“We had a motto at Murray State: That each student athlete leave the university with a championship ring on one hand and a diploma in the other. I have that very same goal for every Wildcat.”
Allen Ward took over as the ninth athletics director over ACU Sports on June 16, and began his duties on Aug. 6.
Growing up, Ward played football and basketball, but only had two collegiate offers. He said he was smart enough to recognize his 5’9 stature and realize it was wise to use his brain rather than his body, and went to get a business administration degree at William Jewel College.
Ward started his career at the University of North Texas and worked there for 15 years, his last seven as senior associate athletics director. While at UNT, Ward said he was in a position of growth, and given the opportunity to assist in the oversight of classification change, new facility construction and the addition of sports.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to be blessed by some amazing opportunities,” Ward said. “There were a lot of things going on in their athletics program, and I got to be part of that.”
Ward was offered the opportunity to be the new athletics director at Murray State in 2005 and stayed for 13 years.
“It’s a unique program,” he said. It’s one that has an incredible history in men’s basketball. They’ve won 41 championships.”
While Ward was athletics director, the Racers participated in a cumulative 29 NCAA tournaments – six men’s basketball, three volleyball and three soccer. The teams earned 39 Ohio Valley Conference championships.
“I was blessed with an incredible group of coaches who knew what they were doing,” Ward said. “It’s very much a family. We were blessed with a lot of success.”
One of his top priorities at Murray State was his commitment to Title IX and gender equity, meaning both the men’s and women’s sports programs have fair and equal treatment, and do not face discrimination based on gender.
“We didn’t sacrifice the competitiveness in any way,” Ward said. “I did what I thought was right, and it paid off. We treated them the same way and gave them an equal chance. It’s federal law, but it’s also common sense and compassion.”
Days after Ward left MSU, so did their former president, Bob Davies.
“I can’t speculate on anything like that. I felt good about where my career was at Murray State, and where the program was. It reaffirmed me – it’s time for a challenge,” Ward said.
Ward said one similarity between the two programs – Murray State and ACU – is the passion in the programs.
“There is good in both, just different good.
“If people don’t love your university and bleed purple, its really hard to build something special, even when you’re winning. When you have passion for the program, it sustains.”
Though Ward was impressed with the facilities, people and teams, he said he felt called to ACU throughout the whole process. For Ward, the process has been a “God thing” since he accepted the position at Murray State, but the culture and community at ACU was different.
“Throughout the entire process, I felt like there was a fit, like I was already connected to people,” Ward said. “It’s much more intentional. It’s open because we have that calling and purpose. To be a Christ-centered environment is what we’re all about,” Ward said.
Of the things Ward said he could bring to the table, his passion for growing the programs and instilling a culture of sustainability is the most important.
The aspects of sustainability include having a sound program in finances and leadership and protecting athletics while also looking out for the best of the institution.
With the completion of three new facilities on campus – Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium, the Hutton Jones tennis facility and the new golf practice field called, “The Jim,” Ward said he can start putting the other pieces together.
From a sports perspective, Ward said other pieces include providing tools for the success of all student athletes and working on a strategic plan that includes staffing, an operating budget and a more competitive edge.
“Our commitment has to equal our expectations. That is critical. It won’t happen overnight, but we’re working on a strategic plan,” Ward said.
Ward said one of the unique challenges for ACU sports is the integration of Christ in every aspect.
“We embrace that,” Ward said. “It’s who we are. We believe we’re doing this for a higher cause and purpose, and those are the rewards we’re going to be blessed with,” Ward said.
For coaches, Ward said he’s encouraging them to find their niche, including recruiting methods and confidence in competition. He used women’s basketball head coach Julie Goodenough as an example.
“She’s found her niche. She knows the kids she’s going to recruit, she has a competitive edge, she’s created a difficulty for other schools to prepare for matchups and she’s created a Christ- centered environment to grow kids spiritually,” Ward said.
Football at ACU is difficult, Ward said, but he commended head football coach Adam Dorrel for having exceptional patience through the growing process.
Through it all, Ward said he is most excited to get to know the rest of the people and campus history.
“It’s been great getting to know all of them and feeling like I’ve known them my whole life, when I’ve only known for six weeks,” Ward said. “It makes me feel like I made the right decision coming here.”
Ward said he looks forward to embracing the challenges, and having vulnerability to know how to get where they want to go.
“To make it all happen, it takes everything,” Ward said. “It’s about how we can use athletics to impact ACU and take it to a completely different level, which is what ACU Athletics can do if done right.”
Of his long term goals, Ward sarcastically said he was greedy for wanting to pursue the highest excellence in every aspect of the ACU athletics experience.
“If you’re running the right kind of program you’re going to be able to emphasize all three – academics, athletics and spirituality. It’s an entire package for me, I don’t want one or the other,” Ward said.
Ward said his family is excited about the new transition, though his son is going to college at Murray State. His wife, Sharon, and daughter, Nicole, moved to Texas on Sept. 20.
“They know what led me here and they’re a part of that,” Ward said.
Two months into the position, Ward said he still looks forward to seeing all of the athletes participate, get to know students outside of athletics and learn more about campus history.
“I have so much to learn before I can provide a sustainability plan, what we have to do to put the pieces in place,” Ward said. “I’m excited for the next few years, seeing everything come together and seeing the impact it’s making on the university.
“We’re here to make a difference. If we keep our focus on ACU and the institution and what we’re all about and what we’re here to do, everything will work out right. We’ll do some very special things here.”