After 43 years in 24/7 jobs, Judy Rose reflects on her pioneering career as athletic director

Courtesy Charlotte Athletics

Judy Rose was a basketball player at Winthrop, an assistant under Pat Summitt at Tennessee and head coach at Charlotte before becoming the third woman to be an AD at a Division I school in 1990.

Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose will retire June 30 after an illustrious 43-year career with the 49ers. In 1990, Rose became the third woman to lead an NCAA Division I athletics program. During her 28-year run as AD at Charlotte, she became the first woman named to the NCAA Division I men's basketball committee and she spearheaded the addition of football as a varsity sport at her school.

EspnW spoke with Rose, 65, about her career and the advice she has for women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

This interview has been edited for length.

espnW: Can you talk about your decision to retire and your feelings at this point about it?

Rose: It's with mixed emotions, but about a year ago, my husband and I -- my husband's been retired for 20 years -- started talking and I said, "You know, people told me you'll know when it's time." But I never knew what that meant or how that felt. And then, this past summer ... we live at Lake Norman and are fortunate to have the serenity of the water there, and we're walking around the neighborhood, looking at the lake, and I said, "I think it's time ... I'm ready."

So I decided then that I was going to make the announcement a little bit later in March. Then I decided there's been a little unrest, I guess you would say, because we haven't been as successful in basketball and football as some of our fans would like, so I said, you know what, I'm going to make the announcement earlier. I'm going to make it in January, saying I'm going to retire at the end of June.

So I'm ready. I'm excited about what the future holds, in regard to not being on a schedule of 24/7 as I have for the last 43 years. This has been the only place I have ever really been employed, if you will, because I was first women's basketball coach in 1975, and that's 24/7 for anybody in the industry, and then you go straight into administration. When you're athletic director, you're on call at any time.

espnW: What does it mean to you to be a trailblazer for women, holding your position as long as you have, especially beginning at a time when few women were holding these positons?

Rose: It was a real challenge. I say a challenge, just because when I was named an athletic director, my biggest concern when the chancellor approached me about becoming athletic director [was], I don't know the other two women [athletic directors], because they're on the West Coast and I've had no interaction with them.

In my mind then, I needed a female role model that was an athletic director. And my chancellor, in his wisdom, he said to me, "Well, Judy, we have some really strong CEOs that are women in Charlotte, and I think they can be your mentors as far as the gender piece of this. But then you've got to seek out people in the NCAA who are primarily men, who are athletic directors, to be your role models.'"

That advice was pivotal for me because I had two of the strongest women and most respected women in Charlotte, Dale Halton of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. and Pat Rodgers of Rodgers Builders, both predominantly male-oriented companies with women leading them. They took me under their wing. It started off as professional relationship and ended up a personal relationship as well. Wonderful mentors.

espnW: What are some important lessons you've learned over your career that you'd like to share with the next generation of women?

Rose: Hire good people. Hire people of character, but don't hire clones of yourself. I want people -- I think we all want people -- to be loyal and trustworthy and of good character, but I don't want them all to just think exactly like I do. I want them to challenge me.

OK, now I may stick with whatever the issue is [and] they may say, "Judy, you want to rethink this," but I want them to challenge me. And there have been times where I have changed my position on something, so I think it's important to hire a diverse group of people, and I don't just mean ethnicity, but in thought processes. You're not hiring a bunch of people who think and act just like you do. So that's important to me.

I want people that understand this business. I think generationally, we all question some work ethics sometimes, and focus, maybe. Now we need this new generation and we need people from this new generation to help us with social media and the thought processes of young people and how they watch games, how they interact. But at the same time I want to make sure people understand, you're coming into intercollegiate athletics, you better understand the time commitment. I have scheduled around my job for the last 43 years.

espnW: Say I'm a woman who wants to become an athletic director or work at some other high-level position within an athletic department. How would you advise me to pursue that path?

Rose: I think it's almost imperative today to get the post-graduate degree. And I would tell people to look carefully at what they want to get that degree in, because I think you're seeing more and more scrutiny over the educational background and preparation for these jobs. My master's was in physical education, and my undergraduate was too. I would tell people today, don't go that route, go more business-oriented, more legal, more political. Make sure you prepare yourself in public speaking. It is truly a business. You better be able to fundraise. Because today, I don't care where you are, that is a critical piece to this job. Relationship building; you're not gonna raise money if you don't have relationships with people, so you've got to understand that, and the time commitment that takes.

In addition to an advanced degree, you've got to understand you're probably going to have to come in at a very, very low level and get as much experience as you can. I would advise somebody, if they know when they're in college that this is the route they want, to start volunteering with the athletic program. Go over and ask what you can do, whether it is paid or unpaid. The more they can get involved athletic-wise, the better. In your community, if your community is hosting a Final Four or AAU Junior Olympics, get involved in that. Start résumé-building early and networking early.

That first job, I would tell you to expect it to be an internship somewhere, whether it be on a college campus or with the NCAA. Just surround yourself with as many experiences as you possibly can. Then when you go to do that internship, what's going to separate you from someone else who's also doing an internship? You just really gotta bust it and you've gotta go above and beyond. And you've gotta understand it's not an 8-to-5 internship and don't allow it to be. Try to soak up as much as you can of those experiences. And you might have to do several internships because there are only so many of these positions open to be an AD or to be an SWA in a program or a senior associate or director of marketing, so your competition is going to be very stiff in that regard. So what separates you?

espnW: What can we do to ensure that more women are hired? And can you talk about the importance of having women and having diverse athletic departments?

Rose: No. 1, I think, is mentoring. We all have a responsibility to do that. I look back on the two women in Charlotte that were critical for me. They invited me to events that I wouldn't normally get invited to, because I was the new kid on the block and I was a female [athletic director], one of three in the country. I'd get a phone call that there would be an event: "Judy, we want you and your husband to come to this event. ... You need to be there because who's going to be there. You need to be in that mix. You're going to need to go to these people in the room and ask them for money one day."

So they got me in that mix, and I parlayed that into, "All right I have a responsibility to do that for young people today." And I have mentored young women in NCAA programs and some others that have contacted me directly, to help prepare them. I've had some good mentees and I've had some that aren't so good, to be honest with you, that I thought probably wouldn't ever get to the spot where I am right now because I'm not sure they wanted to put in the time and were listening. The majority do, the majority soak it up.

To the second part of your question, diversity makes us all better. I think women sometimes lead a little differently than men lead and it's not a bad thing, either way. I read an article years ago, and it said, "Men lead with their head, women lead with their head and their heart." I don't know if that still is as strong as it was when I read that article 15 years ago, but I remembered it. And I think if we treat people well, they will follow your lead, so I think we have a responsibility. It makes every program better. Diversity overall, whether it's men, people of color, different religions, it's good because our student-athlete base is quite diverse, and we need to kind of mirror our student-athlete base.

espnW: Is there anything else you want to add?

Rose: I'd just encourage young people to get involved early. I encourage them to soak it all in, and understand how marvelous this profession is, and the opportunity that we have to impact the lives of student-athletes. We need to know that it's not all about just playing the sport. That's a huge part for these young people. But it is critical we make sure they get their degrees, that they are involved in community service and giving back. They've been blessed, we've all been blessed, and we need to make sure that we let them see the total picture. They get to do what they love, playing their sport, while at the same time getting the greatest gift they can get, which is a college degree that will prepare them for life after sports.

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