Dawn Rogers

Season 4 - Episode 442

October 15, 2021

Dawn Rogers
Dawn Rogers

Few people have led a city’s Final Four efforts and served in leadership for a program that played in a Final Four, but Dawn Rogers has done both. In this Baylor Connections, Rogers shares more about her role as Baylor’s deputy athletics director and as a sport administrator for multiple sports, including the reigning national champion men’s basketball team. As she provides leadership to Baylor’s sport administrators, she takes listeners inside their importance in the success of across all 19 Baylor sports teams, and shares insights from leading Phoenix’s Final Four Local Organizing Committee prior to coming to Baylor.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in-depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more discussing important topics in higher education research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are talking athletics with Dawn Rogers, Deputy Athletics Director for Baylor Athletics. In this role, she oversees Baylor's sport administrators and is the sport administrator for the National Champion Men's Basketball Team, track and field, and women's golf. She came to Baylor in 2017 after serving as Executive Director and CEO of the Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee. Rogers has extensive college athletics leadership experience at universities, including Akron, Arizona State, and Xavier where she served as athletic director from 2004 to 2006. And she's with us today on the program in the midst of a homecoming week, getting ready for another basketball season. And we really appreciate you taking the time to join us. Thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Dawn Rogers:

It's my pleasure. Looking forward to our conversation.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's great to have you here and a lot to talk about in athletics. Certainly current and looking ahead, but let's look back a little bit because we're just a little over six months past the men's basketball team winning their first national championship. We'll dive into your career and you've had a lot of big moments in athletics, but when you look back at that, how big was that and what are some of the memories that stand out to you from that season, that run?

Dawn Rogers:

It's really been fun going down memory lane. As a matter of fact preparing for this, I went back and watched the game for the first time, the championship game. And I remember why I didn't because I went through all the same anxiety, knowing that we won didn't help when Gonzaga closed it to nine points and we had foul trouble. And it was a tremendous experience. And you really have to go back the previous year and talk about that team and the mission they were on, finding out in Kansas City that the Big 12 Tournament. In a matter of 12 hours, we went from maybe not having fans to not having the tournament. And then with the realization that we were not going to play the NCAA Championship and watching the faces of those young men who had an incredible season to date and believed that we could win the national championship really was the catalyst to bring that group back together minus a couple of young men that had graduated. But to bring that group back together and just see them so focused and on a mission. And so it's really a two-year story and it's a great story when you go back and look at all of the different pieces and pivot points.

Derek Smith:

You know them better than most and saw them more often than most. I think part of the answer to this you just described, but what made group so special?

Dawn Rogers:

It was a combination of really great human beings and that's the fun part of this part of my career to look at young men and young women as they come into college, and watching them grow and really being humbled by them so many times realizing they're going to go run the world and you're getting to see like a little piece of it. But they were a great group of humans and they also had no ego. And if you look at what they each sacrificed individually for the collective whole and that's true of our staff too. There was no ego on our staff. It was a group of men that didn't care who got the credit that just worked tirelessly to put the team in the best position to win. And I think that's what made that team so unique. I've I've said this a number of times, I felt like we were built for the bubble. I felt like that scenario of putting you together for a month. I mean, I didn't drive a car for four weeks. It was a really a unique feeling. But that group, they just enjoyed being around each other every day. They could argue they could tease. They could get mad, but they always came together and they cared about each other. When you look back at your career, I mean, I've been doing this since I was 24 when I became an administrator. And I think back of all the teams that I've interacted with. Incredible teams have won national championships, have won conference titles, but this team, the uniqueness of them is just the combination of great people who were very, very selfless.

Derek Smith:

And I know this isn't a visual medium, but I see you have the championship. You got the championship ring on today so that's good. How often do you get to break that out?

Dawn Rogers:

Well, it's on my desk. And so I love putting it on in my office. And this is the one the NCAA did for us. And it's so unique because it's round. And it's just kind of fun to play with. So it kind of puts you in a good mood when you're sitting there doing work.

