Dec. 13, 2011
ARLINGTON, Tex. - Jim Baker walked through the soon-to-be-completed College Park Center a couple weeks ago and left the UT Arlington campus impressed with the progress.
That is saying something.
Baker, who UT Arlington president James D. Spaniolo officially hired Tuesday as UTA's sixth athletic director since joining NCAA Division I, has been the point man on all facilities projects at Texas for the last 20 years.
When he leaves impressed, it means a project is a success.
"The biggest thing that stuck with me is the people at UT Arlington definitely did their homework on everything from the back of the house where the buses will park to the locker rooms and practice courts," Baker said. "Seven-thousand is a great number for an arena. The attention they paid to detail, you could see it at every turn. As I walked through the building, I got excited. It is first-class.
"There were two things that made me realize taking this job was a no-brainer - the facility and joining the WAC. Both of those showed me the commitment President Spaniolo has made to athletics and reaffirmed his dedication to making athletics a reflection of the University."
Now Baker, who has overseen $430 million worth of facilities upgrades at Texas, is charged with the task of something of a departmental architect.
It is no accident that Baker arrives on campus for a critical juncture of UT Arlington athletics history.
The afore-mentioned $78 million, 7,000-seat College Park Center is set to open on Feb. 1 - which coincides with Baker's first official day on the job.
The entire program heads in a new direction on July 1, 2012 when UTA leaves the Southland Conference and officially joins the Western Athletic Conference.
UT Arlington president James D. Spaniolo said Baker's prior experience makes him an ideal fit for a rapidly changing program.
"We are fortunate to have such an exceptional leader join us at this critical point in the evolution of our program," UT Arlington president James D. Spaniolo said. "Jim has unparalleled experience and a proven track record with one of the most respected and successful athletics programs in the nation.
"We will look to Jim to advance the UT Arlington program to even higher levels of regional and national competition."
In addition to his facilities and operations experience, Baker spent the last two decades as someone with a say in every major decision at one of the most influential programs in the NCAA.
"Jim Baker has served The University of Texas since 1991 and has grown up with our program," Texas men's athletics director DeLoss Dodds said. "He has managed all of our construction projects, been very involved in all of our sports programs, and has had a hand in every major decision we have made in the past five years. Jim has a burn to be the best and he will be a great asset for UT Arlington."
Baker earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. He began his career working with The Ohio State University and served in various positions with the University of Florida from 1982 until he joined The University of Texas at Austin in 1991.
His expertise is wide-ranging - from overseeing Texas baseball and golf programs to managing multi-million athletics construction programs and football game-day activities.
Baker expects to take advantage of his construction management experience by making long-discussed upgrades on strategic facilities at UT Arlington.
"We need to get on making some of those changes," Baker said. "We don't need the biggest facilities, but we need the best. Player development and overall improvement is all about recruiting. It is your lifeblood. You have to have the athlete saying `Wow,' competing against other WAC schools and schools in Texas, so some of our facilities have to be fixed. Then you also have to have amenities for fans so you can sell.
"That is going to be a significant priority."
Even before setting foot on campus, Baker knew a little bit about UT Arlington because of the University of Texas System ties.
The sheer size of the campus as well as the connection between the city of Arlington and the University immediately captured his attention during his visit.
"When I toured campus and saw everything the University has done and I saw connection with city of Arlington, I was impressed," Baker said. "Everyone works together and you do not get that in a lot of cities. Everything I saw in the city and on campus was impressively progressive."
Now he embraces the challenges that lie ahead as athletics director at UT Arlington.
"This will be a learning experience for me because I have never been an athletic director," Baker said. "I will have to make decisions but I want to continue to build on what UTA has now and help make the transition to the WAC. I am excited to have a year to plan for the next basketball season and get involvement from the students and the city as we build the CPC.
"The first thing I need to do is meet the staff, the coaches and get a lay of the land. My goal is not to change the world. I am coming up there to learn. I want to see what needs to be done. I need to meet the alumni base, the ex-players, the fanbase and the community."
Baker and Nancy, his wife of 30 years, have a pair of sons - 24-year-old Jordan and 21-year-old Nate.
Baker will begin his transition into his role as the face of the ever-changing UT Arlington athletics landscape next week when he meets the staff. "I am excited because I think this is a great opportunity for me," Baker said. "The timing is right and I just cannot wait to get up there, get to meet the people and go to events.
"I think UT Arlington is a diamond-in-the-rough and I am excited I get to be part of it."
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