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New Idaho athletic director Terry Gawlik believes in power of being connected

Terry Gawlik was named the athletic director at the University of Idaho after 25 years at the University of Wisconsin. (Melissa Hartley / University of Idaho)
Terry Gawlik was named the athletic director at the University of Idaho after 25 years at the University of Wisconsin. (Melissa Hartley / University of Idaho)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Last Thursday, in her first visit to the University of Idaho since being named athletics director the day before in Boise, Terry Gawlik poked her head in offices and briefly introduced herself as she made her way down a hall in the Kibbie Dome’s east end.

These were the first steps on what she acknowledged is a steep learning curve. In addition to greeting the troops, Gawlik was adept enough to carefully answer questions pertaining to gaps in her knowledge about the challenges facing her at Idaho.

Will she restructure the athletics department’s administrative staff?

“I have to look at the organizational chart,” she said.

What is the proper contemporary relationship between Idaho and its former, longtime, bitter in-state rival Boise State?

“I’ve never been on Boise’s campus,” she said, “(but) I think we should be playing them in football.”

So, there’s that.

Gawlik comes to Idaho after 25 years in athletics administration at the University of Wisconsin, including 14 years as Senior Woman Administrator.

“She knows what winning looks like,” UI president Scott Green said in introducing her in Boise.

Gawlik supervised 10 sports and more than 400 athletes. In addition, she represented Wisconsin on the Big Ten Conference Sports Management Committee and Joint Group. She was formerly chairman of three NCAA Division I committees – women’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s volleyball.

She does not view success as a zero-sum game – I win, you lose.

“The Big Ten became a powerful conference because we started sharing ideas and information,” she said. “When I first got to Wisconsin, that did not happen.”

Such a collegial approach seems to be central to her leadership strategy.

“(Gawlik) has made a significant impact at Wisconsin over the past 25 years, while establishing a well-deserved reputation as an respected administrator, both locally and nationally, through committee service and active leadership on policy issues across multiple sports,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.

Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletics director, agreed.

“She is a great match for this position (at Idaho), and I am confident she will do an outstanding job,” Alvarez said.

“Terry distinguished herself by getting to know every member of the (athletics board) by name, interest and skill set,” said Sheila McGuirk, Wisconsin’s former athletics faculty representative. “In a time when the student side of athletics was believed to be overlooked, neglected or forgotten, Terry earned trust from all members of the board by being consistent, authentic, dedicated, extremely capable and deeply connected across all sports.”

Her background may have shaped this fundamentally personal approach to college athletics. Gawlik was among the first generation of women to benefit from Title IX.

“I started playing sports in the sixth grade, half-court basketball, wearing Chuck Taylors on tile floors,” she said.

She reached middle school in the early 1970s.

“I remember one day our coach and physical education teacher told us, ‘It’s a great day. Title IX applies to athletics,’ ” she said.

Gawlik went on to compete in basketball and volleyball at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she graduated in 1981. In her era, women were defining their role in college sports.

“I like to keep the story alive,” she said. “People don’t understand what it was like. I have never been coached by a man.”

By contrast, she said, “I know girls who have never been coached by a woman.”

After college, Gawlik coached and taught at several Texas small colleges. She never had an assistant, she said.

“I drove the van, did laundry, swept the floor and wrapped ankles,” she said.

She would also tape her teams’ games.

“But I never got to watch the tape, because I always had to prepare for a class,” she said.

She moved to Wisconsin in 1994 to be with her boyfriend, now husband, Dan, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.

“When I left Texas and coaching behind, that was a big moment for me,” Gawlik said.

Her work at Wisconsin started with positions in men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball event management and recreational sports. She did that for three years before becoming an assistant athletic director in 1997.

“I got to be around coaches and see what they needed, and I got to meet regular students,” she said. “I taught lifeguards, but I was a terrible step aerobics teacher.”

Coming into an elite Division I athletics program through this door was valuable, Gawlik said. It seems to have given her an appreciation for people more than for the perquisites of big-time college sports.

For instance, she had suggestion for the Badgers’ volleyball team on how to strengthen its connection to the student body.

“You know all those cookies your moms bring?” she asked. “Why don’t you give them to the band?

“You would not believe how far that went.”

She also encouraged coaches to interact with students in the stands after games. This kind of touch might build stronger ties between Idaho’s teams and its supporters and UI students, Gawlik said.

“On a campus like this, it’s easy to go to games,” she said.

Her initial impression in her first full day in the Vandals’ athletics department was in line with her belief that the strength of a college sports program is its people.

“Everyone is excited to move the program forward,” Gawlik said. “It’s like a family.”

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