On the Shoulders of Giants: APU’s Athletic Director Legacy

by Caitlin Gipson

Gary Pine ’84, MBA ’03, still remembers the day 26 years ago when he failed to follow through on a task then-athletic director Cliff Hamlow assigned to him. Hamlow chewed him out in front of the staff. It hurt. But 10 minutes later, Hamlow walked into Pine’s office, sat down, and said the last words Pine expected to hear: “First of all, I love you.”

“I don’t remember a thing he said after that,” Pine confessed. “I suddenly realized that everything Cliff said and did came from love for me—that he cared for me so much he was willing to challenge me and keep me accountable.” That exchange typifies the philosophy that has grounded APU’s Athletics Department for 60 years through a procession of three award-winning, mentor-focused athletic directors—Cliff Hamlow, Ph.D.; Terry Franson, Ph.D.; and Bill Odell. Today, as Pine takes the reins, he holds firm to the lessons he learned beside each of these National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Hall of Fame champions, and looks forward to continuing the trajectory of what has become a top-notch athletics program.

When Hamlow began in 1954 as athletic director at Azusa Pacific College, no athletics program existed. “Dr. [Cornelius] Haggard [then president] asked me to stay on and develop it as part of our ministry,” Hamlow said. During the next 39 years, Hamlow brought Azusa Pacific into NAIA membership, grew the program to include 13 intercollegiate sports, and coached the men’s basketball team to 570 victories and 4 straight National Christian College Athletic Association men’s basketball crowns. “Being involved in athletics in any way at APU is ministry. I was energized by seeing kids come to know the Lord and come through the program to be successful in life.”

In addition to a focus on ministry, Hamlow hired a strong coaching and administrative staff, which ensured not only winning teams, but also a solid succession plan. Franson, Odell, and Pine were all Hamlow hires. Franson joined APU in 1978 as a professor and men’s track and field coach. During his 15 years in the role, he led the Cougars to 11 NAIA championships and was a 10-time NAIA Coach of the Year. In 1993, Franson stepped up as athletic director and served in the role for three years. “Terry taught me a lot about collaboration in leadership,” said Pine. “He is a master of team building and making sure everyone plays a significant role.”

Upon his promotion to vice president of student life, Franson knew Odell would pick up that mantle as the next athletic director. “Good leadership is all about succession planning,” Franson said. “I was honored to continue Cliff’s legacy, and to hand it off to Bill, knowing our Christian focus and commitment to excellence on and off the field would remain central.”

Odell coached APU men’s basketball for 16 years, and became athletic director in 1996. During the subsequent 15 years, APU captured 22 NAIA titles, earned an unprecedented 6 straight NAIA Directors’ Cups, and significantly broadened women’s program offerings. “Bill was more than just a coach, he was a mentor,” said former APU basketball player and current Men’s Basketball Head Coach Justin Leslie ’01. “He treats everyone with respect. It is more than what he says; he models it as well.”

Pine agrees. “Bill is wise, very down to earth, and balanced. He is also an outstanding problem solver. I’ve seen him come up with creative solutions to the most difficult situations. I sincerely hope to emulate that gift.”

Pine worked with all three athletic directors during his total of 27 years in the department, and looks forward to continuing the arc of athletic achievement. Odell has no doubts that Pine will effectively carve out his own niche and vision. “Gary has been successful in every role,” he said. “He brings a great work ethic and love for APU, knows all the ins and outs of the program, and is admired and respected by the coaches. This will serve as a great foundation for his leadership.”

Franson echoes the commendation. “As sports information director and associate athletic director, Gary worked extensively with each men’s and women’s sport. That overarching understanding gives him a unique strength and a global perspective.”

“I have a broad perspective and don’t have a favorite sport,” said Pine. “It hurts me when the soccer team loses, and I get a thrill when the tennis team wins. My background gives me a deep love for APU and the entire program.” So how does he feel about following three NAIA Hall of Fame athletic directors? “It means a lot for me to be associated with them—they are giants. I am one of the few people privileged to have worked and learned alongside all three of these men. I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s clear that God has been preparing me for this moment.”

Caitlin Gipson ’01 is a freelance writer, marketing consultant, and search engine optimization specialist living in Reedley, California. caitlinsplace@hotmail.com