Editor’s note: This profile of former WSU athletic director Jim Schaus appeared in The Eagle on July 25, 1999, a month after he was hired.
The two men from Southern California met on the golf course at Flint Hills National three weeks ago.
This is what Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett had to say to Wichita State’s new athletic director, Jim Schaus:
“You aren’t Freddie Schaus’ kid, are you?”
Schaus’ father, Fred, was the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most famous franchises in all of professional sports, and Jim Schaus remembers thinking it was all a quite normal childhood.
“I did realize,” Schaus said, “that not every kid got to sit down with Pat Riley so they could do a school report on him.”
Fred Schaus landed the Lakers job in 1960, the year Jim was born. Jim spent the first 12 years of his life in Los Angeles, as his father coached the Lakers for seven years and served as the team’s vice president and general manager for the next five.
“He always ran out on the floor after games,” said Fred Schaus. “He, Tommy Hawkins’ son, and Jerry West’s son - they were the terrible trio, running around the Forum, in and out of places they shouldn’t be.”
Fred Schaus, who is retired and lives in West Virginia, chuckles at the memory of trying to keep up with little Jim.
“I’ve probably attended over 1,000 NBA games,” the younger Schaus said. “We used to go during the week, when I’d be asleep in the back seat and I’d have to go to school the next day.
“But that was our lifestyle, and I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.”
Chick Hearn, the legendary radio announcer for the Lakers, often got Jim on the air to ask his opinion on the game.
Wasn’t every kid tossed up in the air by Wilt Chamberlain?
THE UPBRINGING OF AN A.D.
Fred Schaus coached West Virginia to the 1959 NCAA Final Four (of which West, then a junior in college, was the most valuable player) before getting the Lakers job. He returned to college coaching in 1973, when he took over the program at Purdue.
Jim lived what he calls a storybook adolescence in Indiana. He made a large group of friends in sixth grade that stayed close throughout high school. Their senior year, Jim and nine of his classmates led West Lafayette High (enrollment 680) to a 23-3 record and its first Sweet 16 berth in the Indiana state tournament, which included schools of all sizes.
Schaus, a 6-foot-2 point guard and a team captain, still thinks West Lafayette should have won the whole thing.
“We were all 6-2,” Schaus said. “I guess we could pretty much take turns being center, but I could handle the ball so I was a guard. Basketball’s really big in Indiana, just like in Kansas.
“My high school years were a special time. There were soap box derbies and fish fries. It was Americana.”
Schaus, now 39, was a good high school basketball player, but not major-college material. After attracting attention from a handful of small-college programs, Schaus chose instead to attend Purdue, where he began to display the relentless work ethic and energy he’s known for today.
He worked in the university’s sports information office. He was a part-time sportswriter for the Lafayette Journal-Courier. He worked various jobs in the summer. On top of that, he was in the Acacia fraternity.
“I worked a lot of hours, probably 30 or 40,” Schaus said. “My parents helped me with school. But I paid for my tuition, and I think it was a very good experience. I’ll probably do the same with my kids. I think it helps you appreciate it more.”
Schaus went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication from Purdue in 1983, then served a stint as a publicity assistant for the LPGA Tour before taking over as director of marketing for the Washington Redskins.
Led by John Riggins, Joe Theismann and Co., the Redskins were a hot item. Schaus met his future wife, Priscilla, a nursing student at George Mason, at a church volleyball game and the two were married within a year. He went on to establish a record in the Redskins organization for corporate sponsorships and publication sales.
Life was good in D.C.
“I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m 23 years old, and I want to stay in the NFL,’ ” Schaus said. “I was able to sell whatever I wanted, and I got to thinking, ‘Wow, I must be pretty good at this.’ I’d ask for $75,000 and get it.
“But what I found out, after three years there, was that no matter what I did, I was successful because of the tremendous success surrounding the Redskins. It wasn’t me. It was the environment. I didn’t know if I was making a difference.”
So Schaus walked away from professional sports.
