When Torre Chisholm arrived at Cal Poly this week, there were some familiar sights and some new buildings.
There were also some aspects to the university that the prospective athletic director had forgotten about.
“I hadn’t been on campus for five years,” said Chisholm, the current athletic director at Portland State and one of three finalists for the same post at Cal Poly. “I had forgotten how beautiful the area was.”
One of the things that sets Chisholm apart from the other finalists — Indiana State’s Ron Prettyman, who visited last week, and Don Oberhelman of San Diego State, who visits Tuesday — is his opportunity to have forgotten things about Cal Poly.
Chisholm is the only one of the three that has served posts in the Mustangs’ two conference homes, the Big West Conference and the Big Sky Conference, where Cal Poly football will begin play in 2012.
Prettyman had visited Baggett Stadium, where his son played baseball against the Mustangs for Cal State Fullerton. Oberhelman has been at San Diego State since 2007. The rest of his experience is outside the state.
Chisholm worked in the athletic departments at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly’s Big West rival and his alma mater, and UC Irvine from 1991 to 2007. He’s been the athletic director since then at Portland State, a Big Sky member.
“I’ve had a chance to work with, tackle and overcome a lot of those challenges at three different institutions,” Chisholm said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I would venture to say that those three experiences would translate well to Cal Poly’s needs.”
One easily identifiable need at Cal Poly is funding.
With continued cutbacks in the state budget, the athletic department must venture out for private donors to increase, perhaps even maintain, the current funding levels.
Certainly, to complete open-ended construction projects like Alex G. Spanos Stadium or to begin new renovations, money has to come from somewhere yet unknown.
Chisholm can boast of budget increases in his time at Portland State, and he said it starts with visions of success on the playing fields.
According to a bio provided by Cal Poly, the Vikings’ department budget and revenues have grown by 35 percent and scholarship support by 40 percent under Chisholm.
He also secured external funding for separate recruiting and athlete lounges, naming gifts and office and locker room renovations.
“A lot of it starts with planning,” Chisholm said, “and coming to Portland State, the first thing we did is develop a vision for what we thought the athletic program should accomplish and could accomplish.”
Chisolm said the plan started with results-oriented goals, things like aiming for programs to win a conference or tournament championship at least once within a four-year period.
The goal, he said, was to have every student-athlete compete in at least one championship event during their careers, an objective that also keeps student supporters from graduating without being able to root for at least one championship program.
“On the back of that document,” Chisholm said, “we developed a plan saying, ‘What do we have to do to get to get this?’ ”
That’s how scholarship increases and facilities upgrades became priorities. Some money came from outside sources, Chisholm said. Some came from restructuring within the department based on prioritizing.
Portland State responded with 10 conference regular season and tournament championships combined in volleyball (3), men’s basketball (2), women’s golf (2), women’s soccer, softball and women’s basketball during what the university touts as its most successful span since moving to Division I in 1996.
After spending Monday and Tuesday interviewing on campus, Chisholm wasn’t hasty to diagnose what’s broken at Cal Poly or what he needs to do to fix things.
What’s worked at Portland State isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan. Should Cal Poly hire him, Chisholm will bring the same results-oriented outlook to the position.
“The reality is in saying that an athletic director has to accept the responsibility to provide the tools that allow the coaches to accomplish those goals,” Chisholm said.