Castiglione a man in constant motion

Originally Published: September 22, 2004
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- The game was an hour over, Oklahoma had beaten Oregon 31-7, and here at last was the most remarkable sight of the day: Joe Castiglione was sitting down.

The Oklahoma athletic director was parked on a chair in the back of the postgame interview room, listening to his four-star football coach, Bob Stoops. After seven hours of perpetual motion, it was the first moment Castiglione had spent any appreciable time on his duff. It actually was a relief to see that his knees bent normally.

You think after a hard week's work that an AD spends Saturdays in a cushy chair, stuffing his face and watching football? Not this one. Castiglione is too busy roaming all over Memorial Stadium, the crown jewel of the athletic fiefdom he's built where the wind comes rushing down the plains.

Joe Castiglione
Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione may be the standard bearer of the modern athletic director.
"We're hosting a party for 84,000," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves."

Being a vigilant party host allows precious little time for self-indulgence. Castiglione ate like a supermodel Saturday, squeezing in four meatballs and two celery sticks while those around him pigged out. He also watched about as much football as your average supermodel, catching at most 25 percent of the game's 164 plays.

ESPN.com walked a game-day mile in Castiglione's black leather Cole-Haans Saturday. (Actually, we only wish our shoes were as comfortable as his, given the territory we covered.) Here's the scouting report on Joe C., as many of the fans call him:

Keeps his feet churning at all times. Great hands (excellent for shaking). Good vision (can pick out an important booster in a crowd). Impossible to fatigue (on a 95-degree day that wilted many fans, his gray suit coat came off for about five minutes and his cream-and-crimson tie was never loosened). Goes east-west extremely well.

Castiglione leaves the north-south stuff to Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma's blossoming superstar freshman tailback. The boss roams repeatedly from the luxury suites on the east side of Memorial Stadium to the club seats and press-box suites on the west side. Along the way he will smoothly and assuredly meet and greet corporate kings and relative commoners, all brought together under the banner of King Crimson, Joe Castiglione.

From dawn 'til dusk ... and then some
Castiglione woke up around 6 a.m. -- an hour later than normal, but it had been a rough night. He and the rest of the Sooner administration spent most of Friday dealing with a developing bombshell: first the suspension, then the dismissal, of team captain and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. (See accompanying story.)

Castiglione stayed at the office late Friday night as the Dvoracek situation unfolded, then left to attend a function with Orange Bowl president Keith Tribble . By the time he got home, unwound and went to bed it was nearly 2 a.m.

But even on four hours' sleep, the 46-year-old Castiglione got in his traditional game day workout. After a 45-minute run, he spent most of the morning with his wife, Kristen, and sons, Joseph Jr. and Jonathan, before heading to the office around 10:30.

Castiglione works on the third floor of the McClendon Center for Intercollegiate Athletics, which is connected to the north end of Memorial Stadium. It's a stately edifice, finished last year as part of a privately funded $70 million stadium renovation -- just one more element in the extreme makeover of OU's athletic facilities during Castiglione's six-year tenure.

His office is the only one with the lights on this Saturday morning. As fans begin gathering on the stadium lawn outside and the tailgating noise starts to swell amid the baking heat, it's cool, dark and quiet inside.

Job one is a meeting with the family of a blue-chip women's basketball recruit, who is making her official visit to Norman. Castiglione doesn't get involved in recruiting every athlete, but coaches routinely ask him to enhance their pitch to a few high-priority prospects. She's considered the top recruit in the country, and it's said to be down to Oklahoma, rival Texas and Vanderbilt for her services.

After that meeting Castiglione emerges from his office in Nike shades, ready to do what he does best: mingle with the people. He is a one-man army of charm, a natural conversationalist who schmoozes so skillfully that you don't even realize you're being schmoozed.

This is a vital skill for the modern athletic director, and Castiglione might be the standard bearer for that recently evolved breed. He's more businessman than ex-coach or former jock hero. The former walk-on defensive back at Maryland is a fund-raising rainmaker, a marketing-and-promotions expert and a P.R. sharpie. Bottom line: he's the CEO of a $55-million, 16-sport operation that is one of the biggest and most successful in the country.

But on a football Saturday he's content to be Julie McCoy, cruise director and facilitator to the crimson-clad masses. He's a human hospitality reel.

