“San Diego State-A Checklist”
by Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton
So how do you determine the impact of the man, what he inherited, what he tried to do, what he accomplished, the legacy he leaves going forward?
San Diego State athletics has been like the ‘little engine that thought it could”, but hardly ever did..
A mid major university, in a major city, not embraced by its own alumni, trying to keep its head above water, for years, for decades.
It has finally arrived, and now that it has, it has lost its leader.
Jim Sterk, who came came here just six years ago as Director of Athletics, is leaving to go big time, as AD at the University of Missouri.
He came here after years of struggles as AD at cash-poor Washington State, where he did a good job, but it was always a year to year struggle.
He had to fight the big fight across the state in fundraising, in hiring coaches, in recruiting with the Washington Huskies. Football was a dismal failure, basketball turned the corner. But there was a cash-flow issue every year in Pullman.
The Aztecs legacy is a mixed bag of success. The Don Coryell years was a long time ago. So was the Marshall Faulk short-lived era of success.
Basketball was a horror show, till the arrival of Steve Fisher, his national prominence, leading to enormous growth, success, recognition.
Other sports drifted aimlessly. An occasional good team or two in an Olympic sport, but always a malaise hanging over the commuter school on the hill.
The Athletic Department nearly faltered in the 80s under Mary Alice Hill, amidst movements to downgrade, do away with it, or trim teams and budgets.
A bold move brought former Arizona State AD Fred Miller on board, who helped revitalize football, but whose wheeler-dealer charm, wore thin.
Rick Day, who had been an AD at both Oregon and Ohio State came on board, bringing an air of class and veteran leadership, but money always seemed to be an issue, and the failure to build on the Faulk era ended his era.
There were struggles with glad-hander Mike Bohn, who was here today, gone tomorrow to Colorado, and then out of athletics.
Jeff Schemmel came from the Big 8 and Kansas State, gaining progress with facilties and academic stability, but was forced out under the glare of a steamy relationship with a woman.
Enter Sterk, a virtual unknown in his own conference, the PAC-10.
A quiet leader, he got things done. He inherited Brady Hoke and Steve Fisher. Football turned the corner. Basketball arrived. Tony Gwynn took over baseball too.
Convincing Rocky Long to stay and take over football has been a God-send, as Aztecs football has become conference dominant.
Across campus, academic issues were solved. Support programs put in place. Infrastructure operations stabilized. Academics became a priority as the APR problems were answered.
Facilities improved in the Aztecs Athletic Center, then the new JAM basketball facility and renovations to the baseball stadium
More than anything else, donors became doers. Fund raising rocketed, as the programs succeeded.
The Olympic sports are doing as well as ever, and though not in the spotlight, are the equal in their venues to what football and basketball are to theirs.
Sterk guided SDSU thru the turbulent waters of the WAC-to Mountain West, and helped drive deals to stablize the MWC when the Power 5-Conferences were poaching everyone else.
He was to become an influential member of the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee. He was just honored as one of the AD’s of the Year in Division 1-athletics.
He leaves behind a good track record. But up ahead, more tough decisions for SDSU. The unresolved football stadium issue at the Qulcomm sight. A possible on-campus stadium. An affiliation with MLS soccer. An unsteady future with membership in the Mountain West Conference still possibly changing.
So how do you rate the legacy of a man like Jim Sterk?
On the field accomplishments, behind the scenes successes, academic growth, fund raising, facilities, and honesty.
Check all the boxes off, and say goodbye to a good man, before he accepts the next challenge in his athletic career at Missouri.
San Diego State should be thankful for all he did. San Diego State will be challenged to hire the next CEO-AD to be as good. Jim Sterk, good man, did a good job.