Derek Smith:

That's great. Visiting with Dawn Rogers, Deputy Athletics Director. And as we talk about your career and what you do here at Baylor, I have to go back and ask. You mentioned you served as CEO of the Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee. And of course, you were in the bubble in Indianapolis, part of the Final Four there. What's it like being on sort, I guess, both sides of that? What are your takeaways from that?

Dawn Rogers:

Well, I jokingly say that I can be a trivia question because I've run a Final Four and I've been part of a team that's won a Final Four. And I don't know if anyone else has had that unique perspective. But running the Phoenix Final Four, it was the first time that it was ever held in Arizona. It was really once in a lifetime experience, something that I will treasure, the people that I worked with. It's an incredible state, an incredible city coming together to make sure that this iconic basketball tournament was that we did it justice. And so it was fun to see behind the scenes. I've obviously been involved with basketball for a long time. I had been to gosh, 10, 11 continuous Final Fours planning for Phoenix. It was then really fun to be on the other side and being the one that the staff was reaching out to and asking questions. And you realize all the things that you don't know when you're there as a participant. I've been as far as the Elite Eight game have never been to the Final Four with a team. So it was really fun. I know most of the men's basketball staff with the NCAA, worked with them for those two years getting ready for Phoenix. And it was kind of special to be able to be down on the court with them and knowing everything they pour into that tournament, how important it is for them and how excited they were for all of the coaches and student-athletes that were there. But I certainly felt a little bit of a special connection to them because of the time that I had spent with the Phoenix organization.

Derek Smith:

Is one side more nerve-racking than the other? Maybe in Phoenix you have a little more control over the situation. I don't know.

Dawn Rogers:

Well, Phoenix, was really nerve-racking. I remember when we were raising the money to put on the event and we had had the Superbowl, then we had the college football playoff game. And then in third consecutive year, we were hosting the Final Four, which again, Arizona had never done. And it's a pretty significant amount of money that you have to run to put on the event. And I remember one of our board members asked me, "Well, what if we don't raise the money?" And I said, "Well, that's not an option. Failure is not an option." And so it was nerve-racking that you're putting on an event that you have to make sure you raise the money that you deliver on everything you've promised to the NCAA. It was important for us to impact the state of Arizona and especially the tourism industry, and also follow through on the charitable things that we wanted the Final Four to represent in our state. And so that was a different type of nerve-racking. I think when you're there with a team what you realize is one, there's not a lot you can control, the hay's in the barn. I'm not coaching, thank goodness or we probably wouldn't have won a single game. Although with that talented crew, I think we would have won some games. But you aren't able to control what happens. You're there to support. You're there to make sure that everything runs smoothly, but what you do realize if you've been in this business for long enough, is that in that tournament and what makes it so exciting for the fans is you can be the better team and still lose. And so I would get up the mornings of game day and we would have shootaround and we would have chapel and we'd have the game and I would get up those mornings and my thought was, "If we don't advance tonight, we're going home." And this whole group that's been together, that's been on this journey, are all going to go their separate ways. I mean, we knew that we had student-athletes graduating. We had young men like Davion and Jared that even though they had eligibility, that we knew that they were going to go into the draft. And so I think those were the nerve-racking parts. The games are always nerve-racking to me. But knowing that if we don't advance, I mean, honestly when we won Saturday night, when we won the semifinal game, I was at such peace because I knew we were going home Tuesday and I knew we were playing in that game. And so after a month you had that little moment of peace knowing that we are playing. Our whole goal when we had the game just canceled in December with Gonzaga, here we are again all these months later. And it was just a really great sense of peace.

Derek Smith:

Yeah. And then the rest was history too.

Dawn Rogers:

And the rest was history.

Derek Smith:

As they say, absolutely. Visiting with Dawn Rogers. And Dawn, as we talk about Phoenix, that's one big step in your path from when you got into athletics to Baylor. What were some other significant steps or moments for you?

