Interim Director of Athletics Janet Lucas sat down with the Highlander to talk about her status as UCR’s first female A.D., the current state of the department and how she handles the stress of being athletics’ first-in-command.
Highlander: How did you react when first learning about your new position and Jim Wooldridge’s departure?
Janet Lucas: Relative to my position, I told the Chancellor I was very honored by the opportunity they presented and also the trust they placed in me to lead this program moving forward during such a transitional period of time. So quite an honor. We were very sad as a department to hear about the transition with Jim both as a basketball coach and our director of athletics. He always had the best of intentions and tried very hard to develop this program and keep it growing and getting better. So it was a big change for us, and we wish him the best of luck and certainly have the utmost respect for him.
H: You’re the first female athletics director in UCR’s history, the university’s second senior women’s administrator and were the first female athletics director for Cal State Northridge. Do you think this provides you with a unique perspective on college athletics?
JL: I’m in my 35th year of working in Division I athletics, and I think that’s what gives me the broadest and most in-depth perspective relative to how the department operates. What our needs are after eight years, I’m very aware of that. I understand our staff and how it works, as we fill our vacant positions. I thoroughly understand what’s a good fit as far as personnel goes. So as the first female in this position at this institution, does it bring a slightly different perspective? I think at times it does, but I think years of experience, administratively speaking, is really where I can put that to use for us.
Since I’ve been here, I’ve held a variety of interim positions as we have had some growth with adding new positions, but also some turnover that naturally occurs in athletics. I’ve been the interim ticket manager, event manager, compliance director and business manager. So there isn’t an area in this department that I haven’t worked with directly over my eight years. And that gives us an advantage, particularly in a time that can be unsettling. The folks that have worked with me the longest are very comfortable as we move forward because they understand what my philosophies and expectations are. Right now our biggest emphasis is pulling together as a team for our department so we move together in a unified manner even as change occurs.
H: How would you describe the landscape of the athletics department?
JL: We are looking for continuity and stability more than anything else because that is the foundation and springboard for the growth. In my eight years here, I’ve had three athletics directors and five chancellors, two of which were interim. So it seems that at every point where we are really starting to gain ground, there is some sort of a transition that creates a different challenge. So the stability and continuity is important for us, but that doesn’t mean everything stays the same, it means the vision and direction stays the same. So as you make changes, they will stay in place and you can keep building on them. That will be very important to us.
H: What are some of the biggest needs for the department as a whole?
JL: In the short-term, we have a number of vacant administrative positions and filling those is paramount. We do not have a large administrative staff. I’m very happy to say we have continuity in our coaching staff and all those positions are full-steam ahead. When the initial transition occurred, we had eight open administrative positions, which is a large portion of our staff … We’re moving very, very quickly considering. We have a couple more (positions) we need to address. Getting the staff in place is part of that stability. We’ve got some folks that are so excited to be joining our department and helping us move forward.
H: Long-term, what are some of the goals that you would like to see the athletics department work toward?
JL: Financial stability is an important aspect of our program. We have a lot of funding sources through the institution but also through revenue production. We want to build that revenue, which is extremely important, and have stability with our other funding sources so that you use those financial resources wisely, which allows you to keep building in that sense. We want to be strategic with the decisions that we make. In other words, you can’t do everything. You have to prioritize and be very strategic in the choices that you do make. And connecting all of this to the community and our supporters, building that fanbase and the fan experience is obviously very important both in short- and long-term.
H: For the athletics department, what are some of the priorities, and how are those funds divided up? Are there any areas of focus?
JL: Facility enhancements have been a focus over the last year, and they are going to continue to be. We are finishing up some projects right now, and we have plans for other ones, so that we can keep developing those facilities because they connect to the recruiting process. From another perspective, our priority as a department is the student athlete experience. When we provide positive student athlete experience that allows our student athletes to excel both as individuals and a team, we know we will have a successful program. We’re doing so many wonderful things now. It’s not all producing as far as wins and losses, but that is the focus, through the process of a positive experience, we will build that winning tradition.
H: What restrictions, if any, does UCR face compared to other universities in the Big West Conference?
JL: I mentioned early that we do have a small staff. We also have a budget that isn’t consistent with the average in the Big West. We do not have football as some of the other programs do, but we want to build on those resources in order to add to the experience that our student athletes have at UCR.
But we’ve been able to add, over the last few years, a variety of different aspects. We added an academic counselor a few years ago, which is a part of our core mission. We want student athletes to do well, both athletically and academically. We want to see them grow and move on to the next phase of their lives, prepared to do that. So we want to keep that type of growth.
H: We’re approaching the end of the quarter, and a lot of students are stressed. How do you handle stress?
JL: When I’m surrounded by the kind of people that we have in our department that are helping through this transition, it allows me to stay focused on what I need to do in order to move us forward as much as possible during a transition, both internally and externally. So I really do depend on those folks, and I appreciate everything about what they are doing for this department, our student athletes and for the university. That helps automatically any stress level you might have. You stay busy. It’s a positive kind of busy though. It really is energizing in and of itself.