Ross Bjork welcomed to Aggieland (copy)

New Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork's impact is still felt by players and coaches at Ole Miss, where he was AD before coming to A&M.

HOOVER, Ala. — New Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork may no longer serve the student-athletes of Ole Miss, but his legacy continues to live strong at his former school and throughout the SEC.

As Ole Miss took its moment in the spotlight Tuesday at SEC Media Days, Bjork’s positive impact on the program was a common thread between the head coach and players.

Head coach Matt Luke has Bjork to thank for his current position, as Luke was hired by the athletic director to fill the void left by Hugh Freeze’s firing.

“Obviously I have a lot of respect for Ross and gratitude,” Luke said. “He hired me and gave me this opportunity, but [I] really, really enjoyed my time with him. He does a great job of interacting with the coaches. He also did a bunch of things with our facilities and building new facilities. So I think I got a lot of respect for him. I think he’ll do a great job.”

In seven years at Ole Miss, Bjork raised the department’s revenue from $57 million to $117 million. He oversaw several projects, including building the Manning Center and the Pavilion at Ole Miss as well as renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

With a slew of recently renovated facilities and newly hired coaches at A&M, Bjork already has said one of his focuses will be on the student-athletes and their experience, something he also proved adept at while in Oxford.

Bjork worked to change the perception those associated with Ole Miss had about the athletic department, instilling a new level of excellence that reached both the playing surface and the classroom, he said. Under Bjork, student-athletes achieved an 85 percent graduation rate, the highest in school history, he said. 

"There is no doubt in my mind that we changed the whole academic profile of the student-athlete population," Bjork said. 

Rebels safety Momo Sanogo said he knew the athletic director’s door always was open for conversations, which he utilized frequently. When Sanogo realized it was becoming difficult for student-athletes to make time to grab food between study hall sessions and workouts, he brought the concern to Bjork. Soon, the athletic facilities were stocked with nutritious snacks to tide the players through their responsibilities.

“He’s been great for the school as a whole,” Sanogo said, “and he was always around, always available. You need to talk to him, he would always go in, and [you could] talk to him about anything.”

Added Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral: “Ross is a good guy for sure. He’s always been one of those guys who, if he needed something or if he wanted to tell me something, he’d never text me. He’d say it to me in person. He’d come up and find me in person and really have a conversation with me about whatever it was he wanted to talk about.”

The first ten days in office at A&M has been filled with meeting his new staff and traveling to Texas' big cities to introduce himself to Aggie donors, he said. One-on-one meetings with head coaches and more administrators will begin later this week, he said.

"It's just been so much fun to see the passion, and the energy and the commitment and the willingness to support," he said.

"You can see why A&M has the university it has, because it has great people," he continued. 

Bjork took that relational approach in his dealings with the SEC office as well, according to commissioner Greg Sankey, who added the two maintain a good relationship that dates back to his time working for the conference in other capacities.

Bjork navigated the Ole Miss athletic department through the rough waters of an NCAA investigation into illegal recruiting practices, with sanctions that included a two-year postseason ban and loss of scholarships.

“When those investigations happen, you ask people to handle them with integrity, to be open and to work through them,” Sankey said. “And it was a long process, and it’s a tribute to Ross [to] move through and lead through a difficult time, really lead them through the two seasons of the postseason penalty.”

Freeze also was found to have used his university-issued phone to call numbers associated with erotic services, which ultimately resulted in his dismissal. Before hiring Luke, Bjork called Sankey to discuss his decision, which Sankey said he greatly appreciated.

“He had to make a tough decision on changing a football coach that I know was one of those great disappointments personally and professionally, but he stood up and handled that directly,” Sankey said.

Slightly more than a week on the job at A&M, he’s already formed those same strong lines of communications with his new team in Aggieland.

“We’ve communicated, and I have a great relationship with Ross, and I think he’s going to do a heck of a job,” A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said.

(Editor's note: The original story was updated to include comments from Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork.) 

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