Chris King became the UTRGV Director of Athletics in 2009 and unveiled an ambitious plan for his program in 2016. His lofty goal? To improve the student-athlete experience and lead UTRGV Athletics to become the industry standard of the WAC and Division I. The plan will be quite an accomplishment, one he knows he will not achieve alone.
“The culture we have developed, our process, I believe is unique,” explains King. “The senior leadership team and I spend an awful lot of time in planning meetings, brainstorming and there’s not a lot of decisions that are made 100 percent by me. It’s better to have six great minds, than one person who thinks he knows everything.”
King is empowering his team in the athletics’ department to elevate the program. He says that delegating out responsibility and authority to his senior leadership team provides ownership of the strategic priorities to elevate the university and the athletics department mission, vision, values, beliefs, and purpose.
“I want our senior leadership team to have ownership of our goals and annual core priorities. And that’s how they’re evaluated, not just what they oversee in their day to day operations, but they must also be able to balance the ability to be plan and task-oriented, which is in effect a major part of our strategic planning process,” says King.
His team feels King’s confidence and his expectations have elevated UTRGV athletics as they embark together on the journey to take UTRGV to the next level. As part of the new strategic plan, they have five main goals, which includes, student success, the 3 F’s: facilities, finance and fundraising, competitive excellence, promoting a culture of integrity, and branding and engagement.
Lance Morgan, General Manager of Corporate Sales and Sponsorships, says King’s approach helps the senior leadership team to collaborate on the five department goals together.
“I do think it’s essential instead of working in silos that we have a game plan that serves as our roadmap moving forward through the year. Based on our communication, collaboration and inclusive leadership model, our senior leadership team does not allow our day to day operations and annual core priorities to fall through cracks either.”
Morgan says the strategy of all working together as a unit and being equally responsible for the big picture helps the athletic department work as one cohesive team.
Chelsea Blakely, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, agrees with Morgan.
“If I understand the strategic priorities for our department, we can create a more creative and innovative marketing plan to support the department’s vision,” she explains. “ Our leadership and planning model provides us a better perspective for making decisions and allows me to become a better external operations administrator.”
Blakely says that King’s modeling for the UTRGV department helps the senior leadership team model better practices for their staff. The mantra of accountability trickles down from the administration to the department coaches and support staff.
“The senior leadership team has ownership of their areas of oversight and annual core priorities. The senior leadership team knows we are a part of the process. One of the best parts of being a member of the senior leadership team is that I enjoy the ability to collaborate on the vision and the growth of the department.”
King says that the feeling of team collaboration is all by design. It’s something he is deliberately building into the athletic department’s plan and leadership model.
“That’s why I use that word ownership, rather than “responsible for”. The senior leadership team knows their specific role and responsibilities, and what their expectations are in the next 30, 60, 90 days,” says King.
King’s attitude has caught on like fire within the athletic department. Farrah Manthei, who had served as the Vaqueros Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student Services and Senior Woman Administrator, until recently accepting a Deputy Director of Athletics position at UIC, says his expectations kept the team moving forward.
“Chris has very high expectations, he definitely brought me energy every day. He expects you to be 100 percent involved in everything that we say we’re going to do and wants you to do it really well at the best of your ability,” says Manthei.
King admits this atmosphere is one he had to learn to cultivate by trial and error. He noticed that something was missing several years into his UTRGV tenure in his leadership role.
“I needed to start focusing more on the culture of our purpose, and our values and beliefs of our program. I needed to spend more time developing meaningful relationships both on and off campus and spending most of my time on the vision and the growth of our athletics program,” he says.
The time he’s invested in culture and purpose is time well spent according to the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations, James Martinez. He says their meetings have become more formal with minutes and an actual process to hold all team members accountable.
Martinez also expressed King’s management style has made him look at his own process with his staff. He appreciates King’s faith in him and the UTRGV program.
“He encouraged me to examine, explore, and learn and apply what I believe in works for me. And I appreciate his inclusive leadership model because our leadership styles are different,” says Martinez.
Vince Volpe, the Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer says that watching King build this culture of teamwork while working towards massive department goals is a benchmark for him personally.
“For him to share in the goal setting, planning, and ownership process, it allows the senior leadership team to see what he’s thinking, to see his vision for the next 12 months, 36 months, 60 months. If I’m a part of crafting the plan and I’m taking ownership in portions of the plan, then it’s not somebody else’s plan. It becomes our plan.”
All of this heightened sense of ownership and accountability is what King wants to project, not just to the UTRGV athletics department, but to the campus as a whole.