Growth is a constant at Colorado-Colorado Springs and it is no different for the Mountain Lions athletic department, which fields its first women's golf team this fall for the school's 14th NCAA Division II program.
At the head is athletic director Steve Kirkham, the winningest women's basketball coach in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference history after 16 years at Colorado Mesa.
Each varsity facility has been built or renovated during his nine years. His staff has grown from two full-time coaches to nine next fall with an average salary increase from $17,000 to $41,000 (including part-time). The athletic department budget has grown from $250,000 when he took over in in 2004 to $808,000.
The Gazette sat down with Kirkham recently to talk about this past year's success and the future, which will not include football any time soon.
Question: UCCS matched its school-best with a sixth-place finish in the RMAC All-Sport Competition Cup this past season. Will this be the new normal?
Answer: I think there is no question it will be the norm in the future, not something that is a surprise to anybody. We have really good coaches right now and have been able to attract a higher-quality student-athlete recently. It really is something that is a result of nine years of climbing the ladder. It is going to be the norm from here on. We are not going to be going backward.
Q: The salary increases must have helped bring in better coaches who recruited better athletes, which must be behind the success this past season?
A: It was what I hoped would happen (laughs). I competed against UCCS as a coach and quite frankly it was one of those things you marked on your schedule as a couple wins. When I took over as athletic director, I understood we wanted to change that.
When you look at our success, you can point to the scholarship money and salary increases as the key factors. We really filled the needs you have to be successful at the Division II level.
Q: What sports facilities are scheduled to be added over next few years?
A: The strategic master plan has all athletic facilities eventually north of the Four Diamonds complex where it exists now. We are in the early stages of looking at a track and soccer stadium up there. Track is the only current program we have that does not have a facility and it is a large number of kids, so that is something we are trying to fix as quickly as possible.
Eventually there will be an arena, a natatorium, field house and a new softball facility. Eventually a baseball facility so that gives people a good idea of what we are looking to do in the future.
We will add swimming somewhere down the road. Baseball for sure sometime down the road and lacrosse is definitely coming. Our conference will have a women's lacrosse championship soon. It is the fastest growing sport in Colorado, so we will have to answer that call pretty quick.
We try to be very diligent in how we look at adding sports. We want to be very, very competitive in what we are doing before we add anything else.
Q: What timeline are you looking at?
A: As far as a timeline for Four Diamonds? I really don't know. That is up to people higher up the scale than me. The track stadium within five years; keeping my fingers crossed.
Q: How many UCCS games do you attend each year?
A: I make most of the home matches and try to make something on the road. The games in Grand Junction, Silver City or Chadron, after 16 years in this league, well, I don't get too excited about those (laughs).
Q: What is most challenging about being an AD?
A: As a head coach for 21 years, I always had an opportunity to make a difference in the game. As an athletic director, the only opportunity you had was make sure they got the scholarship money and you hired a good coach. Once they start playing, it is out of your hands. That is tough because you see something that maybe you wish you still were coaching or were playing. As an AD, you stand there and support them, cheer and try not to yell at an official (laughs).
That is the hardest part for me because your heart and soul is in it just like it was as a coach or player. You want them to win so bad, you want them to succeed so bad. You watched how hard they worked and know how many hours they put in. You see a game at the end or things aren't going their way and you want to get in the middle of it and you can't. For me that is the hardest part.