Q&A with new UND Athletic Director Bill Chaves

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The University of North Dakota officially announced Bill Chaves as the school’s 16th athletic director on Tuesday morning, Jan 15. We sat down with Chaves to talk about what’s ahead.

Q. Your interview and public introduction came during one of Grand Forks’ toughest winter stretches. How do you feel about your new climate?
A. It challenges you. You’re not here July 4, 80 degrees and sunny. But I grew up in New England and lived in Spokane. The temperature gauge will be lower than that, but it’s not like we’ve lived in Florida. It’s what you make of it. I think in some ways I’m excited about it. There’s a toughness to it. You can have the mental toughness to your teams, as well. If you have to grind through things and adversity even in your daily living maybe that makes you a little tougher in competition.
Q. How do you plan to fill out your athletic administration staff? The announcement of Daniella Irle — UND’s senior women’s administrator — accepting a job at Knox College will provide an early opening.
A. I am going to do some evaluation. Daniella getting that position provides some initial opportunity. What I have to get my hands around … every time someone departs … my philosophy has been, let’s analyze. Is there something we should be doing we’re not doing? Is there a way to fill it at that point in time because of that evolution? I need to get a better understanding of who’s doing what and what’s transpiring at this point in time.
Q. What’s your hiring philosophy?
A. At the end of the day, it’s character first, competency and bring me some energy. I need energy on a daily basis. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a number of the (current UND) staff as members of the Big Sky (Conference). I’ve been impressed with the staff.
Q. What’s your timetable for hiring Irle’s position?
A. I know this, not everything is a sprint. Sometimes you can take a deep breath on some things. That’s what I want to do early on.
Q. The Spokesman-Review newspaper, which covered your last stop at Eastern Washington University, recently reported EWU was facing a $5.8 million athletic budget shortfall. How do you explain that issue?
A. I would say this: With one of the smaller budgets in the Big Sky, I think we outperformed our resources. I think it gives Eastern pause and an opportunity right now to figure what they want to do. I would stand in the box that we did one heck of a job to build a brand and a championship culture, and we were bringing people to campus. When you start talking finance with every athletic department, no one is 100 percent happy with what they have. Here, there’ll never be enough, and you’ll have to figure out what’s next. Is there something we’re doing we shouldn’t be doing? Are the dollars better used somewhere else?
Q. UND’s rival — North Dakota State University — is the gold standard of FCS football right now. You’ve overseen an athletic department that has won an FCS title at EWU, so how do you see the Fighting Hawks’ football team closing that gap on the Bison?
A. I think it’s similar to when I came (to EWU) in 2007. Then, I thought Montana was rolling good in the Big Sky. But over the last 10 years, if you were asked what team has done the best, I think it’s Eastern. I’m not saying it’s going to happen overnight, but the process is answering the question, ‘How do we compete for conference titles?’ You want your student-athletes starting every season thinking they can win a conference title, and everything cascades from there. (NDSU) is a juggernaut. I fully understand what they’ve done there. We’ll be going into league play with the concept and thoughts that we want to win the league.
Q. Have you reached out to former UND athletic director Brian Faison to seek any guidance?
A. Not yet. I’ve been strategic not to talk to anybody through the process. That was intentional. I never want to put someone in a tough spot. So now that I’ve reached the finish line, I’ll start reaching out and talking to folks and getting their perspective.
Q. North Dakota changed state law recently to require only names of the finalists — not all applicants — be made public. Were you worried about your name getting out in the public?
A. I thought about it. That’s fair. I thought that this position, knowing where the future could be, I felt the risk-reward was worth it.
Q. Had the law not changed, would you have applied?
A. I probably would have hesitated at that point in time. Getting to the finalist stage is different than clearly open. If I’m a sitting AD, you would pause probably 8 out of 10 times to be in the field, and it could be more than that.
Q. With program and budget cuts still fresh in the minds of many, morale in the athletic department might be an issue for you to face. How do you unify and rally the department?
A. I think there’s going to be some time to heal. I don’t think there’s a magic wand. If you look at all institutions, many have gone through some paring of sports for some reason. That doesn’t stop the fact we should be supporting the current student athletes. Hopefully, you can stay in that box. When I got to Eastern, we had the minimum of 14 sports. We had 24 sports 20 years previous. We had gone through that attrition. I had walked in to talk to folks who had their sport cut. It’s a tough situation. I can empathize. Hopefully, though, my job is to get us on the same page because we’re stronger together.