ELLENSBURG, Wash. — As a rodeo fan, former participant and practicing, boot-wearing cowboy, you’d expect Jack Bishop to be a person of unconditional bliss when in just a few short weeks he rides off into the sunset.
But it won’t be that simple. Nor will it be easy.
“One thing I’m thinking more and more about,” the Central Washington athletic director said during a recent interview in his office, “is it’s just going to be very hard to leave Ellensburg.”
Bishop, who turns 66 this summer, is in his 13th and final year as Central’s AD. He announced his retirement last summer, effective at the end of the current academic year.
“There are a number of reasons I decided to do this,” Bishop said. “Carol (his wife of more than 40 years) and I have our children and grandchildren, all in the greater Salt Lake area. And my mother is still living, and she’s living in that area as well.
“So obviously we’ve done a lot of going back and forth between here and Utah, and it occurred to both of us that we’re missing a lot of the best things here as well as a lot of the best things there.”
Here, at Central, is where Bishop is writing the final chapter of a long and distinguished career as a coach and administrator. His accomplishments have been substantial and his accolades many at CWU, where Bishop has led the school’s athletic department through a transition from the NAIA ranks to NCAA Division II.
More recently but no less importantly, he has guided the Wildcats’ 13 varsity teams and roughly 400 athletes through times of economic strife coupled with escalating costs.
“I’d say the biggest challenge I’ve faced here is trying to provide the resources that are necessary for our people to succeed,” he said. “And that’s from our staff members to our coaches to our student athletes. When we talk about having enough money for travel, for example, it’s not a matter of going from cheeseburgers to steaks.”
That part of the job — the number-crunching, head-scratching and soul-searching — Bishop will not miss. People, however, are another matter.
“Just the relationships, so many great people in and around the university that make this such a neat place,” he said. “I was excited about coming here when I got the job, but I had no idea how truly special Central is.”
And Bishop had been through this, for the most part, before.
For 32 years he worked in Utah, compiling a body of work so impressive that Bishop’s name stands alongside John Stockton’s and Karl Malone’s in the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.
Highly successful as a high school football, wrestling and track coach, he later became the winningest football coach in the history of Southern Utah University, his alma mater, for which he later served as athletic director.
It was early in his career, however, that Bishop formed a friendship that would carry into his time at CWU.
“One of my football players at Wasatch High School in Utah was a guy named Tom Clyde,” he said. “He was a really tough kid and a good athlete. I coached Tom from 1972 to 1974 — back then I wasn’t that much older than my players.”
“Then a few years ago, we get Roby Clyde, Tom’s son, here at Central to play basketball.”
Roby Clyde, who prepped at Connell and Pasco, came to CWU as a sophomore from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, and was a three-year mainstay in the Wildcats men’s basketball program. And Bishop, like football coach Blaine Bennett and others, often wondered what the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder might have been like on the gridiron.
“The biggest problem,” Bishop said, “might have been deciding whether to have him throw it or catch it.”
Bishop, meanwhile, has made plenty of tough calls since his arrival in Ellensburg. And as with any job that affects so many people, his tenure has not been without criticism.
His leadership has nonetheless been instrumental in a four-phase, $13.2 million renovation of Nicholson Pavilion, a badly-needed update that included a new basketball court and seating in the arena, new locker rooms and training facilities, new athletic offices and a new weight room.
Under Bishop’s watch, improvements have also been made to the football, soccer, baseball and fastpitch facilities. And while he preferred not to disclose the number available in each sport, Bishop said Central’s athletic scholarships have increased in recent years.
Recently, for these and other accomplishments, Bishop received a Lifetime Achievement Award — the most prestigious honor given by the Division 2 Athletic Directors Association (D2 ADA). He also has served on multiple Division II boards and committees.
“When I was coaching (football) at Southern Utah,” he said during our interview, “I always said that if you could tell by what we were doing in practice on Monday whether we’d won or lost the previous Saturday, we were going about things the wrong way.”
His eyes light up at the mere mention of Roby Clyde — or Mike Reilly or Brian Potucek or Humberto Perez or any number of other Central athletes, past or present.
Then again, there’s another name — Merilyn Bishop George, his mother — that evokes a unique response. Mrs. George will turn 90 in June.
And of course there are sons Ryan and Brock, daughter Jackie, and six grandchildren.
“Five grandsons and a new granddaughter,” Bishop said, beaming.
So the attractions at Bishop’s awaiting destination are many and compelling. But then so are those he’ll be leaving.
“I’ll tell you this,” he said, “I came here 13 years ago as a (Southern Oregon) Thunderbird, but I’m going out a Wildcat. And I will always be a Wildcat.”
Roger Underwood may be reached at 509-577-794, at firstname.lastname@example.org and his Under the Radar blog can be found at yakimaherald.com