Birdwell has been at alma mater three years

Updated: June 7, 2005, 9:06 PM ET
Associated Press

STILLWATER, Okla. -- With tears in his eyes, Oklahoma State athletic director Harry Birdwell announced Tuesday that he'd leave the job of his dreams to follow his heart wherever it led him.

Birdwell lamented that athletics had overtaken his life, robbing him of quality time with his family and preventing him from pursuing other goals in his life. The recent death of one of his favorite Cowboys players helped prompt him to re-examine his own life and -- after consulting with his family and praying for guidance -- make a change.

"It's 24/7, and when you do that repeatedly, you do become pretty single-dimensioned. It's a 24-hour-a-day dose of athletics," said Birdwell, a former investment banker business executive and who took over as Oklahoma State's athletic director in July 2002.

"I'd like to believe that my perspective and breadth in life is a little greater than that," he said.

Even the resignation announcement was crammed into a busy day for Birdwell. He arrived in Stillwater from one speaking engagement, made a brief statement and answered four questions from reporters before being led away so he could leave for a fund-raiser in Tulsa.

Birdwell, 57, did not specifically say what he plans to do after he steps down Dec. 31. After his resignation, he will remain at Oklahoma State for six more months as a consultant to assist the athletics department with fund-raising for the football stadium and other projects.

"There are a lot of opportunities that I want to fulfill in my life that have to do with business ownership, economic growth and development and spiritual dimensions of life, too," he said.

Birdwell repeatedly insisted he had not been asked to step down. He said he had made a "pure philosophical" choice in the best interests of himself and his family.

"I made this decision. It was of my own volition," he said. "It is a deeply personal decision. You know how much I love this place, so it's a tough day."

Birdwell was noticeably moved after mentioning Vernon Grant, the 22-year-old Cowboys safety who died in a car crash in Dallas last month.

"The Vernon Grant deal," Birdwell said before pausing for several seconds, his voice trembling with emotion, "showed me how short life is, that you really need to follow the callings on your life."

A past student body president, the Fletcher native graduated in 1972 with a degree in radio and television news and public affairs. He went on to earn a juris doctorate at Oklahoma and then worked for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives before pursuing an investment banking career.

He returned to Oklahoma State in 1989 as vice president of university relations and became vice president for business and external relations in 1995.

Birdwell helped athletic director Terry Don Phillips respond to the plane crash that killed 10 members involved with the university's men's basketball team in 2001 and has aided fund-raising effort for renovations of Oklahoma State's basketball arena and football stadium.

The renovations at Boone Pickens Stadium -- which include expansion of the seating areas, upgrades to the concession areas and restrooms and the installation of a new playing surface -- are ongoing.

In the past six months, he has hired a new football coach, Mike Gundy, and women's basketball coach, Kurt Budke, to try to further improvements in the university's athletics department.

He said there wasn't one single accomplishment that made him the most proud. Instead, he was pleased with his body of work for his alma mater.

"Harry has done a superb job as athletic director," Oklahoma State president David Schmidly said in a statement. "We appreciate his hard work and enthusiasm.

"Harry helped raise the profile of our athletic program, particularly as it relates to facilities and our performance on the field. Harry's contributions serve as a solid foundation for future developments with our athletic program," he said.

Schmidly said Oklahoma State will evaluate its needs and determine its steps for hiring a replacement for Birdwell at an appropriate time. Birdwell's job pays more than $163,000 a year.

"We are in no hurry and no immediate action is necessary because of the considerate way in which Harry has let us know of his desires," Schmidly said. "Our athletic department operations will continue to function under Harry's direction and everyone will continue to serve in their current positions."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press