Memo to UDOT: Think about hiring Utah State's new athletic director part-time to quicken I-15 reconstruction.
He says he's a bridge builder.He also says he's in this for the long haul.
That means he could be around to help with the Legacy Highway, if that project ever gets started, to make it easier for Salt Lake Valley Aggies to get to Logan for games.
Bruce Van De Velde, 43, from the University of Missouri, was named Aggie athletic director Monday, filling the position vacated in February by the harried Chuck Bell, now San Jose State AD.
Decisive but sometimes abrasive, Bell burned a lot of bridges in his five years.
Bell was known as much for dismissing or intimidating staffers and alienating some faculty and small-amount donors as for his championship hires - basketball coach Larry Eustachy and football coach John L. Smith (now at Louisville), whose teams quickly grabbed league trophies - and for the new or improved athletic facilities Bell instigated.
Van De Velde, who toured some of I-15 on his way to Logan to meet more of the community and media Friday afternoon, is a rookie AD, but he was associate AD for development at Missouri for a little more than a year, and he was associate AD at Kansas State for five years. He helped resurrect Kansas State's football program, being involved in everything football from recruiting to game-day operations to scheduling, budgeting and bowl games. Van De Velde jumped to Missouri for the chance to work under a young AD he calls "a visionary in marketing and fund raising. I saw I could make a big impact," he says.
The Iowa State grad will get his doctorate from K-State before he moves to Utah in late July. He's been an assistant football coach, and he grew up with a sister and two brothers involved in rural high school athletics, mainly football and baseball, among the cornfields of little Sterling, Ill., near the birthplace of Ronald Reagan.
He calls himself "a facilitator," the kind of person who wants to "make a difference," and he has a small-town stick-together approach.
"There are challenges internally and externally," he observes about his new USU situation, saying he will "focus first on the internal, build from the inside out. It's a slow process, but I definitely want to build bridges" with the school's other departments, donors, athletes and staff.
As for the athletic department staff, most of whom were always edgy under Bell, Van De Velde says that's not his style. "No-o-o-o," he says; he's a positive kind of person. "I will go by the assumption that everyone is doing a great job and make people prove me otherwise," he says. "They won four or five conference championships (in the past school year), so somebody's doing a good job," Van De Velde said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his Missouri office.
USU had 59 applicants for the AD's position. It held public interview sessions with the top five, as determined by a seven-member search panel. The Van De Velde selection seems a popular one with staff and with Aggie boosters who are very active and opinionated on Internet forums.
The only worry most Aggies have about Van De Velde is that he's an up-'n'-comer who'll be gone to a bigger, better job in a few years.
"I don't agree with that at all, and I'm sincere when I say that," Van De Velde says.
Being an NCAA Division I AD has been his main mission in life. "I've looked at my career in five- year increments," he says. "I'll put my head down and work for five years to meet established goals, then look up, see where I'm at and then establish new goals.
"We don't like to move," Van De Velde says of himself and his wife, Debbie, who has also been his career partner. "We work hand in hand," he says. "I thought (USU) was a great fit for Debbie and me to really make a contribution and to launch our career. We're really looking forward to becoming a part of the community and helping as much as we can." The couple currently has no children.
At Missouri, Debbie is an assistant developer for the donor-recognition club. While the Van De Veldes were at Missouri, Tiger fund raising reached all-time highs (by more than $5 million) in three areas: annual giving, total giving and scholarship endowments. Van De Velde also began a financial campaign to upgrade Tiger athletic facilities and had $3 million in pledges for that in little more than a year.
As a former athlete and assistant coach, Van De Velde says his favorite thing is working with young people, especially in sports. "I love to watch them grow, academically and athletically," he says. They are his "primary focus. I'm an educator," he says.
Helping them means departmental growth. "Programs flourish when they're funded," Van De Velde says. "It's a great challenge, one that never goes away, but I love it.
"We have a great product to sell - young people. What a great investment."
Aggies everywhere hope he's the guy to VanDEVELop USU athletics to the big time.