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Athletic director reflects on past, looks ahead

April 12, 2007

After serving as head men’s basketball coach for 20 years at UW-River Falls, Rick Bowen has now had a year to fully concentrate on his role as athletic director.

UWRF Chancellor Don Betz said he is grateful to have Bowen in that role.

“Rick’s contacts, enthusiasm, experience, devotion to UW-River Falls and lifetime recognition of the power of sport to impact students’ lives are significant assets for us,” he said.

In all, Bowen was involved in coaching for 37 years, including stints as an assistant coach at Division I programs such as Ball State University and UW-Madison, before deciding to tackle the duties of full-time athletic director in River Falls.

“I, quite honestly, never saw myself working here and not being the basketball coach,” Bowen said.

Bowen said his passion had always been basketball and coaching, but at the end of the 2005-06 season, Betz told him the University needed a full-time athletic director.

“When we decided to appoint a full-time A.D. to be in sync with other WIAC institutions, Rick was the natural choice,” Betz said. “He knows athletics and cares for students. He implicitly understands that these are student-athletes, with the emphasis placed first on being a successful student. He cares if our students succeed, if they graduate, and he knows that I do as well. He communicates this institutional imperative to other coaches, faculty, students and parents.”

Interim men’s basketball coach Jeff Berkhof has the unique perspective of having played for Bowen for two seasons (1992-94), worked with him as an assistant coach (1994-2006) and taken over the head coaching position that Bowen had held 20 seasons.

Berkof said he feels fortunate to have had Bowen as a mentor at all those levels.

“The great thing about him is that he will tell you what he expects from you, then he lets you do your thing,” Berkhof said. “You want to do well for him and I think that comes back to his ability to lead and the confidence he shows in you as an individual.”

Bowen had served as both athletic director and basketball coach since the 2004-05 academic year. He holds himself to a very high standard.

“I don’t think I was doing as good a job at either one as I should have been,” Bowen said.

This was Bowen’s second stint serving in both capacities. He took over the position from Connie Foster, who took the role of dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies.

Even though he misses coaching, Bowen said he has now embraced his role as athletic director.

“I love coming to work every day,” he said.

He said as long as that feeling continues, he’ll continue to serve as athletic director. One thing that invigorates him is the push to get the health and human performance facilities upgraded at UWRF, especially since the initial funding for planning the new facilities was approved by the Wisconsin Building Commission last month.

“We will have a complex that should be able to compete with anybody,” Bowen said. “Facilities here have always been a drawback. Great facilities are not going to get you the best students and athletes, but bad facilities are going to keep you from getting them.”

Getting the new facilities done will be satisfying, Bowen said. But, it will make him wish he was ten years younger so he would have the opportunity to coach at and recruit to the new facilities.

Bowen credits Betz with creating a positive atmosphere and reinvigorating his enthusiasm to take on the role as full-time athletic director and change some of the prevailing attitudes about UWRF.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited about my job right now is that there is a change on campus,” Bowen said. “Most of my years here, there was a prevailing attitude of ‘awe shucks, we’re River Falls, we’ll do more with less.’ It’s time we get rid of that inferiority complex and say, ‘look at us; we’re worth your time.’ As athletic director I want to be part of that because I’ve been complaining long and loud about it [being] the other way.”

Bowen also credits Betz for the new vision for UWRF.

“I would have never quit coaching if I wouldn’t have believed in his vision,” Bowen said. “Originally I was going to coach and be A.D. for a couple of years, then just quit.”

Bowen said his proudest achievement on the basketball court was leading the Falcons to the 2003-04 WIAC regular season title.

“Winning that championship kind of fulfilled me and solidified my [coaching] career,” Bowen said. “Everybody needs a stamp ... and that was my stamp.”

The title was the first in 54 for years for the Falcons basketball program.

“That was a very special thing that happened,” Bowen said. “People said it was impossible to do here. It was one of those defining moments of a career.”

Even though it was his most successful season, it didn’t come without its tribulations.

“That was the most stressful year I’ve ever spent coaching,” Bowen said.

The toughest thing about that season was getting snubbed out of a berth into the Division III NCAA tournament, Bowen said.

“There are so few opportunities in one’s professional life to be given the opportunity at a national championship and we never got the opportunity,” he said. “The Selection Sunday committee in Division I does everything they can to get the 64 best teams. Division III just doesn’t care.”

That season UW-Stevens Point was the only team from the WIAC chosen to play for the Division III national title. The Pointers finished second to the Falcons in the conference standings that season, but secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the WIAC tournament. The Pointers ended up winning the national title that year.

For all of his accomplishments Bowen said he is most proud of his accomplishments as a father.

“[My wife] Sandy and I have raised two boys [Mike and Matthew] that have turned out pretty good,” he said. “What more can you ask for?”

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