A Roaring 20
Twenty years of success under Joe Castiglione
On his way to becoming one of the nation's best athletics directors – arguably the best – Joe Castiglione got personal with those who surround him. And he plans on keeping it personal for as long as he occupies the office.
In his 20 years as Oklahoma's AD, Castiglione has experienced remarkable success. Under his watch, OU student-athletes have excelled on the field and in the classroom.
Castiglione has crossed paths with elite athletes and hired elite coaches and in the process became elite himself.
So, what's the secret? What traits make for a great athletics director?
"As much as anything, it's having a vision and setting expectations, then having the ability to communicate to get everybody on board. There's also having the ultimate support of his coaches. Joe truly has always been very loyal and outgoing in every way to support and help each and every sport, for sure."
"(A great AD) is somebody you feel like you could sit down and talk to, someone you feel like is in it with you and always willing to listen. They should have a very inviting personality. You should feel a sense of comfort with them as a coach. I know I certainly felt that way with Joe the first day I walked through the door. He doesn't get too caught up in the immediate ups and downs of all these different sports. He has a good poise about him and I think a good sense of reality."
"There needs to be clean lines of communication. They need to be approachable, a visionary with a willingness to know your program and know your players; not treating everybody the same, but treating everybody fairly. You've got to be able to build relationships with people in order to be able to lead them, and Joe certainty has done that."
"They have to have a great vision, maybe almost idealistically. But there's also a feel and a perceptiveness, an ability to sell that to others and identify others to be in position to make it happen – from staff, to coaches, to athletes, to administration, across the board. Joe's got a good feel for a coach's life and the responsibility. He's also got a good feel for when to step in and when to step back."
"A good AD needs to be a good listener. Not just, ‘OK, I hear you. Now get out of my office.' It's someone who can really hear what you're saying and do the best they can to help you with your struggles. Listening, understanding and working with coaches together. We all want what we want and it's impossible to make us all happy."
"He obviously has an eye for people who have the same vision he has. What's made Joe really special as an athletics director is his attention to the people who aren't necessarily going to bring him the most recognition. He made a really concerted effort to know all his coaches – not just the head coaches but the people who are doing the work with the student-athletes on campus. He's made them feel all important in what they're doing."
"One of the things I truly value about Joe is his willingness to let you do your job. There's probably a lot of athletics directors out there who really micromanage their coaches, but he truly trusts who he hires and he lets them absolutely execute their vision. He's genuinely caring, and I think that's very important."
With the arrival of the 2018-19 fiscal year, Castiglione officially has completed two decades as OU's athletics director.
What has left the most lasting impression? "When you think about that length of time, first and foremost, obviously you think about the incredible number of people who have crossed one's path," Castiglione said. "I've been the luckiest person ever to have so many wonderful people come into my life."
Under his watch, OU athletics has achieved more during any 20-year span in school history.
In the Castiglione era, the Sooners have won 18 of the school's 37 all-time NCAA team championships – nine in men's gymnastics (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018), four in softball (2000, 2013, 2016, 2017), three in women's gymnastics (2014, 2016, 2017), one in men's golf (2017) and one in football (2000). OU is on a current streak of winning at least one national title in six straight years. The Sooners also have won 88 conference championships since Castiglione's arrival.
By the Numbers
A four-time AD of the Year, Castiglione has led OU to unprecedented success athletically, academically and fiscally.
Head coaches who have served under Castiglione at OU have become a growing list of Hall of Famers.
Gasso and Coale, the only active head coaches who preceded Castiglione's arrival in Norman in 1998, already have been inducted into their sport's Hall of Fame.
Stoops, who retired 13 months ago, eventually will join the College Football Hall of Fame.
Kruger, the first Division I coach to advance five different programs into the NCAA Tournament (four to the Sweet 16 and beyond since the field expanded to 64 teams), is someday destined for the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and will be considered for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Williams and Kindler have won a combined seven NCAA gymnastics team championships in the last five seasons.
"In my opinion, he probably has the best eye for coaches in the country," Kindler said of Castiglione. "I've never seen another athletics department that was able to hire great coach after great coach, even when somebody leaves. I think he's a really great judge of character. We're surrounded by great people."
Gasso was hired on the recommendation of former OU associate athletics director/senior women's administrator Marita Hynes in October of 1994. Coale arrived two years later, also thanks to an endorsement via Hynes.
"He's been a great thinking partner, I can tell you that," Coale said of Castiglione. "He's just such a solid guy, always willing to think outside the box and wrestle through issues, find creative ways to move forward and solve whatever task is at hand."
Gasso said she felt an immediate change upon Castiglione's arrival. "When I first got to OU, it was kind of like, ‘Here's a great budget. Good luck. Stay out of trouble. Let us know how you do at the end of the season,'" Gasso said. "It was like, ‘We're worried about football, just don't cause any problems, and try to win if you can.' That's truly what it felt like, but Joe is totally invested in every program."
Williams, who is fresh off winning his fourth straight national championship and ninth overall, had served as an OU assistant before Castiglione's arrival. It was another recommendation from Hynes that enticed Castiglione to give Williams a shot at head coach.
"He didn't know me at all when he got here," Williams said of Castiglione. "He relied on Marita Hynes, who did know me well. He gave me an interim position for one season and said, ‘Let's see what you do and we'll talk in a year.'"
Nineteen seasons later, Williams dominates collegiate gymnastics and also is a prominent fixture in USA Gymnastics.
