After 39 years at Augustana College as a student-athlete, men’s basketball coach and head athletic director, Bill Gross isn’t leaving. He’s just moving across campus.
At a press conference Friday, Nov. 22, Gross made the announcement that he’d be stepping down as athletic director and will take a position in Augustana’s advancement office as a major gifts officer.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s been great,” Gross said of his 28 years spent as athletic director. “It was a good time to move to something else that I like and takes me away from the front part of the department. I just was ready to gear down away from that and hopefully be able to serve the college in another way.”
After talking with president Rob Oliver, Oliver offered the opportunity for Gross to join the team in the advancement office.
“Augustana has benefitted by his leadership in both program and facility development, leading to outstanding achievement by our student athletes, coaches and athletic administrators,” Oliver said at the press conference.
Gross said Augustana is comfortable, and said he’s fortunate to stay a part of the community.
A native of Hayfield, Minn., Gross graduated from Augustana in 1973 with a degree in history and a coaching minor, not knowing what he wanted to do for a career.
Playing basketball helped him figure it out.
A three-time All-NCC basketball player, the 6-foot-8 athlete played a short pro career in Europe after graduation, the first player from Augustana to do so. Realizing he wanted to coach, Gross taught and coached at the high school level in Mitchell, S.D. and Marshall, Minn. before returning to Augustana as assistant basketball coach in 1979.
Gross spent nine seasons (1983-92) as head coach of the men’s basketball team, posting a 154-103 record and winning the 1988-89 NCC title. Gross said the best part of coaching is the relationship with the players.
“The real heartwarming thing for me is to be able to look back on the years … and just to see how successful they’ve become and to think that maybe you had some little part in that,” Gross said.
Gross accepted the part-time athletic director position in 1986, back when Augustana’s athletic facilities were housed where the current theatre stage is.
“Nothing was here,” Gross said, referring to the present fields and stadiums south of 33rd. Gross has been involved in fundraising and planning efforts for all of the athletic facilities, including the Elmen Center.
Gross credits his department and staff, as well as generous donors, for the “team effort” it takes to build new athletic facilities.
“I’d emphasize that I’ve been the AD through all of this, but it’s really a team approach,” Gross said. “It’s happened because of a lot of dedicated people.”
Influential in gathering support for Augustana’s athletics, Gross helped establish the now 800-member Augustana Athletic Club. Athletic fundraising has increased from $974,000 in 2005 to over $2 million this year, on top of the annual athletic budget from the college.
The money raised through the strategic plan goes toward scholarships for student-athletes and operating costs, including equipment, travel expenses and recruiting.
“Our job is to serve the student-athlete,” Gross said, referring to himself and the athletic department. “That means we want to have really good teams; that means we want to be successful; that means we want them to get their degree; that means we want them to go out and be leaders. It’s all a part of what we do.”
Senior football player Noah Huisman worked with Gross on the committee searching for a new football coach last year. Husiman said he figured his role on the committee was a formality, but Gross proved him wrong.
“The entire committee consistently made sure my opinion was heard, and Gross was one of the strongest encouragers of my participation,” Huisman said. “He allowed everyone their opinion and genuine influence in the conversations, which speaks volumes to his ability to be such an effective leader that characterized his time as AD.”
Gross said he’s looking forward to taking a new position at Augustana, and while it’s been a rewarding job, he won’t miss the stress that comes from being “the front part” of the athletic department.
Oliver will name a search committee next week to look for a new athletic director, hoping to hire someone this spring.
“My mom always said, ‘Just do your best, that’s all you can do,” Gross said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do.”