MARQUETTE - David Diles, the director of athletics and chair of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, referred to himself as a builder on Tuesday while addressing a group of Northern Michigan University athletics staff and supporters in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center.
And he has the track record to back up that statement.
Diles, the second of three finalists for the NMU athletic director position to visit campus, helped pull NCAA Division I St. Bonaventure University in New York out of financial exigency as it laid off tenured professors and collapsed entire departments.
David Diles, director of athletics and chairman of the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, gives a public presentation on his vision for the future of Northern Michigan University athletics Tuesday in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center in Marquette. Diles is one of three finalists for the NMU athletic director position. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Then he guided another NCAA Div. I athletic department at Eastern Michigan University to 21 Mid-American Conference titles despite having the lowest budget in all of the conference.
Now at Case Western Reserve, he's set the Spartan athletic program on a path that will guarantee the financial future of the NCAA Div. III school.
The next project on his agenda is Wildcat athletics, where the financial future of the department is a top priority for the Michigan native.
"It's clear that work on the external side should be a priority here. It was been at other points in my career," Diles said.
"I've been a builder throughout my career. I think that's where I am best. I've never been in an AD position where you are in the unquestioned position of resource leadership and you have an abundance of resources and tradition on your side. I've been a builder with a little bit of a roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do spirit."
Diles has been a busy builder this year at Case Western Reserve by securing $49,000 worth of funding for a new softball scoreboard, $65,000 for a baseball scoreboard and the final installment of a $4 million gift for the Spartans new varsity field house.
The university - which has over a $1.5 billion endowment of its own - also set up three endowments of $25,000 each for softball and volleyball, plus $30,000 for the club rowing team.
Diles spoke of his experience in a number of categories when it came to external fund acquisition, including annual funds, special events, ticket sales, merchandising, priority seating, corporate sponsorships and capital projects.
Endowments, however, are a universities strongest tool, according to Diles.
"It's an area, that I think the longer that I work, the more I grow in my affection for and enthusiasm for endowments," Diles said. "I believe in this position, you have a responsibility not only for the department today, but to position it for the future. We will be working to make sure we are not just working to solve today's needs, but we're working to establish a foundation for the future."
Case Western Reserve is a private institution that is associated with 16 Nobel Laureates and is known for its medical, dental and law schools.
Northern Michigan, on the other hand, features only $13.4 million endowment and is known for teaching, nursing and a growing art and design department, just to name a few programs at the rural public campus in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Diles said he understands the challenges facing the state of Michigan having grown up in the state and earned his doctorate at the University of Michigan following bachelors and masters degrees at Ohio University.
His wife also has roots in Iron Mountain and family in Marquette, but the economy of Michigan does not dissuade him, since "No" is not an answer Diles said he takes very easily.
"Being a son of the state of Michigan, and also, my wife's roots are here, I'm familiar with our state economy," he said. "I know the challenges that we've been through recently. I don't think it's any mystery, but the state and global economies have had some challenging times. But for us to grow and advance, we're going to need to take financial responsibility for our financial future."
Along with financial stability, Diles preached values, ethics, integrity and educational excellence - putting the student first in student-athlete.
Instead of talking about putting Wildcats in a position to win a Hobey Baker Award - given to the top player in Div. I college hockey each year - or the Harlon Hill Trophy - awarded to the top played in Div. II football - Diles spoke of NMU student athletes receiving national post-graduate scholarships from the NCAA and honoring those Wildcats at sporting events.
The NCAA post-graduate scholarships have become somewhat regular at Case Western Reserve, where every team finished with a grade point average over 3.1.
"I think it's very important that we understand that student-athlete academic success is foundational to everything that we do," Diles said. "We want to set high goals and expectations for our student athletes in this area, as well as an example for sportsmanship."
Diles hopes high academic standards will not only lead to NMU leading the GLIAC in graduation rates, but put it in a position to win championships.
It's all part of a recipe for Diles that will lead to success on and off the field, court, track or rink for NMU athletics.
"I want to win national championships," Diles said. "We're here for that. We want to compete at the highest levels and that's where we will set the bar. I don't plan to ask anyone to do that, without equipping them for it."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.