PULLMAN – Jim Sterk is back in Pullman.
His whirlwind tour through San Diego, where he was introduced as San Diego State University’s athletic director earlier this week, is over. It’s time to pack up his Washington State office, his home, his memories and move on.
He’s ready to move on, and he’s doing it on his terms.
“I never wanted to be in that situation where people wanted me to go,” said Sterk, speaking Friday about his now former job, that as Washington State University’s athletic director. “I felt like I had a lot of support (here). The president felt like I had a lot of support.
“But I felt like it was an opportunity to go to a place where there is a huge upside. I enjoy challenges, that’s why I came to Washington State … to develop a program where the student athlete has a great experience.”
That was Sterk’s goal in his 10 years in Pullman. And he felt he helped WSU reach it.
“I feel good about that,” he said.
But life is never that simple.
Even when you are starting a new one, as Sterk, wife Debi and three daughters will be when he officially takes over as the Aztecs’ athletic director next month.
The past couple of years, the pressure has built. Yes, Sterk is aware of the rumblings he was forced out at WSU to make room for Bill Moos, who was offered Sterk’s former chair Thursday, rumblings Sterk denies vigorously.
But there were some recent issues that caused friction with different segments of the Cougars’ community, including the proposed Apple Cup change, the struggles of the football program under coach Paul Wulff, the inability to put together a 2010 Seattle game and other, less controversial, situations. Like water dripping into a glass, the issues were getting close to overflowing.
“I said in an interview in San Diego that A.D. years are like dog years,” Sterk said. “You have to make decisions based on what you think is right for the program and some people may, or may not, disagree.
“Over time, that may build up with some folks.”
But Sterk is adamant he made his decision based on San Diego State’s possibilities. It was time, both personally and professionally, to make a change.
WSU president Elson S. Floyd has heard the rumblings as well. He made it clear they bother him. In an interview Thursday, Floyd reiterated his support of the job Sterk had done – and was doing – as well as praising his outgoing A.D.
“First and foremost,” Floyd said, “Jim Sterk is an honest man.”
Floyd went on to praise Sterk’s integrity and his leadership. He emphasized he had no plans to make any change, relaying the surprise he felt when notified last Friday in North Carolina that Sterk was leaving.
In fact, Floyd said, he tried to talk Sterk out of making the change, asking what it would take to keep him in Pullman.
“We had talked about my future,” Sterk said. “I told him a few weeks before that San Diego (State) had called and he made it a point to tell me he wanted me to stay.”
Sterk admits working for Floyd, whose get-it-done-now management style is the polar opposite of Sterk’s patient, weigh-all-the-alternatives demeanor, took some getting used to. And, about three years after Floyd took over from V. Lane Rawlins, who made Sterk his first major hire, it was still a work in progress.
“I think we’re different in a lot of ways,” Sterk said. “Did we have disagreements, but did we work through them? Yeah. But, in the end, he was supportive of decisions and the directions I felt we should go.”
So Sterk wasn’t actively pursuing any leads.
Then San Diego State president Stephen L. Weber called, offering Sterk a chance to explore an alternative without any worry about the news leaking out. Sterk looked, liked the view and jumped.
So where does WSU go from here?
Sterk believes Moos would be the perfect hire, and thinks the former WSU football player, administrator and long-time Oregon athletic director is the guy to lead the department.
“That’s exactly where I would have gone,” Sterk said. “And I thought that would be the case. That’s why I was talking with him the past year about getting involved in fundraising and why he would be good to have here.
“When I left, that opened the door for Elson to talk to him about the head job.”
Moos is a good fit, Sterk believes, partly because WSU needs to move forward aggressively if it doesn’t want to be left behind by the rest of the Pac-10.
“The Cougars must be competitive in the Pac-10,” Sterk said. “And it’s bigger, obviously way, way bigger than just athletics. It’s the community, it’s the university, it’s all of that.
“It’s important to keep the playing field level. In order to do that, there are facility upgrades that need to be made.”