SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR: McCaw guides Baylor through change to new heights

Baylor’s phenomenal sports year, combined with Ian McCaw’s leadership during the near-death of the Big 12, earned him the Tribune-Herald ’s inaugural Sportsman of the Year.

Ian McCaw is the quiet man behind the scenes in the Baylor University athletic department.

The Bears’ athletic director seems to be everywhere, from a big event like the women’s basketball team’s appearance at the Final Four to a midweek afternoon tennis match with a cluster of people on hand.

But McCaw is never there to make a show. He’s content to let the players and coaches get the glory while he plans and plots both the big picture and small details that have made the Baylor athletic department such a success.

If McCaw is smiling a lot these days, he’s got a reason.

These are some of the best times in Baylor sports history.

Baylor’s year began with a bang with the success of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the NCAA tournament. It carried throughout the spring with the men’s and women’s tennis teams reaching the national quarterfinals. It ended with a flurry as the football team achieved a winning season and earned a berth in Wednesday’s Texas Bowl in Houston to break a 16-year bowl drought.

Baylor’s phenomenal sports year, combined with McCaw’s leadership during the near-death of the Big 12, earned him the Tribune-Herald ’s inaugural Sportsman of the Year.

“Longtime observers have told me this is the best year ever in Baylor athletics and I’m not about to argue with them,” McCaw said. “You just look from the start of the year to the end and there’s highlight after highlight. It’s really been one of those unique, special years. I think we’ll thrive for many years to come.”

Despite competing against many schools with larger athletic budgets, Baylor finished 31st nationally in the 2009-10 Learfield Sports Directors Cup. The rankings include the overall performances of NCAA Division I athletic programs across the country.

“What Ian has built is unprecedented at Baylor,” Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said. “Baylor is competitive in all sports, and that’s not only great for the university, but also for the Big 12. He’s also one of the more gentlemanly people in this business. He’s a solid man with great values and terrific integrity, and that’s something our conference and people across the country value.”

The Bears have been strong in many sports across the board during McCaw’s eight-year tenure as athletic director. Some of the highlights include the men’s tennis team’s 2004 national title, the women’s basketball team’s 2005 national championship, the baseball team’s semifinals berth in the 2005 World Series and the softball team’s rise to the 2007 World Series.

But since the inception of the Big 12, Baylor had a history of lagging behind in the two most high-profile sports on a national level — football and men’s basketball. The Bears rectified that as the men’s basketball team reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in March and the football team enjoyed its first winning season in 15 years.

Big 12 importance

“Having success in football and men’s basketball are important, and in many ways were the last remaining pieces, because we already had success in a lot of other sports,” McCaw said. “We’ve been competitive in football and men’s basketball in recent years, and that has made a difference in terms of our perception and as a valuable member of the Big 12.”

Baylor found out just how important football was on a national scale when the Big 12 was under siege in June as the Pac-10 and the Big Ten threatened to leave the conference in shambles. Nebraska decided to bolt to the Big Ten, while Colorado opted for the Pac-10.

Potential football television revenue was the main driver of conference realignment, and it appeared Baylor would be left out in the cold if the other Big 12 schools from Texas and Oklahoma fled to the Pac-10.

It was then that McCaw and Baylor President Ken Starr stepped to the forefront as they publicly made a case to keep the Big 12 together. Baylor coaches, fans, alumni and legislators with ties to the university rallied behind them.

“No one could have planned for what Ian had to deal with this summer, but he handled it professionally and was very politically correct in his remarks,” Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey said. “He involved the right people to help him, and didn’t think he could do it alone. He showed great composure and leadership.”

With the University of Texas agreeing at the last minute to stay in the Big 12, the league stuck together as a 10-team model with the promise of increased future television revenue. McCaw admits that the two-week marathon when the Big 12 appeared on the verge of extinction was taxing but ultimately very rewarding.

“Those were 16 very difficult, challenging and complex days,” McCaw said. “But at the same time, the outcome couldn’t have been any better. Looking back, it was a time when just about everybody had given up hope. The Baylor family, and particularly our leadership, clung to the faith that we were going to keep the Big 12 together and keep Baylor well positioned for the future.”

Supporting coaches

During McCaw’s tenure, Baylor has continued to add state-of-the-art facilities like the Highers Athletics Complex and the Whetsel Basketball Practice Facility to enhance recruiting and keep the programs competitive with other Big 12 schools.

