Former Western Washington University Athletics Director Lynda Goodrich spent 26 years elevating WWU athletics into the upper echelon of Division II athletic programs. Some would argue it's one of the finest in the nation at that level heading into the new school year.
Goodrich hired coaches using a high-risk, high-reward method. It ultimately paid off. She generated national championships, an abundance of conference titles and ensured classroom success was synonymous with on-field accomplishment until she retired last spring.
But what now? Who becomes Western Athletics' new shot-caller?
WWU didn't look far, at least for the time being.
Since 1990, Steve Card has positioned himself alongside Goodrich as Western's Associate Athletic Director, and now he gets his chance to navigate the Vikings' ship on an interim basis until the school officially selects its next athletic director following a national search.
"I'm honored to be given the opportunity to lead a great staff and a great group of students and work with them to lead us into the next year, at least," Card said. "It's a privilege. It really is. I don't look at it as something that was owed to me, and I'm grateful to our upper administration for entrusting me with this role. There isn't a day I come to work and don't value that. It's something I'm humbled by, the title and the responsibility that goes along with it."
Like much of the staff within Western's athletic department walls, Card has called the university home the majority of his career. And while he pledges a portion of his allegiance to Washington State University - Card's alma mater - there's no doubt Bellingham is where his heart resides.
Card was hired two years removed from WSU, where he earned a business finance degree, at only 24 years old. He served as a budgeter for Washington State's student affairs department two years before coming to Western.
"I simply saw the job being advertised for associate athletic director for business and finance," Card said. "I thought, 'Perfect, this is an opportunity for me to match up my education and my passion and interest, which is athletics.'"
Soon after, Goodrich took another chance on Card, appointing him as men's golf coach. Card has seemingly churned out a successful golf program year after year while handling the business side of Western Athletics. He led the Vikings to 12 national appearances, coached 25 All-Americans and was selected regional Coach of the Year four times before relinquishing his role to new coach Luke Bennett last spring.
Card didn't bring an agenda to his new interim AD role, he said. He's simply hoping he can draw from his 20-plus years as golf coach and associate athletic director to maintain Western's current reputation.
"I think the main thing is never be satisfied with the status quo," he said. "I think that's any good coach or any good administrator. You're always looking to improve. I want to continue to build morale, make people excited about our program."
Though Western Athletics is undergoing a leadership change, its programs are concrete steady.
WWU has won seven straight all sports awards. It claimed nine Great Northwest Athletic Conference titles last year out of 15 sports. And men's basketball, women's basketball, rowing and men's golf fell inches from winning national titles.
So throw out any idea suggesting Card makes drastic changes to WWU Athletics. Truly, as he said, there's no need for change.
"We are already a pretty well-oiled machine," Card said. "When you're having the success we're having and the coaches are given the tools to do the best possible job they can do, and that image that we have is a positive image amongst our peer institutions, and we're doing it the right way, I don't want to make too many changes to that."
That doesn't mean Card doesn't plan on moving the program forward.
The only task more difficult than elevating a program to new heights is keeping it at such a pedestal.
Card wants to continue to "push the envelope," and he's never been one to hunker down in the face of a challenge.
Sport by sport, he methodically detailed why excitement should exist for every WWU athletic program during the 2013-14 season.
"All in all, you look at our programs from top to bottom, and I expect they all are going to be super competitive," Card said. "I'm not going to make any predictions, but I'm expecting we are going to have a target on our back everywhere we go, and that's fine. I value that target. I always like being the one with the target on your back, because that tells you you're doing something right."
Card made it clear, though, no athletic success matters unless the department's core values are met.
"My priorities are, and will always be, our student athletes and making sure we are doing what we need to do to help our student athletes be both successful students and successful athletes," he said.
Besides Card's top priority, he wants to ensure athletes have the proper athletic tools to tap into their potential and attract, as he put it, the "brightest and the best" student athletes.
He also placed an emphasis on Western's continued pursuit to increase program visibility. The Western men's basketball team attracted 3.1 million viewers during its 2011 national title game on CBS Network, and both men's and women's basketball have made multiple appearances on regional televised ROOT Sports.
Card believes that exposure is an integral piece of WWU's growth.
"I think Western, if we use our athletic program correctly, we can create that front-porch mentality where people look at us as a window to the university," he said. "I feel we are right on the cusp of reaching people that maybe don't know a lot about Western Washington University but might be interested in finding more about it. Not because of athletics, but because of the institution."
Anyone driving through campus knows Western has a big project in the works, and hopefully another in the future. Construction is underway to build a state-of-the-art multipurpose field next to the newly made over softball field on south campus. The field formerly known as Robert S. Harrington Field - named to honor WWU alumnus Scott Harrington's family, which donated $1 million toward the project - is slated to open at the beginning of 2014.
A Carver Gym renovation plan is also in the works. Although funding for the 2013-15 biennium wasn't approved, it could be when the project is available spring 2015 for another review.
Card said Western Athletics is still setting goals as more department staff trickle in for the new college year. Mostly he's excited to start fresh. He's dealt with 2012-13 season wrap up and spent time preparing for 2013-14 since his appointment as interim AD late last spring. Card's been working his old job at some capacity, too.
Whether Card remains Western's future athletic director is to be determined. There's no doubt, however, he wants the responsibility.
"All I can tell you is what I was told at the beginning, is that this will be an interim appointment and a national search will start at some point, but there will be a search for the position, and I will be a candidate for the position," Card said. "That's all I know. It hasn't been a topic of discussion for me. They asked me to do a job, and I'm coming to work every day and doing that job. I fully intend for there to be a search, and I fully intend to compete for the opportunity."
No matter what Card's future holds, he wants Western Athletics to continue its push to be a premier program and for the university to be viewed in a strong light, and he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.
"Western has meant a tremendous amount to me," Card said. "Bellingham has meant a tremendous amount to me. I've never really had aspirations to move on. I've always felt like this is the place I've wanted to be. I have no intentions of leaving. If I'm fortunate enough to get the position on a permanent basis, my intention would be to retire here."
Reach ANDREW LANG at 360-756-2862 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.