GVN EXCLUSIVE: Rob Spear, Idaho A.D.

Since taking over as Idaho's Athletics Director in 2004, Dr. Rob Spear has labored to rebuild Idaho's program from the inside-out and modernize a program that had pushed aside its facilities shortcomings for decades. Under Spear's watch, Idaho has dedicated a new weightroom ('04), new locker rooms ('05), new practice fields ('06), new turf for the Dome ('07), and more. It's just the beginning.

Editor's Note: GoVandals.net's Larry Johnson sat down with Idaho's Athletic Director last month to ask Dr. Spear a few questions about the Vandal's upcoming facility projects, and to touch base on a few other things. We at GoVandals.Net appreciate Dr. Spear allowing us some of his valuable time to conduct this interview a couple weeks ago during the 2008 Homecoming Weekend.

Also, the images embedded in the article below summarize some of the facility upgrades that have happened - and are planned - on the Idaho campus on Dr. Spear's watch since becoming Idaho's AD in '04. Despite his limited budget, he has undertaken significant facilities projects affecting all sports every year of his tenure as Idaho's AD (likely the most growth in the overall program by any Athletics Director in the history of the University of Idaho), and understands the crucial need to continue improving Idaho's facilities for the long-term stability of the program. His dedication to rebuilding the Idaho program from the inside out has resulted in unparalleled growth on the Idaho campus compared to any of his predecessors. As the Idaho program now prepares to take on much larger facility upgrades, GoVandals.net met with Dr. Spear to discuss plans on the immediate horizon.

Idaho's nearly complete, brand new, 120-seat team meeting room (the room is currently being used, with additional finishing touches to come). Adjacent to this room are two additional smaller team meeting rooms, as well as player study rooms. (SEE BELOW FOR MORE IMAGES)

Larry Johnson: So it's Homecoming weekend, lots of alumni are going to be in town, and one thing they might be interested in is where is the Athletic Department on facility development right now?
Rob Spear: "We're excited, Larry, that we've completed the team room project, the training room project and the equipment room project. We now have taken care of our student athletes on a day-to-day basis, especially the football program. Where they practice, the field they play on, where they locker, where they get their ankles taped and where they meet is as good as anywhere. So, I feel great about the progress we've made internally."

"Now we need to focus our attention on revenue-generating projects for this department. The first project is going to be renovation of the Kibbie Dome, and that's driven by the life safety improvements that we all talked about before. Those life safety improvements will begin in the spring. Our President and Financial Vice President have indicated that the end walls will be coming off in the spring. We'll put up new translucent fiberglass end walls and take care of the life safety issues relating to smoke handling, sprinkler systems and egress. During the course of the life safety design work we received some good news regarding life safety issues. We do not have to widen the aisles and we don't have to widen the concourse because we can egress 35% of the capacity off the floor of the Dome. This does mean that we have to construct egress on the west end."

View from second deck of new Iverson Strength and Speed Center
LJ: Now, when you say that your facilities are as good as anyone's, do you mean as good as anyone in the Western Athletic Conference or as good as anyone in any college in America?
RS: "Well, I just feel based on what our coaches say and what we give our student-athletes, we may not have the biggest weight room, or the biggest team rooms, or the biggest equipment room, but functionally and quality wise it's as good as anywhere."

LJ: The medical/training rooms, when I saw them, it seems to be a vast improvement as far as treatment rooms, areas for taping, training areas, preparation, and the cold pool. That all seems to be as good as even maybe some pro teams.
RS: "Well, again, we talked about the size, but functionally it's correct. We have two brand new exam rooms for student athletes. We have office space for all of our trainers, and extra space to accommodate 16 sport programs. We were just too small before. So, we've increased the size of that space by one third. It will serve us well into the future."

LJ: Beyond the Kibbie Dome renovations and the projects you've just completed, what other facility projects do you want to discuss?
RS: "We have the Kibbie Dome broken down in phases; Life Safety, Premium Seating, Club Room/Hall of Fame, and then increase capacity. We are committed to building premium seating in the dome so that we can create a revenue generator. Then we will see…"

Proposed Vandal Village in East Endzone.
LJ: Which you refer to as the Vandal Village?
RS: "Vandal Village. Right. First we will invest in improving the game day experience for our fans. Then it will be up to us and up to our boosters and supporters to help us start selling out the Dome so we can identify - or really show - the need that we need increased capacity. But Larry, as we all know, the next thing - after the Dome project - that we need to do is we need to get basketball out of the Kibbie Dome, and that's going to be a primary focus of mine. I'm looking here at an external review that was concluded this past summer. It's going to be a great document to give to a new president. When the external reviewers came and analyzed and reviewed our facilities, they recommended two things facility-wise. One, they recommend the institution complete the Kibbie Life Safety Project, and reaffirm the dome facility campaign as a priority, but encourage the institution to identify facility solutions for basketball. That's the next direction that we're going."

LJ: Who produced that?
RA: "This is an external review based on a report that was prepared by myself and our staff. The external review team was made up of Karl Benson, Commissioner of the WAC, and Jim Sterk, the AD at Washington State. They came over here and reviewed our report, interviewed our student athletes, interviewed our staff, toured our facilities, and produced 11 recommendations."