Dawn Rogers:

I was really lucky in that I got a job as an administrator at a really young age. I mean, it was kind of dumb luck that it happened that way. And really a lesson in you can have a great opportunity that presents itself, but then you also realize how quickly how much you have to learn. And so I look back on my career and I was so fortunate at Akron too at 24 be an administrator overseeing teams, working with coaches. And that's always at every stop along the way outside of the Final Four, I've had the opportunity to work with coaches and student-athletes and put together the programs around them that are going to help them be successful. And it's really one of the most rewarding parts of my job. And so I look back at each stop along the way and how impactful it was on my life, the people that were around me, the coaches that I got to work with and you learn so much. I mean, you learn from 18 and 19-year-olds if you're willing to put your ego aside and realize that we can learn from everyone. And so there's not one place along the way or one person, but I have been blessed to be around a lot of incredible men and women that have helped me learn and shape what I do, including my family who have moved around the country for me, very supportive. And my children are now 22 and 25, which feels so weird to say that. I literally remember the days that they were born, but they've really molded me along the way too, because I see them, I watched them grow up. I've watched how they've handled COVID. They were both student-athletes. My son has graduated and my daughter is still in college. And so I have that mindset when I think about our student-athletes, I know intimately what's going on in my children's life. And it really does give me great empathy and understanding for a lot of situations that our student-athletes are going through.

Derek Smith:

Yeah, it's going to be great perspective. Your son Owen played football at Arizona State and at Baylor. And what's your daughter, where's your daughter?

Dawn Rogers:

So my daughter Hazel is at the University of Arkansas. Ironically, she chose to go to Arkansas when we lived in Phoenix. So her senior year, we visited the campus. A coach, there is a good friend of mine and it reminded her a lot of Ohio, which is where she was born. And she made the decision to go there. And it would've been really far from us and then I took the job here at Baylor and so she was only six and a half hours away from us. I will say this. She goes to Arkansas. She is the biggest Baylor fan in the world. She was at our Sweet 16 and Elite Eight game when we played Arkansas and she was proudly wearing her Baylor gear up in the stands.

Derek Smith:

That's good, that's good. Visiting with Dawn Rogers. And Dawn, your title Deputy Athletics Director. How would you describe what that role is? And give us just a sense of all of the things you do in that role.

Dawn Rogers:

Titles are unique in athletics and you can be a Deputy Athletics Director at Baylor and have the same title at a different institution and they really mean totally different things. In my role and what I really enjoy about it when I first came here is I really get to work with every different part of the department. And this past summer, Mack asked me to move into a role where I work with all of our sport programs. So I work with the sport program, administrators and the head coaches, and really just look at everything that goes into what they need to be successful. Obviously, we have 19 different sports and Mack's time and ability to give each team the attention and detail that he would like to do is not always possible. And so in many cases, I get to be his eyes and ears. And it's really the best part of working in college athletics. When I go out to practice, that is the best part of my day. And when you go work with coaches or student-athletes and get to solve problems or hear the challenges that they're dealing with and your brain starts moving into, "Okay, who do we need to bring together? Who do we need to talk to?" Because we have such a talented staff at Baylor, our coaches. The whole support system around our student-athlete is the most talented group of people that I have ever worked with. And so it's fun being side by side, shoulder to shoulder with trying to solve a problem or sitting there some days and just realizing that there are things that you work to do and to put in place that now benefit these young men and young women and the coaches. And so that's really what I get to do in my role. Some days you're troubleshooting all day. Some day, you go through your to-do list and you get to check some things off. Every day's a little bit different and that's what I've always enjoyed about what I do.

Derek Smith:

So you're sport program administrator for men's basketball and track and field and golf. Every sport has an administrator. And that's probably a role that a lot of people maybe outside of athletics aren't especially familiar with. So 360 degree job in a lot of ways because you're dealing with coaches, your athletic director, you're probably fans in different ways, different departments within athletics. So could you just give us a sense of I don't know whether it's a day in the life, or just sort of a view of some of the things a sport administrator thinks about in correlation with working with Mack or with their head coach?

