GETTING THE LAY OF BEAVERS' LAND
CORVALLIS — It's been about a month since Scott Barnes assumed his new job as athletic director at Oregon State. His place of residence: the Hilton Garden Inn.
That's because his wife, Jody, and son, Isaac, are back home in Pittsburgh, allowing Isaac to finish out his senior year in high school.
"Just had an open house on the house (in Pittsburgh)," reports Barnes, who served 18 months as AD at Pitt before accepting OSU's offer to succeed Todd Stansbury. "Getting some interest, but no offers yet.
"They'll be out here after Isaac graduates in June. I wouldn't see a lot of them right now, anyway."
Barnes has kept busy since his Feb. 15 first day on the job, beginning with the "SWOT" (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of the department he had promised when he accepted the position. Barnes says responses have come from 300 people — "donors, coaches, staff members, stakeholders, board members."
Barnes says he set aside the first 100 days to "listen and learn."
"I've been able to meet with myriad folks, from campus leaders to donors to groups of students to individuals," says Barnes, who has had one-on-ones with all of OSU's head coaches except wrestling's Jim Zalesky.
Barnes is in the process of creating a fan experience committee. He says OSU has had more than 300 applications for 20 spots.
"Our staff is working on who will be on that committee," Barnes says. "It will be a formalized voice for Beaver Nation, where we can listen and work together on new initiatives for football, basketball and beyond. I think we'll be ready to announce by the Spring Game (on Saturday) that we can implement the initiatives next fall for football season."
Barnes created a fan experience committee while AD at Utah State from 2008-15.
"It served very well," he says. "Those 20 (committee members) who sit around the table will be conduits of Beaver Nation and many more. When you're talking to 20, you're listening to thousands. We want our fans to know their opinions matter, and that we're listening, and we're going to implement some of the good ideas."
Barnes says he has been all ears through his first few weeks on the job.
"I like where we're at," he says. "Our days are jammed. I'm learning a lot. I still probably have more questions than answers, but it's starting to move. When I first got here, it wasn't 'probably.' I had a lot more questions than answers.
"Now, I'm getting the lay of the land, but I'm still not there. Everybody has been very helpful in the process. We'll keep grinding away."
Barnes has already made an impression on those who work beneath him.
"Scott brings to Oregon State everything we need to get to the next level," senior associate AD Jim Patterson says. "Todd and Bob (De Carolis) did great things while they were here, but the landscape in college football and college athletics has completely changed.
"Scott brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. When you sit in a meeting with him and are talking about potential growth opportunities, he is demanding of getting much deeper in the conversation. Have we surveyed our fans? Have we talked to our stakeholders? What's the return on our investment? Do we feel comfortable if we make decision X, then Y will happen? These are the kind of things the CEO of a major corporation does. Oregon State athletics is a major corporation."
Patterson's primary area of business is development with the OSU Foundation.
"Scott understands the development piece, how it interconnects with the athletics side," Patterson says. "He has spent a significant amount of time in front of our donors already. He's not afraid to accompany our development staff to important meetings with donors to talk about the Valley Football Center and why it's so important that we get the fundraising completed so we can get on to the next thing. That's what leadership does. That's why I think we're in great hands."
Barnes says Oregon State's athletic facilities are "surprisingly good in some areas, and surprisingly bad in others."
"Our football practice facility is good, the baseball facility is really nice, and the Valley Football Center is coming," he says. "Those are some of the very best in the Pac-12 and beyond. We have a lot of work to do fundraising to improve other (facilities), but we'll get there."
Gill Coliseum, which opened in 1949, "can still work, absolutely," he says.
"The most recent re-do helped," Barnes says. "We'll have to look at the bigger picture down the line, but what a great place to watch a game. The Stanford (women's) game (with a sellout crowd of nearly 10,000) was an example of what the place can be."
The most immediate fundraising project is to come up with the remaining $2 million to complete the $42-million renovation and expansion of Valley Football Center, with a target date set or June 30. Would the renovation of Reser Stadium be next?
"It's another thing that's out there, but we have to be make sure the Valley Center is funded before we start peeking our head over to Reser," Barnes says. "I'm not going to even think about it until we get Valley done."
Underneath the umbrella of a comprehensive strategic plan for the OSU athletic department is a facilities master plan.
"That will help us understand what our priorities are," Barnes says. "It will marry up with the institution's next (general fundraising) campaign. We'll go out and get it done."
As part of that, Barnes has launched what he calls a "gap analysis and bench-marking exercise."
"The biggest priority is to understand what we have to work with," he says. "I tell our coaches, 'Let's not get hung up with what (other schools) have and what we don't have, or vice versa.' The gap analysis and bench-marking gives us a little more information on setting our priorities."
Barnes knows part of his charge is to make sure millennials and younger fans get with the OSU program.
"Today, you almost have to replicate the man cave as a venue," he says. "Because the digital platform is prevalent and there are so many ways to consume sports in that regard, you have to create some unique opportunities for fans to get them in. There's nothing we won't look at."
Barnes seems pleased with the coaches of his four major programs, including men's basketball's Wayne Tinkle, who has struggled through an unsuccessful third season on the job.
"I've had my eye on Wayne for probably a decade," Barnes says. "He's an excellent coach. In this anomaly of a season, it's been unbelievably difficult for everybody. But when I watch them play and I study the bench, he has those kids all in all the time. There's no quit. To have gone through the season they've gone through and to be together and working their tails off like they are says something about Wayne and his staff.
"We know help is on the way. That's the next step — get the folks who are injured healthy, bring the recruits in and get back on track. His first two years were solid. He's had a year I wouldn't wish on any coach."
Barnes calls women's basketball coach Scott Rueck, recently named the Pac-12 coach of the year for the second time, "phenomenal."
"The type of student-athlete he has, the type of program he has put together, is very much like (baseball's) Pat Casey," Barnes says. "They are models for us to follow in what we can achieve in every program if we have a plan in place and the right focus."
A third straight Pac-12 regular-season championship in women's basketball "has been wonderful to see," Barnes says. "Those kids are having so much fun. They're great young ladies. I can't wait to see what happens in the (NCAA) tournament."
Barnes worked with OSU football coach Gary Andersen at Utah State from 2009-12.
"In a lot of ways, what is happening here mirrors what Gary and I went through together at Utah State," Barnes says. "He is building it from the inside out, working on the culture and with expectations and accountability. The outgrowth of that is starting to show up in the classroom for sure, and also on the field."
During Andersen's third season as the Aggies' head coach, they started 2-5 and were trailing 28-7 at halftime after starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton went down to injury. Backup Adam Kennedy came on to lead a 35-31 victory that began the Aggies on a 5-0 run to the end of the regular season.
"We felt like that was a turning point," Barnes says. "We ended up winning out and going to our first bowl game in 10 years. You can never suggest anything is identical, but it sure feels similar.
"Gary develops strong relationships with the high school coaches in his state. He does that because of how he treats his players. They love playing for him. They trust him. The recruiting process will continue to build in the state and beyond. I'm excited. He has a long way to go, but there's no question we're heading in the right direction and have some momentum going."
Barnes, who grew up in Spokane and worked at both Eastern Washington and Washington, hasn't been turned off by Oregon's historically harsh winter.
"I lived at 5,000 feet in the mountains of Utah for seven years," he says. "This is a cakewalk. I love it. We have a lot of family near us. Corvallis is a great place, not to mention we're college-town folks. It will all be good."