Sunday Conversation: Former Montana Grizzlies athletic director Jim O’Day considers himself lucky

Posted at 4:42 PM, Nov 18, 2018

MISSOULA — Jim O’Day still has fond memories of his time at the University of Montana.

But more, the Cut Bank native appreciates the relationships he built with colleagues at the university and across the country. O’Day was part of the administration at the University of Montana for 15 years, serving seven years as the school’s director of athletics from 2005-12.

O’Day now works in consulting and has unique insight to the inner workings of intercollegiate athletics.

He sat down with MTN Sports on Friday to reminisce about his tenure with the Grizzlies and talk about his current ventures.

MTN Sports: It’s been six years since you were the AD at UM. What have you been up to in the past six years?

Jim O’Day: “There’s always something to do. I felt that I was very fortunate that a lot of people I got to meet over the years, both in my journalism career and in my athletic career at the University of Montana, that I got to know a lot of people in a lot of different segments in life, so I started a consulting business. I do a lot of consulting both nationally, regionally and locally for real estate developers, as well as some banking groups. Also in a couple partnerships with people; we work with some merger and acquisition things in the Pacific Northwest and the Denver and South Dakota areas and some of those. That, and then I still to a little bit on intercollegiate athletics side. I do some consulting with a group out of Atlanta. I work with some of them on some of the studies that they’re doing. There’s a lot of different things you can do, and I have it at my pace. I really, really enjoy it.”

MTN Sports: That’s what I was going to ask, if you were still involved with sports. Can you expand a little bit on what it is you do with collegiate athletics?

O’Day: “It was a group that did our study when we had one at the University of Montana in 2009 and 2010, to see how you match up with other schools of like sizes, what you should be doing. At that time, there was talk about the WAC coming after Montana and looking at us. We wanted to have a clear picture of where we stood, so we used this group out of Atlanta. I really enjoyed working with them, I thought they provided us with great information, I thought it was very valuable. Still somebody who really believes that athletic departments that are really the leaders in the profession at all levels should probably continue to do this every seven-to-10 years, just to kind of get a feel for where you’re at. Are you in the right places? Especially schools that are at the FCS level, maybe Division II, one of those levels that are maybe looking, ‘Should we be doing something different?’ So I do some work with them. Primarily, the things I do are on the western United State, but I was fortunate enough to do some stuff with the NCAA when I was athletic director at the University of Montana and the selection committee and stuff to get to know a number of different people and to see how their athletic departments were run.”

MTN Sports: Obviously Montana didn’t make any moves and hasn’t made any moves, but what are some of the things these universities look at, that you guys are looking at to maybe recommend a move to a bigger conference?

O’Day: “I think the biggest thing you see is everybody notices that there is going to be huge expenses, and the expenses are going to continue to climb. One of the things that you also have to look at, are what are the revenue potentials? In today’s world, revenue is driven a lot through television and things like that. Ticket sales, we were always very fortunate and continue to be fortunate at the University of Montana and at Montana State, where we draw good crowds to our primary events, where you have big crowds in football, men’s and women’s basketball. We’ve been very fortunate in that, but if you’re some other schools maybe you don’t have those kinds of numbers. But television is what separates everybody. Also the money from football. If you look at the Bowl Championship Series and the way it is right now, I mean, there’s big dollars out there. But even for the schools that are playing in the Mountain West Conference and some of the smaller schools that are playing not in the Power 5 conferences but the others in the Group of Five or whatever, they’re still getting money. And that money is helping you pay your bills.”

MTN Sports: You mentioned how lucky we are to have big crowds. We’re recording this Friday before Cat-Griz, there doesn’t get a bigger crowd. As the athletic director at one of these schools, what are some of the preparations that go into an event like this that those of us in the media or on the outside don’t understand, as far as the workload goes?

O’Day: “I remember years ago it used to be that the Griz-Cat game or Homecoming, they were the big games at the University of Montana. Well, anymore you’ve got 25-26,000 people at almost every game. A lot of the things are very, very similar. You are pulled in a lot of different directions because of the number of people that are in town that want certain people at certain events. That’s probably the biggest thing. Other than that it’s kind of business as usual. The people that work in those departments work extremely hard, a lot of long hours, a lot of time away from their families. But they love it, they do a great job. We’re very fortunate in Montana at the two schools, because they really do a great job.”

MTN Sports: What’s it been like for you these past six years to be kind of stepped away, removed from it and watch what UM and MSU are doing?

O’Day: “I see the challenges, but I also see the challenges across the country. I was very fortunate, again, to get to know a number of athletic directors across the country, many of them that were at the FCS level. And some of those people who have moved on to bigger schools. The problems are the same: It’s all about, ‘How do we create money?’ There never seems to be enough money. People don’t understand how expensive it is, but when you start to add up the bills and you look to see what it costs to run a football program with 100 student-athletes and the number of coaches you have and the support staff you have and the equipment you pay and the insurance you pay and the flights you pay. It’s a very expensive venture. And that continues to go up. Every day you see prices are going up for something. Your utilities are going up, everything you’re doing is going up. So those challenges are hard. It gets harder and harder all the time. And now you add in things, like in football where we have to worry, and rightfully so, about concussion management, things like that, things that are out of your control. Things that you really have to be on top of. There’s just a lot. Every day there’s one new challenge. From the outside looking in, I feel for those people. I sometimes think it’s a younger person’s sport to be in those spots, because you’ve got to have a lot of energy, because you have a lot to do. Again, in an administrative role, such a big part of it, the big key is raising funds.”

