What newly hired Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork remembers most about his first trip to Aggieland was Kyle Field’s press box shaking.
“I thought, ‘Is that an earthquake? Is that the band?’” he said.
Bjork discovered it was the fans’ passionate swaying to the Aggie War Hymn, and more than two decades later, it’s his job to get the most out of their passion.
“I know a lot of things have changed since 1998,” Bjork said. “But you come on this campus, even in 1998, you know this place is special. They care, and it’s big time, and if the stadium is shaking, you know you’re at a special place. So that really just stayed with me.”
A&M has become one of the nation’s top athletic programs since Bjork’s first visit when he was Missouri’s assistant AD for development.
“I think I’m walking into a very healthy place,” Bjork said. “It gives me a chance to really analyze and allow perspective to set in. Then I can say, ‘Maybe we need to tweak this or add this.’”
Any changes in the athletic department in the next month would be made by interim AD R.C. Slocum. Bjork, who spent the last seven years at Ole Miss, was hired May 23 but doesn’t officially start until July 8.
Bjork, who was joined by his wife and two sons at his introductory welcome event Monday afternoon at the Ford Hall of Champions, will return later this week to Ole Miss to help with its transition.
“I can’t work two jobs,” Bjork said. “I hope to come over here maybe mid-June for a few days to continue to meet people.”
A&M has not released any terms of Bjork’s contract. Bjork replaces Scott Woodward, who was making $900,000 per year. Woodward left after three years for LSU, his alma mater, which is paying him $7.95 million over six years. Bjork was making approximately $700,000 a year at Ole Miss in a contract that ran through June 2020.
Bjork’s vision for A&M is the same he had at Western Kentucky (2010-12) and Ole Miss.
“We want to be No. 1 academically and athletically,” Bjork said. “That’s it, No. 1, and that will be the premise that we have here at Texas A&M.”
Bjork said the department’s purpose will be to give student-athletes the opportunity to achieve their full potential through athletics and doing that with the Aggie core values — excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service.
Bjork said A&M has many things going for it but must capitalize and embrace being the lone SEC school in Texas.
“That’s an incredible platform,” Bjork said. “I believe we can and we should and will win more SEC championships and NCAA championships here at Aggieland.”
Bjork will rely on input from Slocum and deputy AD Stephanie Rempe on A&M’s stance on selling alcohol in general seating areas of stadiums since the SEC last week lifted the ban on the sales, allowing beer and wine starting Aug. 1.
“I think what it does is it provides flexibility. I think that’s the key,” Bjork said. “Whatever the local philosophy is, it should apply.”
A&M president Michael Young joked that Bjork will be the last person he’ll introduce since his five-year contract expires in April, though he will join the system’s remaining campus heads in relying on annual appointment letters and system policy to govern the terms of his employment.
Bjork said he worked with four different chancellors at Ole Miss.
“If I do my job, and we’re doing our job in athletics, then that leader can come and embrace athletics,” Bjork said. “President Young, look, as far as I’m concerned, he’s my boss. We’re going to lock arms and work as hard as possible, and whatever transition is, there is. But I know we’re confident in the job that we can do in athletics.”
Bjork attended the SEC spring meetings last week in Destin, Florida, along with Slocum.
A humorous moment came when Woodward supported legislation concerning gymnastics, a sport LSU is very passionate about.
“[SEC commissioner Greg Sankey] looked at Woodward and said, ‘Why would you be voting for this?’” Bjork said. “A&M doesn’t have gymnastics, and he was like, ‘Oh, I forgot,’ and moved on.”
When Slocum was named interim AD, he got a congratulatory call from Bjork, who met Slocum through former Ole Miss great Archie Manning. Bjork also offered Slocum his assistance, if needed.
“I had no idea I’d be in this role when I made the call,” Bjork said.
A&M women’s basketball coach Gary Blair and members of his staff had conversations with their counterparts at Western Kentucky and Ole Miss, who raved about working for Bjork.
“I like how he interacts with people,” Blair said. “He is straightforward. He comes right at you. He looks you in the eye, and I’m anxious to have that first one-on-one talk with him.”
Blair said nothing is broken at A&M, but “everything needs tweaking. That’s what we do as coaches.”
Blair said every coach will be able to feed of Bjork’s energy, adding that Monday’s introductory speech reminded him of listening to former men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie at his first press conference.
“He was just ready to get down to business and go into work right away,” said Blair, adding that Bjork just has that same feeling about him.
Bjork believes the coach and school should help an athlete who wants to transfer, but Bjork is in favor of having the athlete sit out a season, helping them transition academically and socially. “I think we’re allowing too many waivers,” he said.
Bjork said when he’s not working, you could see him active in the community, maybe at a school-related function following his sons — 13-year-old Payton and 8-year-old Paxton.
Bjork was an associate AD at Miami (Fla.) from 2003-05 and senior associate AD at UCLA (2005-10), but they made great memories in Oxford and can’t wait to settle in Aggieland.
“Los Angeles was cool, and Miami was fun, but we love college towns,” Bjork said.
New A&M AD Welcomed to Aggieland
Newly appointed Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork was donned with a maroon jacket after making remarks to the media, athletic staff and athletes, and others close to the A&M athletic program in The Hall of Champions at Kyle Field in College Station Monday. Here are images from that event.