OU's Consistency Starts at Top with Boren

Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma

By John Rohde // SoonerSports.com

Before David Lyle Boren became the 13th president of the University of Oklahoma, more than a few influential folk thought perhaps he should take a run at becoming President of the United States.

Five-term Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the party’s presidential nominee in 1964, publicly stated that Boren, a Democrat, should have been elected President.

With Boren serving his third term in the U.S. Senate, conversations of him becoming OU’s president began with clandestine conversations. Boren was cautious before making the move. “I wanted to make sure it was going to happen before it ever was made public,” admitted Boren, who eventually resigned his senate seat on Nov. 15, 1994, to become the school’s president.

Twenty years later, Boren has the longest active tenure of any major college president in the U.S. and is five years shy of passing George Lynn Cross (1943-68) as the school’s longest-serving president. Boren is the first person in state history to serve as governor (1975-79), U.S. Senator (1979-94) and school president (1994-present).

Boren and Castiglione

University of Oklahoma President David L. Boren, joined by Oklahoma Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletic Programs Joe Castiglione, addresses the crowd at the celebration of the softball team’s 2013 WCWS title.

For any college to retain someone as accomplished as Boren for two decades is astonishing, given his colossal list of achievements:

  • Born April 21, 1941, in Washington D.C., Boren is the son of Christine and Lyle H. Boren, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1937-47). David graduated from Yale University in 1963, where he majored in American history and graduated in the top one percent of his class. Boren was elected president of the Yale Political Union and is a member of the Skull and Bones. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a master’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford in 1965. He later served as a member of the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee.
  • From 1963-74, Boren served in the Oklahoma Army National Guard and attained the rank of captain. In 1966, he ran successfully for a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and served four terms (1967-75). In 1968, Boren earned a law degree from the OU College of Law and won the Bledsoe Prize as the outstanding graduate. While in the House, Boren also served as a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University.
  • As a senator, Boren served on the Senate Committee on Finance, the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (1987-93), where his six years is the longest tenure for any chair. Boren was one of the President Clinton's top candidates to become U.S. Secretary of Defense in 1994, which is when Boren resigned his seat to become OU’s president.
  • Boren's son, Dan, represented Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District (2005-13). His daughter, Carrie, is a former actress and current director for evangelism in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. (If Boren’s third-generation governmental lineage wasn’t high-profile enough, here’s one more tidbit: He also was first cousin to folk singer Hoyt Axton and his aunt, Mae Boren Axton, who wrote “Heartbreak Hotel,” which became a hit for Elvis Presley.)

Boren Rhodes Scholar

Boren was selected as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a master’s from the University of Oxford in 1965. He is located in the third row, seventh from the left.

Not only is Boren one of the nation’s most authoritative college presidents, his accompanying cast of athletic director Joe Castiglione and football coach Bob Stoops gives the Sooners the most formidable three-man crew in the country.

The “B-C-S” triumvirate of Boren-Castiglione-Stoops is entering its 16th year together, the longest active streak for any president/AD/football coach combination. “I never imagined that we would be together over 15 years,” Boren said.

Not only is Boren one of the nation’s most authoritative college presidents, his accompanying cast of athletic director Joe Castiglione and football coach Bob Stoops gives the Sooners the most formidable three-man crew in the country.

No trio at any major college is more imposing. A harmonious working environment among a school’s president, athletic director and football coach is rare, which adds to the significance of what’s transpiring at OU. This figures to become a valuable commodity with the arrival of the so-called Power Five conferences that have been granted autonomy from the NCAA.

When Boren took over as OU’s president, Sooner football had just commenced a five-year collapse from 1994-98 that brought a 23-33-1 (.412) overall record and no winning seasons under three different coaches. “Football was in a dark place,” Boren recalled.

While Boren’s qualifications to become school president were obvious (see above), the elephant in the room during his interview process was the current state of football. “They asked me a lot of academic question, then finally one (Board of Regents) member asked me, ‘You do believe in football, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m from Oklahoma, aren’t I?’ ” Boren said with a smile. “Oh, my gosh, as long as I was old enough to walk my dad brought me to the OU football games with him. I understood we were not doing well (in 1994). My first three or four years coincided with part of the worst period for athletics at the University of Oklahoma for the football team.”

Boren Rowing

While a student at Oxford, Boren competed on his residential college crew team. He can be seen in this photo as the third rower from the bottom.

