Big Ten Q&A: Purdue AD Mike Bobinski
Mike Bobinski has the ultimate corner office in Mackey Arena. The Purdue athletic director’s digs look down on Northwestern Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cuts through West Lafayette. Cars zip by on this unseasonable warm winter day in mid-north Indiana.
It’s a neatly kept office and expansive, too. If you look out one window to the north, you can see work being done on a $65 million, 110,000-square foot performance center for the football team set to be finished in August. It will include a locker room, team meeting room, position group meeting rooms, player development room, sports performance training area (weight room), sports medicine facility, nutrition station and coaches’ offices.
Few personal mementos dot Bobinski’s office since he was hired last August from his job as Georgia Tech A.D. It’s all business for a veteran athletic director who is still in game shape. He is former college baseball pitcher (Notre Dame class of 1979) and behind his desk sit figurines of the New York Mets’ Tom Seaver and the Boston Red Sox Carl Yastrzemski, a nod to a pair of his favorites. They are a gift from local pizza magnate Orlando Itin.
On this day, Bobinski isn’t thinking baseball. His mind is on football and the start of the Jeff Brohm era.
Brohm is the man Bobinski chose to rescue a floundering football program. And, make no mistake about it: Fixing football is Job No. 1 for Bobinski, who has been athletic director at Akron, Xavier and Georgia Tech before landing in West Lafayette.
I sat down with the Long Island, New York, native and son of a potato-farmer-turned-law-enforcement-official to talk about Boilermaker football, among other topics.
Q: Why did you opt to come to Purdue?
A: In life, you learn and figure out that having the right fit is important. It’s often overused, but it’s important. This is a place that fits me in every way. I have been at some tremendous places. To follow a long-time A.D. in Morgan Burke (hired in 1993) who built a very stable and sound department, you don’t often find those types of situations to follow. Usually these jobs become available because something has gone awry. This is a pretty well-oiled machine that I hope to find ways to raise the level of performance. That combination of factors excited me.
Q: What are the challenges here?
A: The recent past (in football) hasn’t been quite what people had hoped it would be. What you need to do is re-establish a presence in the recruiting market place. You need to set expectations that reflect high aspirations, not crazy out-of-the-box things before you are ready to achieve them. But your goal should be to achieve at a very high level. Aspiring to be excellent and do great things and win championships and understand the process and the things that have to happen in order for that to occur, and then work at it.
There is no secret to it. It’s a process and series of hard fought, day-after-day victories to get you where you want to be. I believe Jeff Brohm and his staff are focused on that. They didn’t come here to be average. They came here to win, and win at a high level. That is what they are used to doing. That’s how they are wired. They are working every day with that mind-set.
My job every day is to support them in that effort. That has to be your objective, which is: How do we get to the top of the heap? Having that mind-set each day is the most important thing. I need all of our people showing up each day with a mind-set of how can we be a better version of Purdue than we were yesterday? What can I do to help us be better? We need to do things in a more innovative and effective way. When you get enough people thinking that way, you start to build momentum.
Q: How would your co-workers at Georgia Tech describe your style?
A: We had some similar circumstances there. We had some financial challenges that became an impediment to making some things happen. We had a sense of where we needed to go. But it was hard to marshal the resources to make some of those things happen. In every transition I have had, I never came in and said “this is how things have to be.” It’s about listening and learning and trying to chart a course forward. It was 12-14 months of effort to get our initiative going (at Georgia Tech). I thought we got to a really good spot. That plan is still being implemented.
Email is not my thing. It is a good tool but you can get impersonal. I prefer to talk. Fans always offer opinions. It is a healthy thing. People care. I will take “mad and upset.” I can’t handle “don’t care.” I am fine with all that. During the football transition, the volume of email was extreme. We have almost 500,000 alums. It all was pretty thoughtful.
Q: Is President Mitch Daniels really committed to winning?
A: He is a highly competitive person who wants excellence in all things. I want athletics to be great because I want Purdue to be great. We are just one more unit on this campus—a visible one that gets a lot of attention. A lot comes with excellence in high-profile athletics. He has been incredibly supportive and made it clear to me he wasn’t satisfied with our level of performance. And he wanted to find ways to help us be better. Academic excellence and integrity always are first at Purdue. But along the way, he’d like to win more, too.
Q: Who have been some of your influences?
A: The very first A.D. I worked for was Gene Corrigan (at Notre Dame). He had a way about him that made you want to go above and beyond. He gave you a confidence in yourself and trusted you to do well. If you didn’t, you were going to let him and yourself down. He and his wife were great. He felt like another dad. He really motivated. He wasn’t fire and brimstone. He was a southern gentleman. That’s Gene. The way he respected and treated people with grace and kindness. If you didn’t do the job, you felt bad about it. The value of treating people well and the value of each person’s contribution, making sure everyone knows that what they do matters. It was a great lesson.
Also (former Xavier basketball coach) Skip Prosser. He was a big reason why I went to Xavier. I had a relationship with him. He helped me get in the process. He is one of those rare birds in the college basketball world that no one had a beef with, god rest his soul. They all had good things to say about him. He treated people well and believed in all the right things and was a well-rounded guy. He kept a balance and perspective in his life that I haven’t been able to live up to. It’s a great thing to aspire to.
Q: What are some projects on the horizon?
A: Lots of great things have been done. The Mackey Arena redo was awesome. We will update the technology in there next year. There always are things that must be done. At some time, our track and field complex needs some attention. Our program is getting good. We need to make sure we keep the facility current. The wrestling practice facility needs work. The big one is Ross Ade. You want to follow the performance center, a loud and visible statement of our commitment to success in football, to continue the progress in the stadium so that our fans have the experience they are used to these days. Do we have the right amenities from a technology, sound and video standpoint?
And we ultimately have to finish the job in the south end zone (currently a patio-style area). We want to capture the current way people like to watch games. The concept we have now has some validity to it. A more finished and permanent version would be a great addition. A better training table and nutrition area also are high on my list. I would like to have a sports performance center, a cutting edge facility with analytics for athletes. We have lots of people on campus who are good and skilled at that. Some partnership on the academic side focused on performance could be part of that south end zone. It takes lots of resources. Can we raise the dollars to make progress? Lights will go in this year, but we need to continue momentum.
You don’t need to be the fanciest or the biggest. But you need to be presentable so it isn’t a competitive disadvantage.
Q: What do you expect in Year One from Jeff Brohm?
A: I never have a number (of wins). That is a fool’s game. I am expecting to see a different shift in style of play, intensity and energy, expectation of success and mind-set of our players. I think fans will notice a difference in how we attack, the aggressive way we will play with on both sides of the ball. We will leave it all on the field. That is all you can ask from a team. Depth is Jeff’s big concern. Do we have enough good players?
Q: Can Purdue win the Big Ten in football?
A: Absolutely. I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t believe that. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s gonna be hard. Is it possible? Darn sure it is. The response Jeff and his staff have gotten in our footprint has been positive. Players love playing for him. He coaches them hard but with respect and love.
Q: Are financial resources in place for the football team to succeed?
A: We are very competitive. I am comfortable with where we are. Multiple-year deal for our assistants. We didn’t want anything that would be looked at as an obstacle that was in our control to deal with. I talked to Jeff about building the organization up like it needs to be. If we are missing key pieces, now is the time to add them. Player personnel, recruiting, operations staff, strength and conditioning staff, quality control, high school relations. We have added lots of pieces to allow us to compete. This is an exciting time at Purdue.
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