The Mav with a plan
Never a dull moment in Spicer's first year as CMU athletic director
One Saturday in February, Tom Spicer watched the sun rise on Grand Mesa. He had lunch — a burger from the concession stand — at Suplizio Field. A few hours later, he was visiting with boosters in one of the suites at Brownson Arena during a basketball game.
It was a great day for the new Colorado Mesa University athletic director.
Not a typical day, mind you, because in his job, there are no typical days.
On that day, the CMU Alpine ski team was competing at Powderhorn Mountain Resort, the baseball team was playing Dixie State in a doubleheader, and the women’s and men’s basketball teams were hosting Western New Mexico.
The week before, one work day started at 2:30 a.m.
“You do what you have to do so you can give people an opportunity,” Spicer said. “You know what? I like it. I feel good about it. It is what it is. My timeline? It just depends on the day. I don’t have an 8-to-5 job, I never have. I don’t ever want to have an 8-to-5 job. I don’t care about 8 to 5.
“Whatever needs to get done, I’m going to make sure it happens to get done, and if that means my day started at 2:30 today, which it really did, bottom line, I got a lot of work done before 7 o’clock, and it made life a lot easier for people.
“It created some work for people that weren’t ready for it, but it was good and positive, and we just keep moving forward from there.”
Running a department with 23 intercollegiate sports and six emerging sports with a proposed budget of roughly $5.2 million doesn’t happen without long hours.
“My day changes on a minute-by-minute basis,” said Spicer, who was hired in March a year ago after nine years as the athletic director at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. Before that, he ran Fort Hays (Kan.) State’s successful athletic department from 1989-2004. “When I came in today, I thought I had two meetings. I’ve had seven so far.”
That was at 1 p.m.
Casual fans of the Mavericks might not notice some changes that have happened in the past year in the athletic department, but those inside have. All of the coaches knew of Spicer, if they hadn’t met him, because they were butting heads with his Mines teams every season.
After a national search didn’t result in a successful candidate, Colorado Mesa President Tim Foster made a phone call to Golden.
Yes, Spicer was interested. A couple of weeks later, Spicer was introduced to the crowd during the South Central Regional women’s basketball tournament, sprinting across the floor to high-five the kids leaning over the rail in “The Herd” student section.
It doesn’t take long to realize that’s why Spicer took this job — those student-athletes and giving them the chance to succeed.
“One thing I appreciate is Tom has great belief in his ability to do certain things,” baseball coach Chris Hanks said. “He might say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. I don’t have the money yet, but we’re going to get it.’ “
And, Hanks said, the coaches have faith Spicer will deliver. He’s a straight-shooter, so the coaches and other administrators know exactly what the expectations are. Hiring Spicer, Hanks said, gives the athletic department much-needed leadership and stability.
“He clearly communicates where we’re going and what we’re trying to accomplish, what it’s going to take, what the sacrifices we may have to make now for the greater good and the improvement later,” said Hanks, who is working for his seventh athletic director in 20 years.
“That’s vision, and that’s having a plan that’s clearly defined, easy to understand, and I think it’s easy to buy in.”
That’s what Spicer wants, for all of the programs to pull on the same rope and succeed. His plan is to have all the intercollegiate programs to the full allotment of scholarships allowed by the NCAA within three to five years.
“The best way to say it is, it’s a very operational, efficient budget that allows us to have some degree of success,” Spicer said. “I put it that way because I’m not a happy camper unless we have a lot of success.”
That tells you he sees this first year as a first step toward polishing the program that has often been referred to as a “diamond in the rough.” Conference championships are great, but the goal is to win regional and national championships in every sport.
Spicer doesn’t believe in excuses, which explains why he’ll rise in the middle of the night and head to the office when he needs to prepare for a meeting about one of the many construction projects on campus.
It explains why, on CMU’s off day in the women’s South Central Region basketball tournament in Texas, he and events coordinator Jermaine Williams jumped in a vehicle at 6 a.m. and drove three-and-a-half hours to Las Vegas, N.M., where the Mavericks’ softball team was playing a doubleheader that afternoon.
After watching the Mavericks sweep Highlands, they drove back to Amarillo.
It explains why, after the basketball team’s season ended, Spicer, Williams and David Jahnke, the assistant sports information director, flew out of Amarillo at 6 the next morning. He was back in his office before noon. There were two home lacrosse games to attend that day.
It explains why, for the past year, he’s put his life outside the Maverick Center on a bit of a holding pattern.
“Right now, I’m all about work,” said the 63-year-old athletic director who does not believe in the word retirement.
“Normally, and you know me, I’m a pretty avid outdoorsman, but to be quite frank with you, because of the job and the newness I have not done any of that. I still bought my licenses and got my permits, but I just thought I’d be supporting the cause and donating this time. I have not done anything personal on that side.”
The holidays were an exception, when he and his wife, Kathy, had their four children, their spouses and their 12 grandchildren in town for Thanksgiving. And, of course, CMU’s basketball tournament.
“They all fit in one house, 22 of us in one house,” he said, smiling. “That was a criteria Kathy had. We had to have a house that everyone could stay at, and we found out real quick it works.”
Several members of Kathy Spicer’s family live on the Western Slope, most in Montrose and Grand Junction, another draw for their move from Golden. In fact, they’ve found more family than they knew was on this side of the hill once they moved.
In the past year, Spicer feels as though he’s become part of a new family at CMU.
And although the workload won’t exactly slow down, he sees a day when it becomes the norm, and he can slip away during hunting season, be it pheasant season in Kansas or big-game season in Colorado.
He can go hike in the mountains. And there will be time in the summer to cast a line in hopes of landing a trout or two.
Until then, he checks his calendar to see if Beth Schroeder, the athletic department’s program assistant who keeps him on task, has scheduled the eighth meeting of the day.
“I wear a watch to make sure I get where I’m supposed to be within at least 15 minutes of the time I’m supposed to be there,” he said, laughing. “I have a real simple New Year’s goal each year, and that’s to be on time more than I’m not. I’m working on it.”