Boise State wanted one more season out of Dr. Ross Vaughn. The university's former baseball coach, Ph.D. in biomechanics, chair of the Kinesiology Department and associate dean for the College of Education was ready for retirement in 2012, but the university asked him to stay in the lineup one more year.
"I was cleaning out my office," said Vaughn, "But the College of Education had just lost its chair; plus they hired a new business manager and a new associate dean, so they asked me to stay one more year."
A stranger would be hard-pressed to think that Vaughn is a candidate for retirement. He looks 20 years younger than his 66 years of age. But the soft-spoken professor told Boise Weekly that he's more than ready to play some extra innings away from the campus.
Prior to Boise State's spring commencement on Saturday, May 18--Vaughn's last as a faculty member--BW asked him to take one more trip around the bases, talking about scholastics, sports and his passion for both.
When was the last time you threw a baseball, full-on?
Oh my goodness, it's been a long time.
What was your best pitch?
I was a control pitcher. I could probably throw in the high 70s [mph]. I had a fastball I could move and sink. I had a slider and a good overhand curveball.
Baseball had been a big part of your early life, throughout your education.
Growing up in Riverside, Calif., I pitched through high school and the City College. I had the opportunity to coach a youth baseball team and really enjoyed that, thinking I might want to coach for a living someday. I went up to Washington State University to get a master's degree and help with the baseball program. In 1969, I became an instructor and assistant baseball coach at the University of Vermont. Then I had my eye on a Ph.D. in kinesiology.
But Uncle Sam had another idea.
I got my draft notice in 1970. Vietnam was still going. I was 23 years old and I was a company clerk--sort of a Radar O'Reilly type. By 1971, they were starting to pull troops out of Vietnam so they sent me off to Germany.
But baseball came back into your life.
I saw a posting for tryouts for division baseball. We played other teams from bases throughout that region and I made the cut. I was in the regular pitching rotation and they asked me to be the pitching coach as well.
When did you return to the States?
In early 1972, I was accepted for a Ph.D. program at Washington State, plus I was the assistant baseball coach there.
How did you end up at Boise State?
I saw a job opportunity for a head baseball coach at what was then Boise State Junior College. At the time, Lyle Smith wanted to step aside as baseball coach to take over sole duties as athletic director. In July 1973, in addition to coaching, I became an associate professor in what would become the university's biomechanics and kinesiology programs. Additionally, I ran the intramural recreation program. Today, that would be three full-time jobs. I did that for seven years.
Why did baseball fade away from Boise State?
At the end of the 1980 season, Title IX brought new pressure--rightfully so--to put more funding into women's athletic programs. Baseball was vulnerable. Plus, they broke ground on the building that we now know as Taco Bell Arena. That used to be right field of the old baseball facility.
With the game going away from Boise State, did you think twice about staying?
Baseball was very much a part of who I was. But I was completing my Ph.D. and I really liked it here. So I focused on getting a biomechanics lab going and I rose up through the ranks to become a full professor and eventual department chair of kinesiology. I did that for nine years.
You were also instrumental in the creation of Boise State's recreation center.
I worked closely with Kevin Israel [current assistant director of Boise State housing and residence life] on conceptual stages and strategic planning. Perhaps more than any single person, Kevin was responsible for getting that built. Plus Jeff Klaus and Darryl Wright, two young men who were students at the time, did a yeoman's job of selling that idea to the student body, instituting a $65 student fee, phased in over three years, to help get that built.
It must have been interesting to watch this campus grow--culturally and physically--through the years.
When I started here, there were about 6,000 students. Boise State pretty much served a function as a community college. The student body is now about 22,000. When I was hired, it was all about teaching and nobody really said anything about research, being published or pulling in grants. Today, that's the expectation.
You're in a unique position to consider the balance between athletics and academics, but there are still some people who don't reconcile the two.
I think faculty have come to appreciate athletics. You go back to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl; that put us on the map and we saw a big increase in enrollment in academic programs after that.
Do many of the academic programs reap benefits from the football team's success?
I think so. I haven't heard too much grumbling lately. Athletics get very little funding directly appropriated from this state. Over 90 percent of the athletic budget is generated by the athletic programs themselves: donations, gate receipts, TV money. Some faculty, in the past, saw athletics in an adversarial role. I think there's a better understanding now.
When it's time to hang up your jacket and tie, how will you spend your days?
I got my first passport seven years ago. My wife Karen and I traveled to Ireland and loved it. Since then, we've been to China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey and Italy. This summer, we'll go to the Baltic region: a cruise stopping in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg.
The view looking down on the Boise River from your office window is spectacular.
We're right at the level of a soaring eagle. It's pretty great.
And the sight of a fisherman on the river must get you anxious.
I love fly fishing. We really love the outdoors: camping in the Sawtooths, backpacking in the White Clouds and Seven Devils.
I'm guessing that after your final commencement on May 18, you'll be more than ready to trade in your robes for that backpack.
Oh, I think so.