Chris Standiford was late in his junior year at Gonzaga when he came to a realization that eventually hits every college student.
He needed a job. Standiford found one with a work study position in athletics and his first introduction to Mike Roth, who would eventually become his boss for 31 years.
It was the summer of the 1990 Goodwill Games. Most of the events were in Seattle, but Spokane was the site for volleyball, rhythmic gymnastics and weightlifting, the latter falling within Roth’s purview.
“We had to build a manual scoreboard, this was before digital,” recalled Roth, who is retiring Aug. 31 after 24 years as Gonzaga’s athletic director and will be replaced by Standiford, school president Thayne McCulloh announced at a Tuesday news conference.
“So I had Chris building and putting stickers on sheets like the Red Sox at Fenway Park where they slide the numbers in and out on the scoreboard.”
Standiford continued to work in the athletic department in his senior year and two more years as a graduate student.
Then, just when it appeared Standiford might have to find employment elsewhere, an unexpected retirement created an opening for pool manager with a fancier title of Martin Centre assistant director.
“That was my in,” Standiford said. “I got certified in pool operations really fast. And somehow the pool manager ended up doing all the game management, but I tell you, I loved it.”
Standiford had planned on becoming a history teacher and coach, but his outlook changed with his early experiences in the athletic department.
“It was fate,” he said of the work study job. “There was no grand plan.
“It was a job. I needed a job, but that just got me going. It made me rethink and put me on a different path.”
That path – which began to take root with a young Standiford crawling around under the Kennedy Pavilion bleachers while his parents, GU grads and season-ticket holders since 1969, watched basketball games – has allowed him to work his way up to the top of the department.
Name a chore or task and there’s a good chance Standiford has done it during his three decades at Gonzaga. He kept stats at games when his sister helped in the sports information department. He checked ID’s at the Martin Centre.
The last of his numerous titles and multiple job duties was Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer prior to Tuesday’s announcement. Shannon Strahl will become the new Deputy Director of Athletics.
“My confidence level in him is off the scale,” Roth said. “I’m so pleased Dr. McCulloh made this decision.
“When he asked I gave my opinion, but it was 100% his decision. Chris has his fingerprints all over everything we’ve done here. He was the head guy on so many of the projects.
“Not only is he and Shannon the ones I’ve worked with the most over the years, but they give their opinion and it may be completely contradictory to mine. Chris will come in, and he does it respectfully, and he might tell me, ‘Mike, what are you thinking?’ ”
Athletic directors nationwide face interesting times in college athletics with the growing number of transfers and the likelihood of name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation coming this summer.
“It’s daunting in a sense for everybody,” Standiford said, “but it’s reassuring because we have some star staff members that are all over it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on college sports last season, but Standiford and Roth are optimistic the McCarthey Athletic Center will be packed again next season.
“In all of our conversations with the state and county we’re really hopeful we’ll be back at full attendance,” Standiford said.
Standiford, 52, choked up a bit when describing Roth’s impact on his career.
“He’s been so much more than a boss,” Standiford said. “He’s been a friend, a mentor, someone that’s always been there for me, even at my worst. He’s a special dude.”
Given Standiford’s background in the department and deep connections to the school – he met his wife, Julie, at Gonzaga – it was easy to see how much the new position and the support within the department means to him.
“The process is stressful and a little grueling, but I’ve never felt better about the support I’ve received from our staff,” Standiford said.
“Our coaches, Mark (Few, men’s basketball coach) and Lisa (Fortier, women’s basketball coach) have been great. It’s really validating.
“I’m a guy that’s been in the back forever. To know that people have trust and belief I can step forward and do the job and know that there’s so many people behind me, it’s very, very humbling.”