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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Bjork left A&M in a better place than he found it

Fans should remember the athletic director for his successes, not his mistakes.
Photo by Photo by Chris Swann/The Battalion

Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork speaks to the media during a press conference on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023 at Kyle Field. Bjork, after terminating Head Coach Jimbo Fisher Sunday morning, said he felt the football program is “stuck in neutral” and didn’t meet the standards of consistency the program needed. (Chris Swann/The Battalion)

Ohio State hired Ross Bjork for a reason.

After all, the nation’s highest-grossing athletic department doesn’t hire just anyone as its next athletic director. Bjork will succeed the Buckeyes’ Gene Smith, who has been with the department for 19 years. He has big shoes to fill, and whether Texas A&M fans like him or not, Ohio State evidently felt he was the right person for the job.

Based on his track record, it’s easy to see why.

Let’s start before Bjork came to Aggieland in May of 2019. He got his first gig as an athletic director in 2010 at Western Kentucky, where he was the youngest FBS athletic director at age 37. Two years later, he made the move to the SEC to become the athletic director at Ole Miss, where he was the youngest athletic director among Power 5 schools.

Bjork has quickly risen within the industry’s ranks for over a decade, and at 51, has plenty of years ahead of him. He spent over four of those in College Station, where perhaps his most notable contributions came in the form of his coaching hires.

The 12th Man certainly can’t blame Bjork for the coaching hires he made. The man knows HR. Perhaps most notably, he oversaw the hiring of baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle, who after 18 years at TCU, took the Aggies to the 2022 College World Series in his first season, where they beat both Texas and Notre Dame.

A&M had been snake-bitten in its previous trips to Omaha, but Schlossnagle turned the program around to contenders in the SEC. With the season quickly approaching, the Maroon and White are ranked No. 8 in the D1Baseball Top 25. Not too shabby.

Over at Davis Diamond, Bjork picked up Trisha Ford from Arizona State to head the softball program. A year after winning the Pac-12, she led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament and their most wins since 2018.

Speaking of success in Year 1, coach Jamie Morrison led A&M volleyball to its first NCAA Tournament since 2019 during his debut season in Aggieland. Staying within Reed Arena, coach Joni Taylor had a rough go of it in her first season with the women’s basketball team, but now has the Aggies poised to dance in the NCAA Tournament in Year 2.

However, none of Bjork’s coaching hires has seen as much success as Gerrod Chadwell of women’s golf. In his first two seasons, the Aggies have reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championships and added an SEC crown in 2023, the program’s first since 2015.

Bjork’s last big move as A&M’s athletic director came with the hiring of Mike Elko to kickstart the football program after previously describing it as “stuck in neutral.” We’ll see what the future holds for Elko, but his success in the transfer portal and relationships with high school coaches has given fans optimism for 2024.

As much as Bjork’s coaches have thrived, they’ve followed his willingness to cut their predecessors loose. Bjork was gifted in understanding when a change of leadership needed to be made, and fans saw that with the firing of baseball’s Rob Childress, softball’s Jo Evans and volleyball’s Laura “Bird” Kuhn.

In spite of the success of other sports on campus, Bjork may best be remembered by fans as the one that fired football coach Jimbo Fisher after close to six seasons. It wasn’t simply the fact that A&M fired Fisher, but what the Aggies owed him. Fisher happily walked away with a record $76.8 million buyout, thanks in part to a contract extension offered by Bjork in 2021.

In hindsight, the offer doesn’t look good, but at the time, one can understand where Bjork was coming from. In 2020, the Aggies won the Orange Bowl with a 9-1 record and No. 4 postseason ranking. We’ll save conversations of A&M’s College Football Playoff snub for another column.

Coupled with the Aggies’ recent success on the field, Fisher had been dominating off of it in securing the top recruiting class of all time. Unfortunately for the A&M faithful, Fisher couldn’t take the program to the next level, and Bjork had to face the consequences.

Bjork also faced the music of Texas and Oklahoma’s entrance to the SEC in 2024, a move that may have ruffled some feathers, and the unpopular near-hire of Kentucky’s Mark Stoops as football coach. Speculation and conspiracy theories aside, those decisions don’t fall squarely on the shoulders of Bjork. They’re the actions of a number of leaders and honchos, not simply the athletic director.

Outside the realm of coaching, Bjork boosted A&M athletics in giving it an upper hand in the facilities war. During his tenure, he oversaw the construction of the Davis Player Development Center at the Graham Athletic Complex, Fasken Indoor Track and Field facility and an indoor tennis facility currently under construction.

Kyle Field saw renovations before the 2023 football season, while work is being done to make the Bright-Slocum Football Complex the best of its kind. Renovations are on the way for Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park and Ellis Field. Such construction is made possible through the department’s Centennial Campaign, a fundraising effort spearheaded by Bjork.

At A&M, Bjork became a major player in the NIL world as he pushed for federal legislation and uniformity on the concept. He teamed up with the 12th Man Foundation as the school navigated one of the most significant changes to college athletics.

Maybe it’s human nature that we remember people more for their mistakes and shortcomings than we do for their successes and accomplishments. For the 12th Man, it may be easy to remember Bjork as the athletic director that paid Fisher his retirement fund and then a few million dollars more. It may be easy to remember him as the man that nearly hired Stoops after his own back-to-back 7-5 campaigns.

Instead, Bjork should be kept in fans’ memory as the one that nailed his coaching hires, advocated for facility construction and renovation and raised a hell of a lot of money for the department.

If he can replicate what he did at A&M, Ohio State will be thankful to have him.

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About the Contributor
Luke White
Luke White, Sports Editor
Luke White is a senior telecommunication media studies major and sport management minor from Round Rock, Texas. He has served as head sports editor since May 2023.
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    Holmes GwinJan 26, 2024 at 5:16 am

    $77 million.

    That is his legacy.