back to more routine business. That includes serving on the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee, an experience he calls ``one of the most special honors anybody could have in our business." One reason why, he said, is the bond formed during all those hours together. "It's the quality of the communication that exists in that room. The debates, the various perspectives, the chemistry."

Castiglione and Oklahoma have had their own notable chemistry. He has been athletic director for nearly 16 years, overseeing a program that has produced eight national championships and 60 conference titles. He teaches a graduate class every Thursday in the fall, likening the energy boost he gets from kids in his classroom to what a coach feels walking into practice. He and fellow NCAA committee member Mark Hollis - who teaches a class at Michigan State to go with this athletic director's job - have been guests speakers for each other's students.

"I don't know if we have any way of knowing how long we may be in one place," he said. "There are so many factors that go into a career journey that we can never predict."

The operative word in his Oklahoma journey is stability. The president who hired him, David Boren, is still there. "An enormous factor in our success," Castiglione said. The football coach that Castiglione hired his first year, Stoops, is still there.

Three men in high-profile positions that can chew up incumbents -- all still happily ever-aftering in Norman. Castiglione repeated a line told to him by a reporter: ``Everybody is talking about the end of the BCS era, but wait a minute. The BCS is still going on. Boren, Castiglione and Stoops."

He has put roots down in Oklahoma. That means in times of trouble, you help. And in the spring, you keep your eyes on the skies.

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