Stepping out of the athletic offices, Castiglione walks right into one of his many additions to the game-day experience in Norman: the Fan Fest on the stadium lawn. Food is served, live bands play, there are interactive play areas for kids. A giant portable video screen is showing the Maryland-West Virginia game. The Sooner Schooner makes a drive-by appearance.

Once the game kicks off, all the fun stuff is removed from the stadium lawn and relocated to Campus Corner, a nearby gathering spot, for postgame revelry. Castiglione is explaining the Fan Fest area when his right hand is grasped for the first time.

The greeter is a booster from Houston. He's inquiring about acquiring a square on the ground beneath Castiglione's feet, on OU's Colonnade of Champions. The stone walkway commemorates each of the Sooners' 23 national champions in all sports, and squares are available for your name -- with a generous donation -- around the champion of the donor's choice.

"Anywhere you want," Castiglione assures the booster, who also wants to thank the AD for helping him get one of the just-opened luxury suites on the stadium's east side. He's the first of many people who want to thank Castiglione for something -- an invitation to visit the AD's box, a letter written on someone's behalf, the addition of an RV tailgate area, a favor here or there.

Joe Castiglione
APThere's been plenty to celebrate under Joe Castiglione's watch, including the 2000 national title.
But just when you're thinking that Castiglione is Ricardo Montalban on Fantasy Island, granting all wishes to all people, up comes a teenage girl to inject a note of humility.

"Are you the athletic director?" asks Chartney Spear, a sophomore at Memorial High School in Edmond.

"Yes," Castiglione says.

"Do you know Bob Stoops?" she asked excitedly. "Have you ever shaken his hand?"

Castiglione smiled and said yes. After all, he hired the man and pays his salary. And, yes, later on, Stoops' hand would be one of more than 100 the AD would shake on the day.

Next stop is the old McCasland Field House, where the Sooners used to play basketball in the dark ages. Now the building houses their volleyball and wrestling matches, but for football Saturdays it hosts another Castiglione trademark event: The O Club reception.

The O Club is the letterwinners' club, and all the old Sooner jocks from all sports are invited here for every home football game to enjoy complimentary food and drink at white-linen-covered tables on the gym floor. Some of the O Club members don't even attend the games, but come to this gathering to catch up with old teammates or simply feel the pregame buzz.

Castiglione and Stoops both have taken an active interest in embracing Oklahoma's glorious past, putting the program's gilded tradition to work for them. The spread is not opulent, but the gesture to keep former athletes and coaches in the fold is appreciated. Today a table is reserved for the family of Jerry Pettibone, former recruiting coordinator in the 1970s under Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer.

Outside, the O Club is having its traditional cookout, selling its unique O Club Burgers: a burger AND a split frankfurter on a hamburger bun. Castiglione has neither. This is no time for eating. Or for standing still.

Driving Mr. Castiglione
Only one malfunction so far: Castiglione can't find the golf cart he uses to traverse campus on game days, or the graduate student assigned to drive it. Finally, after a few calls on the cell, earnest young development associate Ben Ross arrives with the cart to whisk Castiglione to his next engagement.

The cart rolls along between Castiglione creations -- the Everest Training Center, a monstrous indoor facility on the left, and the Barry Switzer Center, which houses the football offices and football museum, on the right. Football is the athletic department's financial bell cow, of course, with 63 luxury suites sold and about $2.6 million in revenue pouring in from each home game.

Castiglione's cell rings. The officials' meeting has been moved up.

"Turn this thing around," the boss tells Ross.

Many ADs leave the pregame meeting with the zebras to their assistants who oversee game operations from the field. But Castiglione makes a point of appearing at the beginning of the meeting in the refs' dressing room, where trays of fruit, vegetables and cookies have been provided.

Castiglione offers greetings, personally shakes every official's hand and pledges to help in any way possible. If they need help with abusive fans, problematic camera crews or weather issues, just ask.

"We take it serious," he tells the refs. "I just want you to know from the top that we want things done the right way."

"You're the best," one of them tells Castiglione.

Now it's back in the cart, and on to the next stop: a five-minute flyby of the Sooner Club tailgate party, staged on the indoor track.

Rotating fans blow cooling mist onto the booster club members, who are chowing down on barbecue, Mexican and Chinese food. A guy with a microphone is working the crowd, roving between tables and asking where fans are from. About 5,000 Sooner Club members eat their pregame meal here.

