Athletic Director talks future of sports at Santa Clara
May 3, 2018
If you ask around about the strengths of Santa Clara, athletics certainly won’t be a common answer. Since the early 90’s when Steve Nash roamed the court, Santa Clara teams have remained largely under-the-radar. However, that’s starting to change thanks to Athletic Director Renee Baumgartner, who has headed the Division I program for the past three years.
Baumgartner captained the women’s golf team at USC while in college, then played an integral role in starting the Oregon women’s golf team from scratch and transforming them into a nationally-acclaimed program. Now at Santa Clara, Baumgartner is confident that increased buy-in from university leadership, donors, coaches, athletes and the student body will lead to success.
Gavin Cosgrave: What role did sports play for you growing up?
Renee Baumgartner: I grew up in a family of five, and sports played an integral part in our lives. I played a variety of sports: volleyball, basketball, skiing and golf. It helped us become better leaders and gave us a great work ethic. Every one of my siblings played Division I golf.
GC: Why golf?
RB: Especially back then, golf was considered nerdy. My dad was a great golfer and my brother loved it as well. It was a sport that I fell in love with, and I would drag my sisters out with me. We could share it as a family and it gave us opportunities with our education.
GC: You were captain of the USC women’s golf team in college. Did you plan on playing beyond college?
RB: I had aspirations of playing beyond college, but unfortunately I had a sister who was killed in a car accident after my junior year summer.
Plans changed, I moved back to Oregon, and I was fortunate to start the golf team there. For Title IX reasons, they gave us one scholarship, and six years later I had built one of the best teams in the country. I really felt the call to go home and to switch gears into coaching and administration.
GC: What was your coaching philosophy for coaching golf at Oregon, and how did you start the team?
RB: The men’s golf coach was focused on the men’s program, and said he had five players who couldn’t break 100, no budget and that we would have to drive to Stanford to play.
I had been part of one of the best programs in the country [at USC] and I decided I was going to find the B+ players and turn them into A’s. We were going to work harder than anyone else. That formula worked and we had great success at a school that nobody thought could be successful.
GC: Moving into your time at Santa Clara, what types of things do you do on a day-to-day basis?
RB: I love being an athletic director because all my days are different. Whether it’s staff meetings, talking to coaches or donors, I serve on a lot of committees. I try to get involved on campus as much as possible. The highlight of my week is going to practices and competitions. My weekends are even busier since we have so many events.
GC: You started at Oregon, which is a huge school that finishes top nationally in many different programs.
Now at Santa Clara, the student body is a little over 5,000 and we don’t have a football team. Within our other teams, there’s not that national recognition. How important is winning?
RB: Starting at Oregon, we didn’t win. You couldn’t pay people to go to football games. We made a plan and believed in that plan. That’s really what I’m trying to do at Santa Clara. We put together a plan and have the belief and courage to do it.
I truly believe we can rise up and be competitive in all our sports. It’s going to take time, belief, energy and courage. In time, Santa Clara will be successful in athletics. I truly believe it, or I wouldn’t be here today.
GC: Why do student athletes choose to come to Santa Clara?
RB: Student athletes come to Santa Clara first for a great education—also for Silicon Valley—but they want to compete at the highest level. They want to go win conference and national championships. We’re just putting the pieces in place to give them the opportunity to do that.
GC: What’s the hardest part of your job?
RB: The most challenging part is changing the culture. For 25 years, Santa Clara has not invested in athletics. Father Engh and the trustees through the Blue Ribbon Commission Report are investing, so we have to catch up.
We’re going to catch up slowly but surely, and we need to be patient, have courage and believe this can be done. We’re sensing it now. We’ve made some coaching changes and the student athletes are having success. In a couple years, their hard work is going to pay off and the university is going to reap the benefits.
GC: So the size of Santa Clara doesn’t compromise us in any way?
RB: No, I think we can be very successful in the West Coast conference and successful nationally. I feel like we’re poking the bear, and when the bear wakes up from hibernation, everyone will say, “Please go back, we like Santa Clara the way it was.” I think the new day is dawning.
“Voices of Santa Clara,” profiles noteworthy students and faculty. The Q & A is excerpted from the “Voices of Santa Clara” podcast. Visit voicesofsantaclara.com or search “Voices of Santa Clara” on the iTunes Podcast App to hear the whole interview.