Q&A with Paul Hoseth

Pacific Lutheran University

By Staff

Athletic Management, 13.5, August/September 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1305/qahoseth.htm

Paul Hoseth has built a career at Pacific Lutheran University. He’s been at the Tacoma, Wash., school since 1969, serving as a Professor, Head Track and Field Coach from 1969-82, and Assistant Football Coach from 1969-95. He became Athletic Director and Dean of Pacific Lutheran’s School of Physical Education in 1996.

Pacific Lutheran won the inaugural Sears Directors’ Cup at the NAIA level in 1996. Now in NCAA Division III, Pacific Lutheran has placed 19th, 20th, and 47th in the last three years. This summer, Hoseth was named the NCAA Division III West Region Athletic Director of the Year for 2000-01 by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).

In this interview, Hoseth discusses his transition to athletic director, upgrading facilities, and his expectations of coaches.

Why did you decide to leave coaching and become an athletic director?

I was not dissatisfied with my position, nor did I particularly see the move as a step up. It was another responsibility that someone had to do.

I thought we were doing many good things academically and athletically, and [when our former athletic director left], I was concerned that we might move in a considerably different direction. I had to either apply for the position or take the chance that the new person would be someone with whom I wanted to work. I knew that if I was offered the position, there would be no possibility to continue coaching. But the timing seemed appropriate for that decision, even though it was not an easy one.

How do you balance your duties as an academic dean and Athletic Director?

From a time-management standpoint it is not easy. But I believe in the philosophy that we can teach, we can coach, we can do a variety of things and be consistently strong in all of these areas. In addition, because the two departments share a lot of similar facilities and personnel, we try to administratively keep them under the same umbrella.

But you must have institutional support for that philosophy and people who believe in it. The biggest problem today is finding an administrator who has the background and interest to oversee both areas, and professors and coaches who understand the concept.

Many people will say that the time when an academic unit and athletics could coexist is long gone. At PLU, we try to find people who believe the two can coexist, who have backgrounds in both, and who believe that both are integral parts of the campus community. We are not batting 1.000, but we continue to pick away at the challenges with singles, bunts, and steals.

In 1999, Pacific Lutheran won the Division III national championship in football. How do you transfer the enthusiasm from a championship to other sports?

I think having a really successful team can lead to healthy internal competition, both on the part of the athletes and the coaches. Not that teams are competing against each other, but when some teams are particularly successful, at least by the scoreboard measure, then other teams would also like to be as successful as they can be. We have several athletes who compete in more than one sport, so that carryover sometimes goes from one sport to another, and I think that’s healthy, too.

Why did the conference you are in, the Northwest Conference, decide to move from NAIA to NCAA Division III, and how would you describe the transition?

I would say the transition itself was relatively painless. We did not have athletic scholarships previously, so the transition from a financial-aid standpoint, which seems to be the key for Division III, was not big philosophically.

The decision-making process was done primarily at the presidential level. There were some new presidents in the conference who had Division III backgrounds and so were looking at changing in that direction. There were also some issues of philosophy. I think there is a real attempt to retain the concept of the student-athlete at the NCAA Division III level.

Another issue was postseason costs. When you’re in the NAIA, as you become more successful, generally it becomes more expensive because of the travel costs for postseason competition. In the NCAA, as you become more successful—not for all sports but for the most part—the expense end of it is much less for postseason competition [because more travel costs are reimbursed than in the NAIA]. Over the years, we were spending quite a bit for postseason competition that was not budgeted, so we had to fund-raise and do a variety of things to help our teams compete.

Has going to Division III created scheduling challenges?

Yes. We are in a corner of the world with very few Division III schools, so if we want to compete against similar institutions, it’s difficult. We have nine schools in our conference and one other school in the Northwest that is currently functioning as a Division III member, Eastern Oregon.

Football’s one sport that really poses scheduling challenges. In the conference, we have five games, and the sixth game for most of us would be with Eastern Oregon. If we want nine or 10 games we have to find other people to play.

The obvious solution is to play regionally against schools that we played regularly in the NAIA. But since we went Division III, those institutions have gone Division II. The other solution is that we travel to California or the Midwest to find the nearest Division III schools; of course, that becomes very expensive. It’s an ongoing challenge and I suspect it will continue to be so.

What is your philosophy on mentoring coaches?

I never ask coaches to win on the scoreboard. But I do ask them to “win” so that students have a good experience—that they see their athletic involvement as an important part of their college career. Winning is not in the win-loss column, but in the perception of the experience.

Coaches cannot please everyone. And yet they must help young people to compete well, to play without fear, and to enjoy the trip. It is my job as an administrator to help coaches move in those directions. We will continue to see the challenge as the road and not the destination.

What do you do to ensure student-athlete welfare?

I have been working directly with our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, mostly with the executive portion of it, which consists of four to six athletes. Every two weeks we have meetings with the entire group. In that group we talk about a variety of issues, and certainly student-athlete welfare is one of them.

We are also working on Title IX issues. We are all struggling to deal with things we can control, like facilities: How can we create facilities that are somewhat equitable? It’s not only the venues, but locker rooms and athletic-training facilities and things of that sort, which are extremely important to student welfare.

Then you get into transportation and per diem. We strive for budgets that deal with all athletes similarly. We have attempted to offer a variety of sports at the expense of better budgets. We have to do things that are sometimes a greater challenge—for instance, having less meal money, or sleeping four people to a room in a motel. But we take the time to explain to the athletes why we do these things—that we make decisions like this so we don’t have to decide to cut this sport or that sport.

What has been your experience working with various NCAA committees, and what do you feel you accomplished?

I have worked with the West Region Football Committee and the National Football Committee. It helped me understand how the selection process for championships works and allowed me to provide input from the Far West. This past year, the football committee instituted a computer program to help with information gathering and, eventually, with the process of selecting playoff teams—a significant time saver.

My greatest contributions have probably been from asking questions from a newcomer’s point of view and from an institution far from the center of Division III activity. As the Division has moved further west, it needs to understand the challenges that presents for the entire division.

What are your current goals for the athletic department?

The thing I’ve been working on most is a master plan for facilities—getting institutional buy-in for capital improvement and involvement from a fund-raising standpoint.

Right now, we’re doubling-up in areas. For example, we’re using the outfield of the baseball field for a soccer facility. We need to look at how we can create better space and better space utilization, but it has to be coordinated. We can’t just go off on our own and decide this is what we’re going to do. So, institutionally, we’re working on it. It is not happening as quickly as many of us would like, but I’m learning patience in this position.