“I’ve always had a little bit of an insatiable desire to be challenged,” he said. “In a professional football organization, the only place to grow is to be general manager. So college athletics made a lot of sense to me. In order to reach my goal to be an athletic director, I had to get a master’s degree.”
Schaus did just that in 1987, when he earned a master’s in education from West Virginia while serving as a marketing assistant in sports radio and television for the university.
The University of Oregon, looking for someone with in-house broadcasting experience, then hired Schaus as the assistant athletic director. It would prove to be the major turning point in his career.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Former Oregon athletic director Bill Byrne made Schaus one of his first hires.
“He wasn’t very old,” said Byrne, now the AD at Nebraska. “But he obviously had the upbringing for the job. Jim likes challenges, and we had some at Oregon.”
The Oregon athletic department, as a whole, was an afterthought in the mighty Pacific-10 Conference.
“As far as the conference, we were way down in the food chain,” Schaus said. “I mean, nobody thought Oregon could be anything.”
Schaus admits he had doubts himself. But he pushed them aside and never lost sight of the goals he and Byrne had set.
“I guess I’ve always been a little bit of a dreamer,” Schaus said. “If you think big enough, you’ll get there. If you think small, you get small.”
Schaus coordinated all the broadcasting and marketing for the athletic department. As the founder and executive producer of the Oregon Sports Network, he increased broadcast revenues by 400 percent in its first year as an in-house operation.
“Jim really went after that,” Byrne said. “He went after everything.”
Schaus also worked relentlessly in promotion and sales for the Casanova Center, Oregon’s state-of-the-art, 90,000-square-foot athletic complex.
“At the time, there hadn’t been any construction on campus in 18 years,” Schaus said. “I really believe the Casanova Center was the precursor for our success. It was a collaborative effort, and I believe it made a huge difference in our recruiting. Things really snowballed.”
Coincidence or not, the Ducks football team snapped a streak of 13 straight losing seasons. Before Schaus left, Oregon went to the Freedom Bowl and the Independence Bowl. After he left, the Ducks went to the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
“I was in my late 20s at the time, and I can look back and say it was a lot of fun,” Schaus said. “Doing things as a team, accomplishing goals as a team – it just doesn’t get any better than that. The success we had was very improbable.”
By the time he left the school in 1991, Schaus’ stock as an administrator had risen considerably.
“Jim did a fantastic job, and he was a huge part of what we accomplished at Oregon,” Byrne said. “He was so energetic and had some great ideas. There’s nothing Jim enjoys more than seeing a challenge and sinking his teeth into it.”
MAN ON THE MOVE
Wichita State is Schaus’ sixth job in the eight years following his stint with Oregon.
“The moving never really bothered me,” said Schaus’ wife, Priscilla. “We always said that home is where the family is.”
Schaus worked for a regional television network that had agreements with several conferences, including the Missouri Valley (1991-92); was an associate AD at Northern Illinois (1992-94); a senior associate AD at Cincinnati (1994-97); went into a corporate sales business venture with former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach (1997-98); and was senior associate AD at Texas-El Paso (1998-99).
“It was a situation where I knew he probably wasn’t going to be here long,” Texas-El Paso athletic director Bob Stull said. “I was just thankful to have him for the short time we did.”
Schaus’ father has never been to Wichita and knows little about the university. But he is aware of the basketball program’s past success and expresses a strong fondness for Gene Wiley, a former Shocker who went on to play for Schaus in Los Angeles.
“I feel good about my son being in Wichita,” Fred Schaus said. “Every career move he’s made has been made because of his goal of becoming a head AD. I’m pleased and proud that he became one at age 39.”
He encouraged Jim to follow his own path, even if it wasn’t in athletics. John Schaus, Jim’s older brother by seven years who lives in California, chose a career in sales. Jim said he walked away from the private sector business with Staubach when he realized he missed athletics too much.
“Jim would have done really well in sales, too,” Fred Schaus said. “He’s always had an outgoing personality. John and I are not as up front as Jim and (his mother) Barbara. He loves dealing with people.”