LJ; All right. So are there any recommendations you'd like to share with us at this time?
RS: "Well, I will read them one by one if you want.

1. We recommend the university administration evaluate the reporting structure of the Ticket Office to have a closer relationship with the marketing arm of the Department of Athletics.

2. We recommend the institution help identify additional support resources for the Associate Athletic Director of External Affairs through reallocations or restructuring of the Vandal Scholarship Fund unit.

3. We recommend the Department of Athletics continue placing an emphasis on the areas identified in the NCAA self study.

4. We recommend the University of Idaho pursue changing the SBOE policy of capping state and institutional funds.

5. We recommend that the institution complete the Kibbie Life Safety Project, reaffirm the Kibbie Dome facility campaign as a priority, and also encourage the institution to identify facility solutions for basketball.

6. We recommend the USS identify additional space to alleviate the overcrowding in the athletic program and protect practice times and gym access in Memorial Gym and the large and small Physical Education Gyms.

7. We recommend the University recognize and formalize the role of athletics to assist in enrollment, fund raising, and marketing of the institution.

8. We recommend that staffing in the Academic Services Department remain a priority.

9. We recommend the Department of Athletics continue to address personnel needs in the training room, academic services (life skills), and the equipment room and add personnel as needed.

10. We recommend the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) take a more active role in the identification and tracking of Community Service.

11. We recommend the Department continue to identify funding for full-time assistant coaches in tennis and track and field."
LJ: So, when you say: getting basketball out of the Kibbie Dome, you're talking about an external facility that would be a revenue generating basketball venue?
RS: "That would be the ideal solution. But, there are other solutions we can look at. There are some neat ideas about renovating Memorial Gym and taking an icon like that facility and making it a useful building again; it's right in the heart of our campus, and I think it would have some appeal. Cost is going to be an issue for any type of event center. A new events center is very costly…renovating Memorial Gym is less expensive. I've always said that the thing that separates this campus from truly being one of the most outstanding residential campuses in the country is the lack of an events center. Obviously I'd love to see an events center here, but I do know we need to get basketball out of the Dome, because once you do that then you have a lot more flexibility with what you can do with the Kibbie Dome and future direction of this program."

Translucent endwalls going in this spring as part of Life Safety project.
LJ: Any other facility projects? Anything in any of the other sports besides basketball and football?
RS: "My goal, Larry, is that we're going to do something every year, whether it's re-carpeting a locker room - we're going to make progress every year. I feel good about what we've been able to do the last four years with the outdoor practice fields, locker rooms, video board, and the things I mentioned earlier. We have also upgraded our coaches offices to appropriately represent the Division I program that we are. The swim team locker project is the next project. We're working through our facility department, and hopefully that will be done before January. Funding is in place thanks to Jack and Julie Hawkins. That's the next project that we have in place right now."

LJ: Long-term: If you get basketball out of the Kibbie Dome, would there be anything else you'd want to remove from the Kibbie Dome or change besides just capacity. Is there anything else you want to do once basketball is out of the Dome?
RS: "Well, a lot is dependent upon the direction the institution wants to go. The Kibbie Dome right now is used so much by other entities besides athletics. As we have discussed before: 65% of the time it's used by non-athletic entities. If you had an event center or another facility big enough to handle commencement, the Jazz Festival, and home shows, then I think that you are giving yourself a lot more flexibility with what you can do with that facility long term. That could include taking the roof off at some point in time. When we did our feasibility study we looked at it. We've never ruled that out…anything's possible."

LJ: Now let's go back to the recommendations where the ticket office has a more direct relationship with the Athletic Director. What you're saying is you want to reorganize how the ticket office is managed?
RS: "Well, I think that we can create some efficiency. We need to look university-wide how we can create some efficiency, especially in these tough economic times, and one of the things that we've always talked about is more closely aligning our ticket office with our marketing department. Hopefully that will happen…It's being discussed."

LJ: How many of these recommendations or changes could be impacted by a new University president?
RS: "Well, the beauty of this study, Larry, is it was really intended to give the new president a document that identifies the athletic related issues that need to be addressed by the new leader of this institution. So, I think virtually every one of these can be… the University president has the ability to do anything. In my opinion this hire for our university is the most important hire in the history of this institution…we need to get it right. That person has to be a strong leader. They have to have a very strong external influence, and they need to be able to make decisions. Now that being said, the State Board of Education needs to help us by giving all the president's in this state multi-year contracts. That is a very critical part of this hire. If a president has a multi-year contract it allows him/her to make some tough decisions and withstand the backlash that will occur from groups who may view a particular decision as unfavorable. A multi-year contract allows a person the time to prove a particular decision was right. Now, I certainly hope our new President will embrace athletics! They have to!"

LJ: You're on the search committee. Can you say anything officially about how the presidential search is going?
RS: "I can't. I can give you a rough timeline. The timeline is that we hope to have some candidates on campus for interviews in January, but even with that timeline you can anticipate the starting date of the new president will be July 1."

NEW 120-seat Team Meeting Room

Idaho's NEW Expanded Training Room

Center of room, looking south

Center of room, looking north (new therapy pool to right)

Closeup of therapy pool

New treatment room

Additional new treatment room

New office cubicles as well as walled offices

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