Dawn Rogers:

I describe the role of being a sport program administrator that you're really there to walk hand in hand with a coach. It's a partnership that you have. I do a lot of seek first to understand in every institution that I've been at and every coach that I've worked with because you really need to understand the challenges that they have. What do they need to be more successful? I came here four years ago and one of the big things that attracted me was that I was going to be sport program administrator for men's basketball. I had worked with men's basketball coaches at my previous stops. And I walked in the door with a man that was coming off a Sweet 16, numerous runs into the tournament and you start with, "Okay, how can I help? Scott Drew's successful." And I remember the very first meeting that we had on my first day and he said, "You've just run a Final Four." John Jakus had come to the staff. He had been to that same Final Four with Gonzaga, obviously has Coach Tang and Coach Brooks, both very successful. And he said, "I'm really excited that we're all going to get to work together and go to our next step of going to and winning a Final Four." And so that's what you're spending your days doing is what do we need to do to take that next step? And that's with all of our teams at Baylor. I mean, if you look at the success across the board that our athletic department has and a lot of times you're trying to take that next step. Okay, we've been to the top eight in golf. How do we get to that national championship? Track and field, I'm really excited. We just hired a new coach and that's one of the reasons that I've slid into that role of being able to work with Coach Ford is how do we take and become a regular top 10 performer? And there's all different things that go into that whole equation. I know with men's basketball, it was really looking at every bit of our program and where could we be more efficient? Where could we push our young men? How could we continue to recruit at a really, really high level? What did Baylor need to do as a department to be able to consistently recruit the right young men for us? You don't have to be the best recruit. You're looking at different pieces that fit into your program. I think that's something that coach does an excellent job with his staff. I go to the track staff meeting every week. Again, a really incredible group of men and women that are sitting there and you're just talking through every different part of it. And you're looking at it as a lens of an administrator. I will see something at times during a game because I'm not coaching. I'm watching different parts of it. Thank goodness I can't coach. So I will never ask a Coach Drew, why we switched from man to zone. Like he doesn't ever have to worry about that part of it, but I'll share other observations or he'll ask me for other observations along the way. And I think that's what a sport program administrator does. You're battling for the program to have the resources that it needs to be successful. And you're also challenging the coaches at times on why they might want to do something a certain way, but it's a partnership every single step of the way.

Derek Smith:

Every coach has their own distinct strengths and areas where they need help. As you mentioned, every program is at a different spot in its journey. We're a reigning national champion to a new coach, to everywhere in between. How do you help? You mentioned you provide leadership to other sport administrators? What are some of the ways, Dawn, that you work with other sport administrators wherever they are in that process to figure out what some of those next steps to that proverbial next level for whatever program they're with?

Dawn Rogers:

It's a really fun part of what I get to do because I always joke that when you have your first child, you want to have another child because you learn so much and you made so many mistakes along the way with child number one. Don't tell Owen that. We made no mistakes with him, but we were perfect parents. And I think that's what I'm really enjoying right now in my role of working with someone like Paul Bradshaw has actually taken over women's golf and has allowed me to stay as his secondary and work with that team. Paul's been a sport administrator for decades and you have someone in that role, and then you have other people in our department that are just moving into that role. And regardless of where you are when you collaborate and share experiences, it makes us all stronger. I really enjoy working with people that are moving into that role. They have so great questions that push you sometimes and push your theory of why you're doing something or gives you a different scenario that maybe you didn't work with. But in just the short four years that I've been here, we have watched a number of administrators move into that role. And they're so good. And so we run a monthly meeting of sport program administrators and some of it is administrative and talking through different policies and procedures, but working at also just talking and collaborating. And I meet with all those individuals once a month. And gosh darn, I learned something every single time of how they've handled a situation and I'll be like, "Wow, that's great perspective on how you handled that great question of how you are interacting with a coach." And so what I enjoy really about working with all the sport administrators is we really form this group that can collaborate with each other and learn and grow from each other.