Of course, those same traits have served his son well in college athletics.
Jim Schaus, who became the 16th athletic director in Wichita State’s history four weeks ago, likes to arrive in his office by 7 a.m.
“And many days I’m here until 7 p.m.,” Schaus said. “And I usually work on weekends. In this business you have to put in some time. But the way I look at it is, it’s not so much the hours you work as the productivity.
“But being with my family is extremely important to me. My wife is a real inspiration and very kind. She’s the most incredible person I know.”
Schaus said he devotes what precious little time he has outside work to his children: Kevin, 11; Diane, 9; and Laura, 7.
“Jim loves to have fun,” Priscilla Schaus said. “He’s not a father who gets home on the weekends and says, ‘Hi, kids – now off I’m off to play golf.’ He always spends quality time with the family. That’s his idea of fun.”
For the past 20 years, Schaus has tried to relax by running for 30 minutes four times a week. The Schaus kids are as busy as their parents, in activities ranging from piano to gymnastics to baseball. The family has enjoyed taking short weekend trips wherever it’s been.
“We’ll go to the state fair, we’ll go to the Ozarks, we’ll go to little festivals and things like that,” Schaus said. “We want to take advantage of what’s here.”
The Schauses say they’re also active in the Christian faith.
“My relationship with the Lord is probably the most important part of my life,” Schaus said. “My family comes second and my job comes third. I’m constantly trying to keep things in perspective, which is hard to do when you have a job that requires a lot of hours. But I would be nothing without the Lord. He’s taken care of us, and we’re thankful.”
‘HE’S A DOER’
Schaus was the overwhelming choice for the WSU job, for several reasons. The search committee loved his youthful enthusiasm and optimism, balanced by good ideas and experience.
Little things like thank-you notes are no trivial matter to Schaus, who has an uncanny knack of remembering names and faces.
He gets pleasure from making the people around him feel important.
“That’s true,” Schaus said. “but I don’t think it’s anything too special. People are important. I’ve worked my way through the ranks, so I know how they feel. And I know how nice it is to feel appreciated. People should feel special, because they do make a difference.”
Schaus is spending the summer interviewing all his employees one-on-one, a process he said he has almost completed. Then it’s time to make some decisions, and you get the feeling it won’t take him long.
At least so far, he’s a hit around Levitt Arena.
“I love him,” WSU men’s basketball coach Randy Smithson said. “He’s pro-active and he’s determined to have a (quality) program here. He’s a doer. He can tackle problems and he’s gonna get things done.”
Schaus said he’s even more encouraged about WSU’s potential than he was when he interviewed for the job.
“Wichita State has a strong, successful history, a great community and a tremendous loyalty,” he said. “The economy is strong, the resources are strong, we have some good facilities, good coaches and a great conference. People are ready and poised for the program to move to the next level. I see a lot of gold nuggets when I pan each day.
“The ingredients and components for success were there at Oregon. But frankly, I think there are more of them here at Wichita State.”
The obvious exception, of course, being that Oregon has a football program in the Pac-10, which usually means a hefty payday because of the conference representatives in bowl games.
Schaus says for now the Missouri Valley is the right conference for Wichita State. He’s somewhat elusive about a possible return of Shocker football, but realizes it’s still an issue.
“Division I-A football has been everywhere I’ve been,” he said. “I enjoy football a great deal. It’s clearly an institutional decision. We’re running this department like a business, and we therefore have to make sound business decisions.”
Schaus knows his main concern is WSU men’s basketball, the program’s only significant money-maker, which has struggled throughout most of the past decade.
His immediate goal, he said, is to evaluate the program’s structure, job descriptions and responsibilities.
“We need to build a vision of where we’re going,” Schaus said. “You have to prioritize strategically, and we’re going to be involving a lot of people in that process.
“I want to build this program back to prominence. And we’re going to get there. There’s no doubt in my mind.”