ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It’s one thing to achieve success, it’s quite another to maintain it.
In his role as athletic director at Tabor College, the challenge becomes increasingly more difficult as the college’s athletic program makes advances on almost all fronts.
“It is absolutely true that it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get to the top,” said Brubacher, who, in his fifth year as AD, is the man behind the scenes who is responsible for recruiting most of the talented coaches for the various Bluejay sports.
“I am 100 percent certain that building a conference champion is hard, but to win year after year and to stay on top is far more difficult.”
During his tenure as AD, Brubacher has surrounded himself and the college with personnel who have raised the expectations of fans and alumni.
Nowhere has the turnaround been more dramatic than in football, where the Bluejays have gone from perennial doormat to championship contender under coach Tim McCarty.
Most people have a good idea what coaches do, but the role of athletic director isn’t quite as obvious.
“The office is responsible for managing all athletic activities,” Brubacher said. “We have to make sure every home event is organized-whether that means ticket takers, score keepers, or whatever staff is required for each event.”
Brubacher said his duties are simplified by the work load carried by his office assistant, Clara Frick, and by John Sparks, who has limited duties as assistant AD.
“When you’re talking about specific athletic administration, it’s myself and Clara.”
Brubacher said until recently, the athletic department was also responsible for hiring game officials, a duty now covered by the conference itself.
The athletic department is also responsible for working with public relations to organize media guides and compile programs that are either sold or given away at home events.
Additional duties of his office are to communicate and comply with the mandated regulations of the NAIA and the KCAC.
But maintaining a staff of quality coaches is Brubacher’s primary focus.
“I am responsible for locating coaches and making recommendations for hiring, and I’m responsible for making recommendations for firing-when and if that happens,” he said. “But I don’t technically do the hiring and firing. That happens on levels above me.”
Brubacher said it’s a challenge to maintain a staff of coaches who meet the criteria of the positions, given the salaries Tabor is able to offer.
“We are extraordinarily blessed with the staff we have at Tabor today,” he said. “It is beyond all worldly reason that we would have the quality of people we have in our athletic program.
“It’s truly God’s blessing that we have these people here,” he added. “These coaches are people who have personal class and integrity and do their jobs very well.”
A priority for Brubacher is keeping the current staff on board.
“There’s a direct correlation between the quality of the job description and the longevity or tenure of coaches,” he said. “The better the job description, the less turnover we have.
“It’s no mystery the salaries we offer at Tabor are low, and that is a factor in recruiting or retaining staff,” he added. “But we continue to work to improve job descriptions and salaries.”
Adding to the challenge of staffing is the growth in the athletic program itself.
“We now have 16 varsity sports in which we have between 230 and 250 students athletes every year,” he said. “There is an increasing requirement of professionalism in our program.”
While Brubacher oversees each coach, those individuals must also carry their own weight.
“Each coach does his or her own scheduling, but with the approval of the athletic office,” he said. “They’re actually the first-line budget manager for their sport. But in the end, I’m responsible for all their budgets.”
Brubacher said his office is also responsible for recruiting budgets.
“Coaches do the recruiting work themselves,” he said. “I don’t look over their shoulders. I have confidence our coaches will recruit the right kind of students and do it in the correct manner.
“This means recruiting student-athletes who represent Tabor well, with our particular priorities and our mission,” he added.
“To see athletic programs develop in ways that support the mission of Tabor College in every respect and are also very successful competitively-that’s a great thrill.”
Brubacher said he and all the coaches face the annual challenge of fund-raising.
“I’m responsible for the organization of the entire operation of the Tabor Athletic Association, which is our overall fund-raising arm for the athletic program,” Brubacher said.
“I’m also responsible for the individual fund-raising events for each sport, to make sure they’re properly organized and they meet the college standards for organization.”
Brubacher said the duties of fund-raising haven’t replaced other departmental responsibilities, but rather was added to them.
“There is more and more pressure to raise funds for each individual coach and for me as AD,” he said. “We don’t supplement salaries through fund-raising, but we do supplement budgets and purchases of equipment this way.”
Another expectation of success on the field or court is better facilities.
“With the success of our football program, and with the added crowds that result from their success, there is substantial pressure to improve the football facility, and improve it markedly,” he said.
“I would say the pressure…to fund raise to improve facilities is probably the greatest pressure I feel, and a source of the greatest frustration, because it really does take a huge amount of time and energy.”
Brubacher said his job has changed dramatically in the past couple of years, a time during which the Bluejays have become bonafide conference title contenders in several sports.
“There’s no doubt the pressure changes,” he said. “When the programs are not competitive, there’s a lot of work that needs to go into that activity to improve it.
“But there’s additional work that comes with success,” he added. “Whether that comes from media attention or media demands, or additional stress because you raised the bar for expectations, successful programs do create their own kind of additional stress and workloads.”
Brubacher said the college has no plans for major facility improvements, but did say one ongoing project is nearly complete.
It’s hoped that the athletic training program will move into its new facility in the near future, replacing the small outdated one currently in the old weight room.
“It’s a small project, but it’s very significant for us,” he said. “This will affect both our athletics and our academics.”
Along with the need to improve facilities, Brubacher said successful teams at Tabor also create other work.
“In prior years, we were not worried about home-site administration for most of our events because we had small crowds,” he said. “Now, we have some weekends where there are four events on one day. We’re not required to have a site administrator at each event, but it’s what’s expected in collegiate athletics.
“Clara is in charge of securing administrators and getting workers lined up, and she does a marvelous job.”
Brubacher said larger crowds doesn’t necessarily mean more revenue for his athletic department.
“For football and basketball, increased attendance does not help our budget,” he said. “That money goes into the Tabor general fund.”
He did say since Tabor began charging admission to the volleyball games last year, that revenue is allowed to flow into the athletic department.
“Tabor wasn’t expecting that revenue, so it does help us out somewhat.”
Brubacher said whether a program wins or struggles, it has specific needs.
“Our football and volleyball programs have experienced enough success recently that we need to keep them in good uniforms so we can present a quality product,” he said.
“When a program has improved to that level, you can’t step back and say, ‘We can commit fewer resources to the program,’ because it just doesn’t work that way.
“You can’t reduce resources and expect to stay on top.”
But the needs at the other end of the spectrum are just as great.
“If a program is struggling, you have to commit resources for them to improve themselves,” he added. “You have to find a way to create resources to bring a program to a higher level.”
Brubacher said during September and October, his primary focus is on administration.
“Nine of our 16 sports are in the fall,” he said. “The workload for organization and administration is by far greatest in the fall.”
He also said, as a parent with sons at Tabor, the environment Tabor offers for students is “extraordinary.” And that environment is a key recruiting tool.
“I won’t say what we offer isn’t available in other schools, but it is extremely rare,” he said. “The opportunity for personal growth, to grow intellectually, to grow as an athlete, and to grow spiritually and become a stronger Christian is unique to Tabor College.
“The joy of being at Tabor College is watching the effect this environment has on our young people.”
While the duties Brubacher now performs as athletic director may not be those he had four years ago-the result of Tabor’s growing success in athletics-he’s not about to complain.
“When you see programs excel like they’re now doing at Tabor, and when you see an athletic program grow to the point that you’re really proud of the product, it makes this job worthwhile.”