The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Athletic Department welcomed Charlie Gross as the new associate athletic director-finance, Director of Athletics George Koonce announced in early February. Last month, we sat down with him for an opportunity to get to know the newest member of the UWM staff.
It’s been just a few days, but how are things going?
“It feels great … it feels good to be a Panther. I told people [the first day] that I felt a little bit like a first-grader with big eyes, a little anxious when I got here. But I settled in. People are very welcoming, very friendly. And, knowing that there hasn’t been anybody in this position for a few years, it means there are just a lot of pieces and loose ends that will take time to fully understand. It’s a process to fill this position.”
What made the job so appealing?
“I think it’s just an exciting time for UWM Athletics. I think with a new athletic director and the bold vision that George has, it has generated excitement. There is talk of growth, talk of facility enhancement. The opportunity to grow and develop with a program professionally made it a very exciting and appealing opportunity.”
Tell us a little bit about your background:
“I spent a good amount of my professional career in college athletics as a basketball coach and dabbled a little bit with soccer. I moved around at the NCAA Division III level and had a little exposure at the Division I level as an assistant coach. I made the transition from coaching to athletic administration by working in the high school setting. I was an assistant athletic director at Eden Prairie High School – a very large high school in the Twin Cities with 3,600 students and a very successful athletic program. For the past seven and half years, I have been the athletic and recreation director at Homestead High School for the Mequon/Thiensville School District. And when the opportunity developed at UWM, I thought it was a good time professionally for me to make a change.”
What is your plan of action for the first month?
“Everybody keeps asking me from the outside, ‘Is this a new position?’ And I tell them, it’s been there, it just hasn’t been filled. But in actuality, it is like a new position for the department just because of the vacancy. So, right now, I am just a sponge. That is my approach … I am all ears and all eyes. Listening, looking and seeing what the processes and procedures are. Learning about the whole budget process, the finances and the infrastructure of the department. I need to take time to get to know people. Find out from the coaches and other administration what they feel they need out of this position and then try to mold the position into that. I don’t know that there is a blueprint for what needs to be done or how to do it – I wish there was one. We are creating the blueprint for the position every day.”
What is your vision?
“This position is here to service the coaches and the student-athletes. A year or two down the road, I want people to say, ‘What did our department do with that position vacant for so long?’ I am here to help George implement his vision and assist in leading the department, university, and community down the path to get us there.”
How does your background help you out with this position?
“In all of my professional experiences – money, budget, fundraising – all those things came easily to me. So, when the combination of responsibilities came out for this job, I thought, ‘Hey, I can provide fiscal management to the department and be good at it’. But that’s not the only thing I like doing. I come with a background of being an effective athletic administrator at two very successful high school athletic programs. I love working with coaches, spending time with student-athletes and helping give them the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. This is something that I take great pride in. I have demonstrated an ability to work with a variety of people. I bring a lot more to the table than someone who can work with number so the department is fiscally sound. For example, at the basketball game last night (vs. YSU Feb 15), I knew a lot of people in attendance. The fact that I did not have to physically move my family for this position and I already have established relationships outside the university setting can only be a positive. I have an understanding of Milwaukee and the community.”