Texas A&M has hired Ole Miss’ Ross Bjork as athletic director.
Bjork, who has been at Ole Miss since 2012, replaces Scott Woodward, who left for LSU last month after serving as AD at A&M since January 2016.
“We will forever cherish our time at Ole Miss and in Oxford,” Bjork said in a statement released through Ole Miss. “I want to thank Dan Jones, Archie Manning and Mike Glenn for giving me the opportunity to be an Ole Miss Rebel in 2012. I am proud of the athletics accomplishments and the infrastructure improvements we were able to achieve during the last seven years, but I am most proud of our student-athletes. They always believed they could achieve greatness in the classroom, and now Ole Miss athletics has the highest grade point average, graduation rates and APR scores in the history of the program. Despite some challenges along the way, Ole Miss is a great place, and I appreciate all of the support that every Chancellor has provided and especially my strong relationship with Larry Sparks. We have built lifelong friendships and will always revere our time as Rebels.”
Bjork will formally be introduced at A&M on June 3 after the Southeastern Conference spring meetings, which are next week in Destin, Florida. Bjork will begin work at A&M on July 8. R.C. Slocum will remain acting AD until then, when he’ll go back to serving as special assistant to the president.
“[Bjork’s] outstanding reputation as a leader will be vital to the continued trajectory of our athletics program,” A&M president Michael K. Young said in a press release. “His appreciation for higher education is evident in achieving the highest GPA and graduation rates on record during his tenure at Ole Miss.”
On Bjork’s last day in charge at Ole Miss, the Rebel baseball team eliminated the Aggies at the SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama, winning 1-0.
Bjork will return to Oxford, Mississippi, on Oct. 19 when the A&M football team plays Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“I am so honored to accept this position and look forward to greeting coaches, staff and the entire 12th Man,” Bjork said. “I remember visits to Kyle Field even before its massive renovation, being enthralled with the whole environment. I love leadership lessons, especially in military history; The Corps of Cadets — the ‘Keepers of the Spirit’ — are also a wonderful draw to the university. I will always aspire to live up to the core values that the university holds dear and to compete for and win championships.”
The 46-year-old Bjork built a reputation for fundraising, making great hires and handling tough situations at Ole Miss
Under Bjork, the Rebels spent $65 million to renovate Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and built a $94.5 million basketball arena, The Pavilion, which opened in 2016. The Manning Performance Center had a $12.5 million renovation and expansion. The Gillom Track Center was revamped for $13 million and a $11 million indoor tennis facility opened in January.
Ole Miss’ athletic budget almost doubled to $113 million in the last five years, according to his bio on the school’s website, and the Forward Together capital increased more than a hundred million to $174 million in cash and pledges.
Bjork earned praise for helping Ole Miss move past the roller-coaster regime of football coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels won a pair of New Year’s Six bowl games and beat Alabama twice, and in 2015, Ole Miss won 10 games capped with winning the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1969. That great success was overshadowed by a lengthy NCAA investigation in which Ole Miss received sanctions for a lack of constitutional control. It received a two-year bowl ban, loss of scholarships and vacated victories. Freeze eventually was fired in 2016 for violating a morals clause in his contract after it was discovered he made phone calls to an escort service with a school issued phone.
Along with Bjork promoting Ole Miss grad Matt Luke to replace Freeze, he hired former men’s basketball coach Kermit Davis Jr., who took the Rebels to the NCAA tournament in his first season, and softball coach Mike Smith, who has led the Rebels to four NCAA tournament appearances — the program’s only NCAA trips.
Bjork received a contract extension in 2016 through June 30, 2020, that paid him $650,000 per year with $100,000 academic and on-the-field performance incentives. It also changed his title from AD to vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics at the university. He was one of the lowest paid ADs in the SEC.
Woodward signed a six-year deal at LSU that starts at $1.1 million the first year. He made $900,000 a year at A&M.
Bjork will be A&M’s third straight AD with experience in the SEC, which the Aggies joined in 2012. A&M hired South Carolina’s Eric Hyman in 2012 to help with the transition from the Big 12. He resigned in January 2016, and the Aggies hired Woodward, who had been LSU’s director of external affairs from 2000-04 and was an LSU grad.
Oregon AD Rob Mullens withdrew his name for consideration for the position two weeks ago, according to several reports. Other names mentioned in A&M’s search for a new AD included Clemson’s Dan Radakovich and Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt, who both recently received extensions at their current schools.
Bjork’s hire was first reported by The Dallas Morning News’ Ben Baby.