With OU football struggling, that meant the school’s entire athletic department was in a world of hurt when Boren arrived. “The athletic department had actually gotten in debt for the rest of the university, over $20 million in debt, without the president or the regents even knowing it,” Boren explained. “I had to have a change. I sent out an SOS and (1969 Heisman Trophy winner) Steve Owens – a person I watched for many, many years and came to know as a friend – answered the call. He really was very important. Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves in turning around some of the administrative problems we had in the athletic department.”

A successful local businessman, Owens essentially became AD out of the kindness of his heart and love for his alma mater. When Owens resigned amid budget cuts in March of 1998 after 19 months on the job, Boren’s sights were squarely on Castiglione, who at the time was athletics director at Missouri. “He was absolutely our first choice, our only choice at that point in time,” Boren said of Castiglione. “We were so focused on him.”

Like Boren four years earlier, Castiglione was thrown straight into the fire. Less than seven months after Castiglione arrived, John Blake was fired as OU’s football coach.

Castiglione and Boren went hard after their top choice in Stoops, who has since become the school’s winningest football coach with a 160-39 record (.804) in 15 seasons. In just his second year, Stoops won the 2000 national championship. He has advanced to a bowl game every season, claimed eight Big 12 titles (five more than any other school) and been victorious in all four BCS bowl games (Orange, Rose, Fiesta and Sugar).

Castiglione has been honored multiple times and was named 2009 National Athletic Director of the Year by the Sports Business Journal. The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame named him the 2013 recipient of the John L. Toner Award, presented annually to an athletic director who has demonstrated superior administrative abilities and shown outstanding dedication to college athletics, particularly college football. Castiglione recently was named chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2015-16 academic school year.

David L. Boren, Bob Stoops and Molly Shi Boren - Sugar Bowl

Boren, his wife Molly Shi Boren and head football coach Bob Stoops celebrate OU’s 45-31 victory over Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Boren proudly states the athletic department has since become an “empire” under Castiglione. “A lot of people don’t know, but the Athletics Department is giving $6-$8 million a year for the library and faculty salaries from the department’s profits,” Boren said. “We’re one of the few schools in the United States to do that. I can sleep well at night, as the old saying goes, knowing that I have an athletics director like Joe Castiglione.”

Boren was re-elected with 83 percent of the vote in 1990, the highest percentage in U.S. Senate voting that year. Boren left his seat in 1994 with an approval rating of 91 percent. His approval rating as school president might be even higher.

Since Boren’s arrival, OU has initiated 31 major new programs, including the establishment of the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College; the Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West; a new expository writing program for freshmen modeled on the program at Harvard; the Artist-in-Residence Program; a new College of International Studies; and the Faculty-in-Residence Program, putting faculty family apartments in student residence halls. The Retired Professors Program was started, bringing 50 retired full professors back to the university to teach freshmen.

Boren left his seat in 1994 with an approval rating of 91 percent. His approval rating as school president might be even higher.

Other additions include a Religious Studies program to promote understanding between cultures; the Institute for Quality Communities, which fosters the creation of livable communities in the state and nation; the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, which allows students to partner with OU researchers and private sector mentors to advance early-stage university technologies that enhance the state’s economy; and the Institute for American Constitutional Heritage, which allows students the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of our nation’s history.

More than $2 billion in construction projects have been completed or are under way on OU’s three campuses since Boren’s arrival. Among the largest of the recent projects are the $67 million National Weather Center on OU’s Norman Campus, the $128 million Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center on OU’s Health Sciences Center campus in Oklahoma City and the $35 million OU-Tulsa Schusterman Center Clinic.

On June 25, the OU Board of Regents approved a proposal for a $370-million renovation and modernization of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Among many changes, the south end zone will be enclosed to form a continuous bowl and areas utilized within the facility by Oklahoma student-athletes will be expanded or renovated. No state-appropriated funds or funds from student tuition will be used. In addition to bonds, a significant part of the project will be funded by private fundraising.

Editor's Note: A full-length video feature on President Boren, produced by SoonerVision, will re-air on FSOklahoma on Sept. 5 at 10 p.m. CT.

About John Rohde
rohde mugJohn Rohde is a respected name on the Oklahoma sports scene and will provide regular features for SoonerSports.com. Voted Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year five times, Rohde has covered OU football and basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC/New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, the Final Four, Masters and PGA Tour. He spent over 26 years for The Oklahoman, serving as a columnist and beat writer. He can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise, the flagship station for OU Athletics weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.