Derek Smith:

To what extent is there a sense? Coaches they've got to recruit, they've got to manage their team. They've got to hire staff. If someone leaves, they've got to win. How much does what you do sort of free them up to, I guess, keep their main things the main thing?

Dawn Rogers:

I think that's a great point of, again, you're there to walk hand in hand and a lot of times you're there to block and tackle for them. And as they're going along and they run into a hiccup or they're not sure how to handle something, you're their one-stop shopping to say ... I joke with Coach Drew. I've started giving him my list before he gives me his list. But I do, I just keep a list of things for each of the coaches that I work with as we talk daily of things they've asked me that need to be solved or things that I need from them to be able to maybe avert something I see coming down the pike. And if you're really doing your job well, a coach will ask you something and they can put their mind at rest that you're going to come back with an answer as quickly as you can. Might not be the answer they always want, but you're going to get information from them that they don't have to worry about that day, they can go on with their day. And it is challenging to be a coach. I mean, I'm reminded and humbled all the time at, at what they have to do. And there's times that I walk into a meeting with a perspective, and I might ask a question of why we're not doing something a certain way. And through the course of the conversation, I'll be like, "I'm off on that. I get it. I understand why you're doing it that way. Let's keep going in that direction," but you're there as their partner. And I like the term you're there to block and tackle for them and try to solve problems.

Derek Smith:

Visiting with Dawn Rogers. And Dawn as we head into the final, a couple of minutes here, I think you've painted a picture over the last 20 of some of answer to this question, but I'll ask you specifically. Baylor has enjoyed a lot of success recently not just the national title, but programs in the top 25, new coaches, recruits. A lot of people want to be here at Baylor. What are some of the biggest factors that you see as really leading to that success and where Baylor has really I think weathered a lot of the last 18 months in a way that a lot of universities and departments haven't?

Dawn Rogers:

What makes Baylor really unique is our Christian mission. And I think a lot of people are drawn to that at a time when there's so much uncertainty in our world. I've worked at a lot of different institutions and always been able to openly talk about my faith as a Christian, but to be able to really be there and meet your student-athletes or your staff members where they are in their spiritual journey. And to be able to make it a Christ centered program is really a gift that's unique to Baylor and something that has helped me with my spiritual journey. And it is not why I chose Baylor. I felt called. I absolutely felt called to come to Baylor to deal with some of the challenges that the institution had experienced. But what I found when I got here was simple things like chapel with men's basketball, my first road trip and we're sitting there for hours before a game having a very robust chapel talking about our Christian faith and urging each of us to look at areas that we needed to grow as people was not something that I was used to. And it's one of my favorite parts of our trips. Our coaches, our assistant coaches run chapel. It's just a blessing to be able to pray before a game, to pray after a game to know that you are coming to work every day for a higher purpose of providing a platform to be able to glorify Christ. And I think that is something that makes Baylor unique. I think it's something that draws people to come to Baylor. And no matter where you are in your spiritual journey when you come and when you leave, there are things that you are exposed to that you wouldn't necessarily be exposed to at other institutions. And I find that it's one of the biggest reasons I want to be at Baylor because it's something that I just come in every day and the way that I can lead my life. And I love nothing more than being on a phone and talking with somebody about an issue. I remember one day I was talking to Scott about something and I said, "Well, just say a prayer for me." And he goes, "Well, I'd like to pray over you right now." And not something that I've experienced at other stops along the way and something that's pretty cool.

Derek Smith:

That is pretty cool and we've got a lot to be proud of. Not just for the results on the field, but for the people who are part of this department and the student-athletes and all of that. Well, thank you for taking the time to share. I'm glad we got you on. Basketball's starting up here in what? About a month away?

Dawn Rogers:

Yes. We're a month away. Yes.

Derek Smith:

Yeah, so I'm glad we could get you in. I know your schedule is always busy, probably even a little bit busier here. Maybe another run to another Final Four or certainly a tournament and just see what happens.

Dawn Rogers:

I would be very happy to go on that journey again.

Derek Smith:

That sounds good. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Dawn Rogers, Deputy Athletics Director, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.