The Gaucho torch is being passed to a new generation.
Mark Massari, 39, was introduced Monday as UCSB’s new director of intercollegiate athletics. He will succeed Gary Cunningham, who is retiring after a 13-year tenure with the Gauchos. Cunningham’s career in college coaching and athletic administration spanned 43 years.
Massari comes to Santa Barbara from Oregon State University, where he has served as the senior associate athletics director for external affairs. His responsibilities included marketing and fund-raising. During his six years at OSU, the school completed $115 million in capital improvements and erased a $12-million annual budget deficit. Although representing one of the smallest schools in the Pac-10 Conference, the Beavers scored many athletic successes, including back-to-back NCAA baseball titles in 2006 and ‘07.
While acknowledging that UCSB sets “the gold standard” for athletic success in the Big West Conference, Massari suggested that improvements are needed for the Gauchos to compete nationally in every sport. UCSB sponsors 19 intercollegiate teams. Only one men’s soccer in 2006 has won an NCAA championship in the last 29 years.
“Dreams can come true here,” Massari said, adding that the two necessary ingredients are facilities and people. “We’re doing it on smoke and mirrors a little bit,” he said, noting that the Thunderdome, home of the Gaucho basketball teams, “looked aged to me.” At Oregon State, Massari secured funding for renovations to an even older building, Gill Coliseum.
When a 17-year-old prospective student-athlete visits the UCSB campus, Massari said, “Facilities are going to be the difference-maker. If they’re not better, kids are going to make the choice to go to the Pac-10.”
Massari said he will pay special attention to coaches. “I’m going to be aggressive in hiring great coaches and retaining great coaches,” he said. He expects them “to graduate their students, win championships, and do the right thing have integrity.”
Two of Massari’s favorite words during a question-and-answer session with the media were “passion” and “enthusiasm.” That set well with former women’s basketball coach Mark French. “Our coaches want somebody who matches their passion,” said French, who decided to retire after 21 years as a Gaucho coach because he felt he could not muster the requisite enthusiasm. UCSB hired 31-year-old Lindsay Gottlieb to replace him.
French was on the 22-member search committee that recommended three associate athletic directors - Massari, Michael Cross of Princeton and Cheryl Levick of Maryland - as candidates to succeed Cunningham. UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang made the selection of Massari. “We weighed all the factors, and Mark was our first choice,” Yang said.
The new athletics director graduated in 1991 from Sacramento State, where he played football. After studying in a master’s program at Duquesne University, he took a position in the athletic department at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. He followed that with a five-year stint as director of sports marketing and sales at Miami (Florida), and three years as director of broadcasting and sales for the San Francisco 49ers. Oregon State hired him in 2002.
Men’s basketball coach Bob Williams said after Massari’s press conference, “I liked everything I heard today. I’m glad the chancellor made a quick decision.” Massari said he has some things to tie up at Oregon State and expects to assume the reins at UCSB in late September.
Massari’s hiring came four days after Cunningham was feted in a retirement party at the Goleta Holiday Inn. It was attended by many community leaders, coaches, and several of his former players and associates at UCLA, where he was a basketball coach - the top assistant to John Wooden and later head coach before going into athletic administration.
French was emcee of the program, which included tributes from Yang; Dennis Farrell, commissioner of the Big West Conference; and Peter Jordano, a prominent contributor to UCSB athletics. They praised Cunningham for his integrity and the respect he commanded throughout the college sports community.
“If I can have half of the career he’s had in athletics, I will be a happy man,” Massari said of Cunningham.
Both gatherings - the Cunningham party and the Massari press conference - had restless children in the audience. In the former case, they were the outgoing athletics director’s grandchildren. In the latter, they were Massari’s daughter Madeline, 4, and son Joey, 2.
A new generation, indeed.