MTN Sports: When you look back on your time as the director of athletics at Montana, what’s your biggest takeaway? What do you fondly remember? What are some of the things you don’t fondly remember?

O’Day: “There was a lot of good times. I would never trade the times that I was able to be at the University of Montana. I was there from 1998 through 2012. We had some great runs. Almost unrealistic. I remember Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma, and we would talk and he would say, ‘Do your fans have any idea what you guys are doing?’ And I said, ‘You know what? They have known no different.’ We were continuing to win. In our rivalry, we had won 16 straight years against Montana State. That doesn’t happen in rivalries. We were going to the playoffs every year. Doesn’t happen. We were very fortunate. Then to be able to hold other programs — men’s and women’s basketball, the other programs that we had, they were so competitive. To go after President’s Cups were hard. Those were all hard things to do. As far as some of the great things, I remember in basketball when we beat Nevada and we were on the big stage. You think you are in football a lot. Maybe not so much as you are with the men’s basketball tournament when you win a game, because you get the national exposure from everywhere. Another one that I always remember, the game with Appalachian State in the snow that Saturday afternoon. It had one of the highest ratings for a football game at the FCS level ever. Actually, I think they told us the ratings were very similar to what Notre Dame-Michigan had had that year. So it was very unreal. You don’t get that at this kind of level. Certainly helped, I think, the recruiting at the University of Montana. Playing in national championship games in football. But there were other things: We won some championships in golf, Big Sky championships in women’s golf and tennis and things like that that are extremely hard at the University of Montana. You take great pleasure in that.”

MTN Sports: What was your reaction when they decided to bring back Bobby Hauck as the coach?

O’Day: “I was thrilled. Bobby does things the right way. I was able to be around Bobby a lot when he was really a green coach and really learning the trade. You just see how far he’s come. He’s come so far. I love being around Bobby. I think he’s got that drive and desire. The one thing he has, he gets great respect. I remember kids that were on the football team and at the time they couldn’t say anything nice about him, now you see those same kids and they want their kids to play for him. What a great compliment. A great compliment. People do want to play for Bobby Hauck, and he does things the right way.”

MTN Sports: You mentioned men’s and women’s basketball as kind of the other two big sports. Obviously a lot of change with the Griz and Lady Griz. To watch somebody like Wayne Tinkle and to see Travis DeCuire to have that success, what’s it been like to be able to watch those two careers build?

O’Day: “I was fortunate in that when I first came we had the Blaine Taylors and the Pat Kennedys, but I also got to spend a lot of time with Larry Krystkowiak. Larry, I still believe is one of the best coaches in America. He does an amazing job. The proof’s in the pudding. We can see what he’s doing at Utah. To see Wayne be able to get that job, he’s doing a great job at Oregon State. It’s fun to watch his son, Tres, and how well he’s playing at Oregon State. Travis has taken so much of all the things, all the places he’s been with all the coaches he’s been. Just a very well-rounded coach. I watch him grow game by game. I watch the way, my seats are not too far behind him, to watch the way he teaches, and he’s a great teacher on the court. Very in control. He knows what he wants done. Not many schools are lucky to have someone like Travis running their men’s basketball program.”

MTN Sports: Do you still have any relationship with UM?

O’Day: “I stay in touch with a lot of the people that are there, people that worked for me. So a lot of the same people. I go to the games, especially football, men’s and women’s basketball are the ones I see the most, because those are the ones that I know the most people. But I see a lot of the staff, I see them at a lot of different things. Again, I know how hard they all work. I know how fortunate I was to be able to work with them, because you couldn’t do it without all the things that they did.”

MTN Sports: Last question for me, and you can add anything on afterward: Your name doesn’t come up a lot in my conversations, but when it does, nobody has a bad thing to say about Jim O’Day. It seems like you’ve been built relationships across this state, and everybody has nothing but good things to say about you. What is it about this state and the relationships you’ve been able to build that’s kept you here so long?

O’Day: “I grew up here. I’m from Cut Bank. I was in a small town for a number years, came to the University of Montana. Actually, when I came to University of Montana, it was the first time I had ever been in Missoula. Had never been here before, so it was a little bit different than a lot of people, especially in today’s world where everybody has spent time. Loved it here, got to see much more of the state. Every part of this state has something unique, but the one thing that stands out together is that the people are great. They’re true people, they believe in you, they stick with you. In the business world, I see this, and you try to explain this, I used to try to explain this in athletics: I said, ‘Montana’s very unique, and you really have to get to know people, because they can read right through you.’ There isn’t anything better than that. That’s why people love to be around the Montana people. No matter where you go. I remember when we would go into the NCAA basketball tournament and we did all these things, everybody wanted to hang with the Montana people. They have fun. They work hard, they play hard, but they are some of the most loyal people you’ll ever be around. I just consider myself very lucky to have been around the all my life.”