BELLINGHAM - It was 24 years ago Steve Card remembers being interviewed by Western Washington University's former athletic director Lynda Goodrich for a job opening as the men's head golf coach.
One question more than any other caught him then.
"She said, 'What was your goal?' I said I want to be an athletic director," Card said. "It wasn't long before I realized that that goal included being the athletic director at Western Washington University. That has been a goal of mine since I got here August 1, 1990."
After 24 years of dedication to WWU and the Vikings' athletic department, Card was officially chosen as the successor to Goodrich, taking over one of the more decorated programs in all of Division II, both athletically and academically.
Card is the sixth person to hold the title dating back to program's inception in 1914, succeeding Goodrich, who retired in May of 2013 after serving for 26 years.
He was chosen over fellow finalists Shawn Farrell, Jean Berger and Donald Reed.
In a release through WWU's Athletics Department, Eileen Coughlin, the senior vice president and vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, said of Card's hiring: "Steve impressed the search committee and the campus with his vision and ideas for the future."
Card was informed late last week of the decision, seeing one of his greatest goals become a reality after serving as the interim AD since Goodrich's retirement.
"It was a sense of relief and a sense of excitement," Card said of accepting the position. "It was like, 'Wow, it's real. It's now. It's happening.' Now it's understanding what that responsibility is and accepting that responsibility of leading a program into the next era, if you will, and it's time to get going."
As Card navigated the "over 100" emails, texts and phone calls congratulating him on the promotion, he admittedly professed that his work is just now beginning.
Goodrich built a foundation that saw WWU win nine of the first 12 all-sport championships in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference dating back to 2001-02, and it's a standard Card doesn't want to simply maintain.
"If we remain status quo, we might as well be moving backward because our competitors are going to catch up to us," Card said. "We need to be forward thinking. We need to be creative and we need to be looking at that external piece and that connection we need to make with all our constituents so that we can continue to advance the program."
One of Card's top interests is the overall exposure of the program.
Just this past basketball season, four games - three men's and one women's - were televised on ROOT Sports, offering what he said was a "two-hour long advertisement" for the university and the athletic department.
Moving forward, Card said he's been in discussions with the GNAC commissioner to have at least that many games televised again in Bellingham at Carver Gym, with the possibility for growth into other sports like soccer and volleyball being on the plate, too.
"I really want the university to use athletics as a vehicle to advance the institution," Card said. "We can provide a tremendous amount of opportunities for the university as a whole in terms of the visibility we proved as a department - that window into the institution. Athletics can do that like no other."
The growing reputation of the program has ridden atop the recent success of several of its teams, including the men's basketball team's 2011-12 national championship and subsequent Final Four appearance, the women's basketball team going to the Final Four in 2012-13, and the women's soccer team going to the Final Four just this past season. Other programs including volleyball (a 23-4 record this past season and a berth into the NCAA regionals), the men's golf team (third at nationals in the 2012-13 season), and the rowing team (seven national championships since 2004) have thrived in recent history, and will remain a focus in promoting, Card said.
"We get overshadowed by Washington and WSU, and I understand that, but as people start to find out more about our athletic program, they find out more about our institution ... and realize what a gem this place is," Card said.
A point of emphasis moving forward for Card is getting the student athletes greater access to dedicated advising. WWU student athletes are currently graduating at a higher rate than the national average (84 to 71), according to the NCAA Division II graduation data released in December of 2013, a precedent Card hopes to improve upon in the future.
A large key to that, he said, is realizing the rigors and time devotion student athletes are being asked to fulfill. Given that, he, the faculty, university and coaches have to provide the necessary tools for them to best succeed.
"The academic advising department on our campus does a remarkable job, but we need to have a more dedicated group toward the specific needs of our student athletes," Card said. "The ultimate goal, however long that might take, is for us to actually have a staff of advisers. That could take a decade."
In keeping with the Card's philosophy, the focus of both WWU and the athletic department is to continue to be one of the stronger academic programs while also not sacrificing competitively. Providing and realizing the necessity of dedicated advisers for student athletes is an integral component to that long-term plan, Card said.
Professing that his "roots run deep" in Bellingham, a final facet Card would like to see grow is the program's outreach in the community. New facilities such as the multi-purpose field that will host both the men's and women's soccer games and the new softball field offer fresh venues - venues he hopes become equally as important pieces to the fabric of WWU like Carver Gym.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.