Outside is the latest Castiglione project: a swath of greensward surrounding what is called the Duck Pond. Castiglione envisions the area as one day being like Ole Miss' The Grove -- perhaps the preeminent tailgate locale in all of college football. For now the Duck Pond idea is in its infancy, with a couple of large white tents housing pregame parties. (Including, felicitously, one for fans of the visiting Oregon Ducks.)

The area appears idyllic -- until a train roars by on the far side. But Castiglione knows how to spin a negative into a positive: he's thinking about building a short spur off the tracks and lining up a few OU cabooses, to be rented out as tailgate spots.

It's similar to a caboose setup at Louisville, as Castiglione readily acknowledges.

"We all borrow ideas from each other," he said.

Now, after a final short ride on the golf cart, it's time to head inside the stadium. First stop: up the press box elevator to the ABC broadcast booth.

Castiglione finds play-by-play man Terry Gannon and analysts Terry Bowden and Tim Brandt studying pregame material with one eye and watching West Virginia-Maryland with the other. Castiglione's greeting is especially warm with old friend Brandt, a fellow Maryland alum.

After 10 minutes in the booth, it's back down to field level to say hello to Stoops.

NFL scouts walk the sideline, eyeballing prospective talent to see how closely their program measurements match reality. Wang Chung blares lamentably on the sound system. Forty-five minutes prior to kickoff, Castiglione walks out to midfield to shake hands with the coach he presciently hired just a few months after coming to Oklahoma from the AD job at Missouri.

Castiglione reports that the coach is the same as always before a game: matter-of-factly confident.

"The key to Bob's confidence is their will to prepare," he said. "They're well-prepared. They're not walking in saying, 'Ooooh, what do we do now?' To put it in military terms, the guy is buttoned down. He has a keen ability to have his finger on the pulse.

"But people have got the wrong idea about that team," Castiglione said, waving at the Ducks as they warmed up on the other end of the field. "They're a good team. And you know what? We are, too."

The Sooners will get down to proving that soon enough. Not that their AD will see much of it.

Knight Time
As the teams leave the field for their final pregame prep in the locker rooms, OU staff directs a couple of football recruits over to Castiglione as he stands underneath the south goal post. After a few words with them, he's off into the east stands, heading for the luxury suites.

The elevator line is where Castiglione sees school president David Boren for the first time today. They'd been on the phone several times the previous night, as Castiglione kept the president apprised of developments in the Dvoracek situation. Today they're all smiles.

While Castiglione has been remaking the athletic corner of campus, Boren has been remodeling much of the rest of it. Alums walking around before the game marveled at all the new buildings and upgrades. The two have made a visionary team at OU.

Boren asks Castiglione to visit his box later to meet and charm an academic job candidate who is a former football standout at the Air Force Academy. But first, Joe C. has his own VIPs to greet: Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg, USA Basketball president Tom Jernstedt and Cotton Bowl president Rick Baker. They're his guests in one of the opulent new boxes on the stadium's east side.

On the suite level, they're serving pork loin, smoked turkey, pasta, vegetables, fruit and scandalously rich desserts. In the box Castiglione is having his celery and wincing slightly at the television.

ABC has opened its telecast with the news of the day: Dvoracek's dismissal. A graphic lists the multiple allegations of assault over the past two years against the defensive tackle. Castiglione's wince is short-lived, followed by a shrug.

"They have to do it," he said. "Once they kick off, it'll be all about football."

Castiglione spends the first quarter in the suite, but watches only a few plays between conversations with his guests, which now include OU basketball coach Kelvin Sampson and his wife and daughter.

After the Sooners kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead, Castiglione is outta there, heading back down to the field and then across to the west stands. Next stop is the visiting AD's box, where Castiglione warmly greets his counterpart, Bill Moos.

The two congratulate themselves on the game happening at all. It didn't come together until last March -- the absolute last minute by football scheduling standards -- and required a frantic juggling and jerrymandering of several schools' schedules.

"We had so many subplots going on, it was unbelievable," Moos said.

After a while Castiglione heads down the hall to set foot in his own suite for the first time all day. Inside are five buddies from Castiglione's days as AD at Missouri. The boss finally takes off his suit coat, but not for long. After a few minutes of banter, Castiglione gets happy feet again.

"You better get moving," one of his friends says. "You've been here for a whole five minutes already."

Out the door he goes. Next stop: the working press box.

This is a muted locale on game days: cheering is forbidden, and writers are working. Castiglione walks along the back row and engages a couple of local sports-talk radio hosts in some quiet banter. One of them jokes that the big-bucks donors on the east side must be scared to see Joe C. heading their way.

