Perseverance and friendly assists have helped Paul Kowalczyk become athletic director at Southern Illinois.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Where there is a will, there is a way.
Paul Kowalczyk, a Warren native, is a good example of this timeless truth.
Kowalczyk, a 1976 Warren G. Harding High graduate, had the will to persevere and find a way to his current job as athletic director at Southern Illinois University.
The determined 44-year-old finally made it to the top of his profession two years ago after a nomadic adventure from Harding to Denison University, Kent State, Youngstown State, Portland State, Kansas State and Northwestern.
Interspersed along the way of Kowalczyk's long odyssey were temporary stops in Los Angeles, at Packard Electric in Warren, laying carpet and as a bartender at Alex's Cafe, a bar in Warren owned by his parents, Blanche and Joe.
And while doggedly climbing the ladder to his dreams, he reached out to grasp helping hands along the way to give him needed pulls over the tougher rungs.
Key move in career
"It has been a steady step-by-step climb up the ladder for me," said Kowalczyk, who became SIU's AD in June of 2000. "The critical move was the shift from the business end to the external side [of athletic administration] at Northwestern that helped to round out my experience. That gave me inside business and the external part of marketing."
At Southern Illinois, "I oversee the entire athletic program. I sort of equate it to being the CEO of a small company," he said, noting that his department has a $6 million-plus budget and a staff of 75 full-time people.
A graduate of Kent State University (bachelor's degree in 1980 in business administration and accounting and a master's degree in 1986 in sports administration), Kowalczyk credits the help he received from friends and associates for lifting him into position to actualize his true potential.
He said that "my first break" occurred when he was volunteering his services to YSU in the athletic marketing and ticket office for about a year from 1986-87, an opportunity he credits to then-AD Joe Malmisur.
While working at YSU with Bruce Burge, who was with the marketing department, and Rick Love, a student assistant, Kowalczyk heard of an opening at Portland State for a business manager for athletics.
"I think Bruce knew the athletic director, Joe David Coffey, when the opening came up and they [Burge and others] made a call and made a recommendation and they helped."
Kowalczyk was hired for that job in November of 1987, fulfilling his original intent "to combine my accounting and business management with a sports job."
A wedding helped, too
But while at Portland State, Kowalczyk got another important assist from his brother Joe's wife-to-be, Theresa, whose brother-in-law, Wayne Norvell, was a professor of marketing at Kansas State.
Kowalczyk, who also has two sisters, Vickie and Linda, met Norvell at Joe and Theresa's wedding, and "[Norvell] told me of the opening [at Kansas State]. He talked to athletic director Steven Miller, and encouraged me to apply," recalled Kowalczyk, who landed the job of assistant athletic director for business at Kansas State in December of 1988.
Then after three years at that job building his credentials, he was able to garner a position -- on his own -- at Northwestern in 1991 as assistant athletic director for business.
Then after four years in that business post, he made the crucial career move to the marketing side of athletic administration when he was promoted to associate athletic director for external affairs at Northwestern in 1994.
Becoming more versatile and broadening his background in that job, he enriched his resume to set the stage for his leap to the AD job at SIU in 2000.
And in a little over two years, Kowalczyk has directed a turnaround in the SIU athletic program.
"When I first got started [at SIU], the department needed some direction. It really was just sort of bumping along without any focus. My focus was to provide that direction to improve the sports and improve the caliber of our student athletes," said Kowalczyk.
On state title team
While at Harding, Kowalczyk was a junior member of the 1974 state championship football team under coach Ed Glass, which defeated Upper Arlington in the Akron Rubber Bowl for the state title.
In fact, Kowalczyk's wife, Peg, a graduate of Upper Arlington, was a sophomore then watching that game and her husband-to-be, although of course neither knew it at the time.
That may have been her silent and anonymous assist to him with the future written on it.