Since McCaw became Baylor’s athletic director in 2003, the university’s athletic budget has risen from $23 million to $50 million.

“Every Friday morning, the university’s senior leadership team — including Ian — meets at Pat Neff Hall,” Starr said. “There is no wiser, cooler voice around the table than Ian’s. He is an all-around MVP, capped by a faith-informed commitment to total integrity. We are very blessed to have him at Baylor.”

McCaw has always operated under a simple philosophy: Give the coaches the resources they need and let them do their jobs. As a consequence, Baylor has enjoyed longevity among its coaches in many sports.

“Ian is an intelligent, dignified leader,” Baylor football coach Art Briles said. “He understands all the ins and outs of the business from a coaching standpoint to a student-athlete standpoint. He’s very aware and proactive, and I appreciate it. He’s a class guy, and I’m fortunate that I work for him.”

Both Mulkey and men’s basketball coach Scott Drew have taken their programs to new heights, and they realize how important a supportive athletic director like McCaw is to building and sustaining strong programs.

“Ian is always there win or lose, and he’s always asking, ‘How can I help?’ ” Drew said. “What we’ve done with our athletic facilities has helped our marketability. As coaches, we couldn’t ask for a better athletic director than Ian because of his great character, values and wisdom.”

McCaw is optimistic about the future of the Big 12 as a 10-team league. He believes Baylor has enhanced its position in the league with its overall athletic success, capped by the breakthrough 7-5 football season, in which the Bears averaged more than 40,000 fans in home games at Floyd Casey Stadium.

The 71,500-seat Texas Bowl at Houston’s Reliant Stadium is expected to be packed Wednesday with Baylor fans. It should be much like the scene from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, when Baylor fans took over Reliant Stadium for the Bears’ matchup against Duke in the Elite Eight.

“Over the course of the year, our fan base has been galvanized, and we’re seeing stronger support than we’ve ever had,” McCaw said. “It’s continuing to build, and maybe it will hit a crescendo Wednesday at Reliant Stadium. It seems like everybody I’ve talked to is going to find their way to Reliant Stadium.”

McCaw will be there behind the scenes, supporting his coaches and their programs like he always does.

“Ian isn’t pushy and doesn’t have to be seen and heard,” Mulkey said. “But in his own quiet way, he grows on you, and you know he’s there for you.”


The four other finalists for the inaugural Tribune-Herald Sportsman of the Year honor:

The Mart Panthers: Central Texas’ most decorated high school program climbed back to the top of the mountain in 2010. The Panthers avenged a nondistrict loss to Goldthwaite by topping the Eagles, 28-7, in the Class 1A Division I state championship game. The state title is Mart’s fifth in school history, and only 12 schools in the state have won more. In just five short seasons as coach, Rusty Nail has guided Mart to three state final appearances and two championships.

Kim Mulkey: Mulkey joined the Texas Sports Hall of Fame last February, and two short months later she had her Baylor women’s basketball team back in the Final Four. The veteran Baylor coach directed the freshman-laden Lady Bears to wins over top-seeded Tennessee and second-seeded Duke in the Memphis Regional before the team’s run was halted by eventual national champion Connecticut. Mulkey is also the mother of Makenzie Robertson, the former Midway and now Baylor sharpshooter who was the Tribune-Herald ’s Super Centex Girls’ Athlete of the Year.

Sherry Rogers: The state’s all-time winningest high school softball coach, Midway’s Rogers put the ultimate capper on her career in June. In her final season as coach, Midway won the Class 4A state title, defeating Magnolia, 1-0, in a thrilling eight-inning finale. Rogers, a five-time Super Centex Coach of the Year, retired with an astonishing 486-91-8 record, including a 185-5 run in district play that included 18 straight district championships.

Epke Udoh: In his one and only season at Baylor, Udoh put the men’s basketball team on his back and carried it to near-unprecedented heights. Udoh set the Big 12 record for blocked shots in a season (133) and displayed a savvy all-around game as the Bears advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to eventual national champion Duke. In June, Udoh became the first NBA lottery pick in Baylor program history, as the Golden State Warriors took the 6-10 forward with the No. 6 pick.

— Brice Cherry

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