"Now when they see me coming, they all grab their wallets," Castiglione says with a laugh, then heads down to field level for a halftime presentation to coach Sherri Coale and the women's basketball team for winning the Big 12 tournament title.

The presentation might have been timed to coincide with a certain recruiting visit, but Coale is concerned that the heat is cooking her guest of honor. She decides to end the recruit's Memorial Stadium experience shortly after the presentation.

With the OU band doing its halftime show, Castiglione zips back up to the AD's suite. He sees his family for the first time at the stadium, but not for long. But before his dad leaves, Joe Jr. has a request.

"Dad," the 7-year-old says, "when you come back can you get me a pizza?"

"Sure, Joe-Joe," dad says, a bit sarcastically. "Anything else I can get for you?"

"Yeah," the kid shoots back. "A Dr. Pepper."

Instead of a date with the concessionaire, Castiglione next has an appointment to be introduced to the highest roller in the house: Nike CEO and major Oregon fan Phil Knight. Oklahoma has an all-sports apparel contract with Nike, so this was a must-meet. Knight is watching the game in a relatively modest visiting suite on the press-box side.

"You guys have been almost perfect hosts," Knight says with a smile, referencing OU's 10-0 halftime lead.

"You've come a long way, Castiglione"
For the third quarter, Castiglione repairs to the relative peace -- if not quiet -- of the open-air camera deck atop the west stands. The view is tremendous -- of the campus, and of the unfolding brilliance of freshman back Peterson. With an almost overhead view of the plays, you can see his gifts on panoramic display.

Up here, away from guests and boosters and grabbing hands, Castiglione actually watches a couple of series of football uninterrupted. He also becomes animated for the first time, pumping a fist after one play and shouting during a couple others.

To his left sits Barry Switzer -- the king of Oklahoma football. Castiglione seems surprised to see Switzer up here and surmises that perhaps this was the best place to escape and actually watch the game, instead of talking to the swells in his suite. Switzer and Castiglione do not acknowledge each other.

Oregon scores its only touchdown of the day. Karma gone, Castiglione leaves the camera deck and makes a final cameo at his suite.

"Hey, dad!" shouts Joe-Joe. "I ate three pizzas!"

An athletic department staffer grabs Castiglione as he comes out of his box and asks him to make a visit down the hall. The family of Bennie Owen, namesake of Owen Field, the grass playing surface inside Memorial Stadium, is at the game. Could Joe pop in and say hello?

Of course Joe can. He stays for more than a few minutes, and before leaving says twice, "Come back more often if you can. We'd love to have you."

From there Castiglione hustles down to the Santee Lounge, a swank club-seating area on the Stadium's west side. He wants to visit an elderly booster who has been in failing health.

The lounge is blessedly air conditioned, with a buffet spread at one end and a concession stand at the other. On the walls are framed pictures of Oklahoma All-Americans. A total of 28 televisions are inside the lounge, and another 20 are outside, tuned to the ABC feed, so fans can watch replays and other action from their seats.

Only one of the 48 TVs has been switched off the Oklahoma game to the CBS telecast of Auburn-LSU. The theater is clearly better in Auburn, with the home team up one but LSU in possession in the final minute.

No matter. Castiglione turns his back on that thriller after just two plays. He wants to get back over to the east side to say hello to Boren's guest and goodbye to his guests before the game ends.

Back in the suite with Weiberg, Jernstedt and Baker, Castiglione sneaks over to a crock pot and fishes out a few meatballs. Some feast.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Castiglione walks Cotton Bowl prez Baker and his wife to the elevators. The two discuss today's OU-record crowd of 84,574, and laugh about the lean days more than 20 years ago at Rice, where Joe was an athletic department assistant right out of college.

"You've come a long way, Castiglione," Baker said.

Finally, he sits down
After the goodbyes are made, Castiglione returns to field level for the final plays. He's met by his family. His boys cling to his pant legs.

When the final gun sounds, the AD heads to the Oklahoma locker room to congratulate Stoops and hear his postgame talk with his players. Then he appears in the postgame interview room and -- sweet Jesus, finally -- takes a seat.

Even that didn't last too long. When Stoops was finished taking questions, his boss was finished sitting down. He bounced back to his feet and prepared to leave, off to a donor's birthday party -- and, one would hope, his first decent meal since breakfast.

The party for 84,000 turned out just fine, but the host wasn't finished yet. He was off to the after party.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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