Chris King talks about improving the Robert Morris athletics brand

Luke Yost, Michael Sciulli, and Nick Hedderick

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MOON TOWNSHIP — Robert Morris’s new director of athletics, Chris King, is driven to improve the individual brand of all 16 sport teams at Robert Morris University. King looks to accomplish this through a larger presence in Pittsburgh and increased student-engagement at Robert Morris. RMU Sentry Media recently had the chance to talk to King, who shared his plans and vision for the athletic department.

King’s vision involves all 16 teams at Robert Morris, instead of a specific focus, as he put it, on the “marquee” sports at Robert Morris in football, basketball and hockey. He feels that his experience at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), which was formerly the University of Texas-Pan American, proves that an athletic department can be competitive at every sport in the conference, and has a goal to improve the individual brands of each sport at Robert Morris.

Despite focusing on all the sports instead of just highlighting a few, King has big plans for the men’s hockey program and touched on them. He mentioned working with the Pittsburgh Penguins to improve the brand of Robert Morris hockey, in addition to bringing back a mid-season tournament, similar to the Three Rivers Classic, and even the possibility of upgrading the RMU Island Sports Center.

“The Island Sports Center is nice,” said King. “But we probably need another 1,000 seats. So there’s hopefully plans in place in which we can start talking about renovating that facility in the near future, but it takes funding. So it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get that accomplished.”

On May 6th, 2019, Robert Morris University announced that they hired Chris King as the new director of athletics, replacing Dr. Craig Coleman, who stepped down from the role on November 12th, 2018. King, who is also an alumnus of Robert Morris, additionally will fill the role of Vice President. King has had about two months to evaluate Robert Morris’s athletic department, which he says is the first 100 days on the job.

“You know the first part of, probably the first 100 days of most ADs is you’re doing a lot of listening, a lot of learning,” said King. “Trying to absorb as much information as you can. A lot of observation and watching. I think, a lot of times, if you’re in a CEO position or a leadership position, you come in, and a lot of them will fail quickly, because they come in and kind of just throw everything at everybody. And they want to change everything, and throw their vision in.”

Compared to the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, one thing that Robert Morris has fallen behind in is TV coverage. While nothing drastic will likely be done this year due to contracts already existing before King stepped into the role, TV coverage is something that he views as a strong opportunity for Robert Morris.

“One of the bad things about coming into the summer as an athletic director, is that contracts are already existing,” said King. “…I do think TV opportunities are plenty. I have talked to a number of the top TV personalities that I know, and TV stations. I will say that 2020 year, we will probably have a lot more TV opportunities for coach’s shows, for games on TV. I think that’s going to be apart of our platform to elevate our competitive excellence.”

King comes from UTRGV, where he took over the role as director of intercollegiate athletics in 2009 at the University. He oversaw several key moments for the department, such as joining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 2013, the school was previously not in a conference.

King’s experience at putting UTRGV in the WAC could come in handy if Robert Morris ever decides to leave the NEC. For the time being though, King says they are happy being in the NEC, but didn’t rule out a jump to a larger conference in the future.

“The NEC has been a long-time conference for Robert Morris,” said King. “I know Chris Howard says it, all the time, we’re in the NEC till we’re not in the NEC. Everybody has high expectations and they always want to go to the next level.”

“What I’ve told our coaches is that we have to do everything well, everyday. And get better everyday that puts us in a position then for someone to take a look at Robert Morris University that makes sense for another conference. Until then, we’re proud members of the NEC. We want to dominate the NEC.”

Not only did King help land UTRGV in a conference, but his department also excelled in the WAC. While in the WAC, UTRGV won four team conference championships and 32 individual championships. The school also ranked second in the Western Athletic Conference Commissioner’s Cup at the time of King’s hire by Robert Morris.

“(UTRGV) will always be a special place,” said King. “It was very hard to leave. We had an incredible culture, an incredible group of coaches and administrators, an incredible leadership team. That’s going to be an incredible story one day in regards to that University and the growth that is going to happen.”

Under King, the UTRGV men’s basketball team has made two consecutive postseason appearances, and the women’s basketball team has reached the postseason in four of the past five years. With the new UPMC Events Center, both basketball programs at Robert Morris have been drawing a lot of hype for the upcoming seasons, which has caused some students to worry about not being able to attend the games. King says that while the Pitt game may be an exception, all games will be free and open to students.

“That’s not going to change, it’s still going to be free,” said King about the basketball and volleyball games at the UPMC Events Center. “We want them to come. We want butts in seats. The Pitt game is going to be unique because it’s going to be a sellout. You want to generate as much revenue as you can. but you want to make sure the Colonial Crazies are crazy. We have to finalize and figure out what that’s going to be. We set aside X amount of tickets, so it’ll probably be a lottery to get those tickets.”

“It will be sold out,” said King about the Pitt game. “We have plans to have a major major video board out there on Nicholson lawn for the overcrowd, for the students, for the community.”

Getting students to the games is a big goal for King and something that he feels has been under-utilized at Robert Morris.

“I’d love to have every student on this campus attend a game.” said King. “And that’s my job as an athletic director, to engage the students, to engage the student government association, to engage the over 100 student clubs and organizations that I think, have been under-utilized in regards to the marketing efforts in doing that. We’re going to team up with student-life, I think you’re going to see a lot of neat student-engagement ideas.”

King graduated from Robert Morris’s Sport Management program in 1994. He never truly left Robert Morris, though, as King is a member of the RMU Sport Management Advisory Board and is a member of the RMU Sport Management Hall of Fame, having been inducted just two years ago.

“If I look back, 25 years ago, as a graduate of the School of Business and Sport Management,” said King. “It’s probably the best professional decision, I have ever made. In my life, transferring in here back in 1993.”

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