April 9, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
It’s not every day that you get a chance to grill the guy who landed the job that you wanted, but said opportunity arrived Friday when I called Ryan Bamford with questions.
He’s Georgia Tech’s new associate athletic director for internal operations, and while I had no idea going in what that job entails, I knew I wanted it.
Bamford just spent nine years in athletics administration at Yale, however, and I just spent nine minutes contemplating whether my navel is an inny or an outty. It’s a borderline deal. His qualifications do not remotely approach borderline so he got the job.
This will make sense eventually, hopefully. Be strong; read on.
I love athletics. Bamford loves athletics. In a way, he had less choice than I did because my father was an aeronautical engineer with little athletic background. My mother was a jeweler.
Bamford’s been in the games game since, well, nearly always. He played basketball at Ithaca College (N.Y.), where he was quite the three-point shooter. Long before that he watched his father coach and administrate athletes, teams and a college conference.
Papa Bamford was a junior high school principal and coach who transitioned into college athletics and became athletic director at Plymouth State, a Division III school in New Hampshire. He went on to serve as interim commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC). Now, Steve Bamford is the ECAC’s administrator for officiating and special projects.
By the learning of this, a career path came into focus. Bamford has been on a straight road, in a rocket-powered car, with stops/jobs with the ECAC, Octagon Sports Marketing, Plymouth State and the University of New Hampshire, and, of course, Yale.
“Watching my dad and growing up around that culture, I knew that I loved to be around young people and wanted to do the things for them that he was doing for them,” Bamford said.
“I wanted to play college basketball, and . . . sports management was just coming on the horizon as an area of study. Plus, [Ithaca] was an opportunity to play right away. I came out [of college], and knew I wanted to get my masters while I wasn’t tied down with family.”
I’ve been off-road for a while, and relegated to a wagon. Plus, I’m tied down, although not to the wagon. That would be torture. The thing has sketchy brakes, and I encounter descents. I’ve always been an aggressive descender (that’s what kept me in the mix as a competitive mountain biker; the climbs, uh, don’t bring that up), but you need good brakes.
Yet my brain still works (if not necessarily the way parents everywhere hope their children’s brains will work), and I sensed at this point I’d caught Bamford.
The guy wants to be around young people, athletes specifically, so why isn’t he a coach?
“Good question,” he said. “When I was probably a junior or a senior [in college], I was coming back to my home area and helped my high school basketball program, and to be honest, I had zero patience for teaching kids what I thought were fundamentals. I knew at that point coaching was not in my future.
“The more I’ve gotten into administration, I find it remarkable that coaches . . . can find trust and put their trust in 18-22 year-old kids. To have your livelihood based on that is a pretty amazing thing.”
Wow! Honesty, thy spirit is spelled somewhat like B-A-M-F-O-R-D.
Having been an assistant coach for more than a dozen of my kids’ teams, I can relate. I love so many things about my role as an assistant, but I want to bark at kids more than I do. Here, I’m reminded of what softball coach Sharon Perkins told me a couple weeks ago when I asked her something about evolutions in her beloved game.
She said that in her day as a player, the athletes didn’t ask why. Every generation to spend time on Earth has said that kids nowadays are not like they were, but is that really relevant? Is this a natural evolution of species, or have kids jumped the tracks?
I asked, Bamford delivered.
“I recently read a great book called `Generation Me,’ and it’s about kids coming through having been really privileged by their parents, the helicopter parent doing all the legwork with the student in the classroom or with the coach rather than letting the kid deal with it,” he said.
“In my nine years at Yale I saw it more than I would ever care to have seen it. At a place like Yale you’re recruiting a certain type of kids who have had opportunities that others have not had. All the sudden they see themselves at the end of the bench and it’s very hard on them, and their parents. It may be the first time they’ve not been the best at what they do.”
I’d classify it as a jumping of tracks.
By the way, I could use a helicopter parent. Mom, Dad, don’t take this the wrong way. I need me a Bamford.
He needs me, too, though, so I got that going for me.
Single, still quite young (mid-30s), he’s inquisitive. He asked about social enclaves that happen to be in my neighborhood, and I gave him serious intel. I didn’t tell him the info was dated.
Atlanta is a good place to be when you’re young, smart and male. Bamford confirmed this.
“The early returns are very favorable. It’s a live town,” he said. “It’s much different than New Haven [Conn.] in a lot of ways. The access to culture here is impressive. Being in a pro sports town is new to me. Being between Boston and New York [before], it’s new to me.”
Access to culture? Man, am I coming from a different place.
Having come from territory divided by Yankees/(Mets?) and Red Sox fans, Patriots and Giants/Jets fans, Celtics and Knicks/(Nets?) fans, Bruins and Rangers/Islanders/Devils fans, Bamford said he likes being surrounded by a fan base that is singularly committed to its teams.
So he’s got some research to do, huh?
Still, there’s no denying he’s tracking upward and fast.
His job, “encompasses a lot of the internal stuff, dealing with sports medicine, event management, weight training, and things like that,” he said. “It’s . . . the nuts and bolts grunt work that kind of keeps the machine going to give our coaches the ability to worry about recruiting and coaching and not have to worry about the minutia.”
This is not a new job.
Paul Griffin was doing a lot of what Bamford will be doing. Now, Griffin is busy overseeing projects like construction of a football practice facility, the transformation of Alexander Memorial Coliseum into McCamish Pavilion, pending updates to the tennis facility, and Tech’s role hosting an NCAA basketball regional next year and the Final Four in 2013.
I love athletics. I admire the people who coach, administrate and play, not in any order.
Me and this Bamford guy, we share blood.
But I don’t have to try and administrate Paul Johnson so I’ve got that on him.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever even talked to somebody who’s been in New Hampshire. If you have a hard time believing that Plymouth State exists, run a search engine on Bo Jackson, Chuck Long, and Joe Dudek. They were 1985 Heisman Trophy candidates and they landed, together, on the cover of Sports Illustrated while Papa Bamford was AD at PSU. Or, I’ll do it for you: here’s the link – (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/0812/heisman.covers/content.4.html). Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.