Q&A With Thorr Bjorn

ad.jpgYou’ve just completed your first ninety days as Director of Athletics at URI. What have you been doing to get yourself settled in your new role?

I have been spending much of my time meeting with coaches, Athletics Department staff, University staff, alums, and donors. By talking with many different constituents, I have been able to get a real vibe on the overall operation and perception of the Athletics Department. I knew coming in that the first 90 days were going to be important, but they also can be very intense. It’s so important during that time frame to learn as much as possible about the overall operation.

Coming from another Atlantic 10 institution, you had an outsider’s view of URI, its Athletics Department, and its athletics programs. Now as an insider, what has surprised you the most? What is most encouraging? What looks to be your biggest hurdle?

My biggest surprise is how passionate our fans are about the University. I have said it many times—URI fans not only work hard to support the University through financial contributions, but there are so many people that put in their time and energy to help make the program successful. These individuals truly want all of our teams to succeed.

I am extremely encouraged by the people who make up the Department of Athletics—we have some great coaches and staff. We also have some great facilities—yes, I realize we need to work on some of our facilities. The Student-Athlete Development Center is going to play a huge part in providing the services that I believe are so important to the overall student-athlete experience. It’s also going to help tremendously with recruiting.

I think the biggest hurdle, as it is with every single athletic program in the country, is funding. We need to continue to work hard to bring in resources that will allow us to provide our coaches with what they need in order to win. We have hired a new associate director of athletic development, Kevin McGinnis, and have relocated his office to Mackal Fieldhouse. I think this is going to be very important in our growth.

Talk about the delicate balance of short-term needs and long-term goals as it relates to URI Athletics.

It is so easy to look at an issue and make a knee-jerk decision on how to address a particular problem. I think it’s very important to think about decisions and how they impact our overall goals. As a staff, we need to review the department’s strategic plan and see where we stand in terms of our overall goals. The strategic plan needs to be at the forefront of all major decisions we make as a department.

As a former student-athlete—a four-year letter winner in football at the University of Massachusetts—what are your views on the importance of student-athlete welfare? How important is the Student-Athlete Development Center as it relates to student-athlete welfare?

The most important thing we can do is to provide our student-athletes with a great experience. This is done not only by performing and ultimately succeeding in competition, but also by preparing these young people for the challenges of life. I think the Student-Athlete Development Center is a facility that is going to enhance the mind, health, and body of each of our student-athletes. There is not a more important initiative within Athletics at this time.

The SADC will provide much needed space for an academic support area, athletic training room, and a new weight room. All three areas are so important in helping our student-athletes excel. Being a student-athlete is not always as glorious as we sometimes make it out to be; it takes hard work and a tremendous amount of dedication. We need to continue to provide resources that will ensure athletic and, most importantly, academic success.

Give me the first thing that comes to mind with the following topics—

Fundraising: Building relationships and delivering on what you promise.

Marketing: At first, grass roots. Let’s take care of our backyard and create a demand that will entice more people to get involved. We must engage URI students so they realize how crucially important they are to the atmosphere of all our games.

Academic support: Critical. We owe it to the student-athletes we recruit to provide them with all the tools they will need in order to get a fantastic education and ultimately be successful in life. Academics must come first!

Winning: That’s why we are here—we don’t compete just to have fun. At this level, we compete to win.

Community service: A great way for our kids to let the community know we care. Our student-athletes have all received a gift, and I think we should always try to give back.

Compliance: We must do things the right way. We must always look at the way we educate our student-athletes, coaches, and staff on NCAA compliance. If we make a mistake, we must address it and deal with the consequences.

How do you and your family feel about moving to South County?

I couldn’t be more excited about moving to South County—it’s a beautiful area. My family has been incredibly supportive of this opportunity. It is never easy leaving familiar surroundings and friends behind. That said, my kids are excited about starting a new phase in their lives. My wife is truly the best. She gets stuck with the hardest part of relocation. I am at work and she is home keeping things as stable as possible. We are all enjoying being part of the URI family.

What are some of your hobbies, and what do you do when you have down time?

I really enjoy spending time with my family. I have three young daughters who just love sports, and we try to do as many things as we possibly can together. I also love to take my dog for a walk. We have a 1-year-old chocolate lab who can be a little crazy, but my early morning walks with her are very therapeutic. I enjoy spending time with friends, especially on the weekends after games. I also like to play pickup basketball—just 3 on 3, I’m getting too old for full court! I try to play golf, although the only time I can play is around work situations, so I’m stuck with a 20 handicap—fore!

Do you have a final message for fans of URI Athletics?

I know there are great things on the horizon for URI Athletics—we are looking forward to a very successful 2007-08 season. We need your support in so many ways. We need our fans to continue to buy tickets and come out to games as well as providing financial support through annual and capital giving. Both are a necessity as we continue to grow the program. I would appreciate it very much if you would introduce yourself. I am open to your advice, thoughts, and criticism—that is how we get better. Go Rhody!

By Mike Laprey