Eight months after arriving from Missouri, where he served for 17 years, including the last five as athletics director, Castiglione's hiring legacy at OU began with the selection of Florida defensive coordinator Stoops as the new head football coach on Dec. 1, 1998.
Castiglione said there is a "general blueprint" he follows when going through the selection process for a new head coach and admits there are many nuances.
"You're looking for the best person, and also the best fit," Castiglione explained. "It's more of an art than a science. There are many variables. It's really hard to explain, but it's something I've fine-tuned through experience. Let's be honest, I don't know anyone who's batted 1.000 when it comes to hiring coaches and I certainly haven't. If hiring the right head coach is not the most important thing an athletics director does, it's close. Without the right people in the right places doing the right things, you can't achieve the lofty goals we've set for ourselves."
OU's prowess under Castiglione extends to the classroom, where student-athletes have reached unprecedented heights.
After this past spring semester, OU student-athletes owned a 3.13 cumulative GPA, the best in recorded school history, and have a record 13 consecutive semesters with at least a 3.0 average. Twelve teams, which included 10 women's squads, had at least a 3.2 cumulative mark following the spring semester.
The annual Director's Cup recognizes overall athletics program excellence nationally. The Sooners have finished in the Top 25 for nine consecutive years and 17 times in the past 20 years.
Financially, OU athletics has finished with a profit every school year under Castiglione.
Personally, Castiglione has won numerous national awards, which includes being named National Athletic Director of the Year three times (2009, 2016, 2018) by Sports Business Journal. In 2017, he was selected as the country's best athletics director in separate Sports Illustrated media and AD polls. In August, Castiglione will be enshrined into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame with the Class of 2018.
Castiglione also has served on multiple NCAA and national committees and his peers repeatedly have recognized him for his accomplishments. This spring, he began a term on the College Football Playoff Committee and previously was a member of the Division I Men's Basketball Selection Committee and the NCAA Baseball Committee. Castiglione is the only person to have served on these three prominent committees.
OU's athletics facilities have climbed into the upper-echelon nationally since Castiglione's arrival, and will ascend even higher with construction of a new $22-million softball stadium, expansion and enhancements at L. Dale Mitchell Park, expansion of the Sam Viersen Gymnastics Center, plus continuing improvements to Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Drag the sliders to see how some of OU's facilities have transformed in Castiglione's 20 years.
The finest facilities in the nation, these are the places the Sooners call home.
Impressive as all these achievements are, there's more to being a great AD. Most notably, the human touch.
Late in the 2009 season, OU and No. 10-ranked Missouri were battling for the Big 12 regular-season softball championship. The Sooners traveled to Columbia, Mo., and needed to win twice in the series to clinch the crown, which they did.
"We came home," Gasso recalled. "It was midnight and pouring rain and somebody was standing outside our stadium with an umbrella, waiting for the bus. I was like, ‘Who is this fanatic out there in the rain?' It was Joe, there to congratulate us."
Castiglione has done this for many teams on many occasions throughout his two decades at OU, frequently in unfriendly weather conditions.
"There are times I've felt like somebody needed to meet the team in the middle of the night when they came back from winning or losing a tough game," Castiglione explained. "I just felt that was something I needed to do. Show your programs that you care about them. At times, I've brought (wife) Kristen with me and she'd say, ‘Now, uh, what is it we're doing again?' It doesn't always involve any words or conversation. More than anything, you're there and you care and you're able to show it. That's important."
"Joe truly has always been very loyal and outgoing in every way to support and help each and every sport."
— Bob Stoops
Castiglione's reputation precedes him wherever staff members travel throughout the country.
When Coale is at a convention, serving on a board or making a speaking engagement, someone in the business will discuss a particular challenge they've experienced with their athletics director. Inevitably, some of these people will approach Coale because of who her boss is.
They will ask Coale: "Hey, what do you do when something like this happens?"
Coale: "I'm sorry, I don't know. My guy's great. I've never had that. I just call him."
"Wait, you can call him?"
Coale: "Uh, yeah. That's just how it is with Joe."
"The more I talk to people, the greater appreciation I have for Joe – not that I didn't already have great appreciation for him," Coale said. "I can't imagine the weight of the responsibility in terms of your own athletics department, not to mention serving on all those committees. He's just such a consistent, well-respected voice and handles all the responsibilities in such an efficient way. It's mind-boggling."
Several OU head coaches have had opportunities to work elsewhere, as has Castiglione. And yet, all have remained.
One of the most uniquely formidable trios in NCAA history was the 18-year bond of President David Boren, Castiglione and Stoops.
"I've said it a number of times: one of the primary reasons I never left here was because of their vision, their commitment and their loyalty to push all our programs forward," Stoops said. "I know there are multiple schools that have come after Joe, but I've always been of the opinion that if it's best for him, then he should do it and we'll continue on. Fortunately, that was never the case."
Coale said, "Joe's invested so much of himself in our department, I always figured it would have to be an unbelievably special and unique call that would take him away."
Serving as athletics director at a major university with OU's penchant for success is an enviable position to hold, but it also carries the burden of being seemingly an impossible task.
"It's a little bit of both," Castiglione admitted. "The job itself is complex. It's demanding and has many different elements which make it challenging, but that's why I'm drawn to do it. Most importantly, it allows me to have a connection to serving with exceptionally good people."
Among those who have served under Castiglione at OU, 10 have gone on to become ADs at other schools, while three more are leading other major sports organizations around the country.
A special presentation of SoonerSports.com.
Contributors: Debbie Copp, Mike Houck, Tory Kukowski, John Rohde, Ty Russell, Theron Smith and Erica Slife.