For some college graduates, patience – and a willingness to work your way up the ladder the old-fashioned way – isn’t all that scary.
Put in your work and you may find your way to a great career. A case in point is Mark Mullin.
In 1985, six years after he had put his wife and newborn in a loaded-down car in Kentucky and headed to a northern Missouri college to assist in swimming and diving, his phone rang. It was the athletic director at what’s now Missouri Science & Technology in Rolla.
“He told me his head swimming and diving coach had accepted another position and had mentioned me as a very strong candidate,” Mullin said. “He asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for the position. I talked with Joanie, said yes, and – to make a long story short – started the first of 35 years as a Miner.”
That’s correct. Mullin spent the next 35 years at S&T, including 28 as athletic director, and his success there is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Mullin with the Class of 2023.
During his tenure as athletic director, S&T captured 24 conference and divisional championships and had teams reach Division II championship competition 74 times. The athletic department saw 193 individuals and 97 swim relay teams earn All-America honors.
In 1991, he was presented with the Certificate of Excellence Award and won multiple Coach of the Year honors in swimming, the sport that brought him to Rolla. He coached swimming for 12 years there and led the Minors to a 96-27 dual meet record and seven regional championships. His final team finished third at the 1998 NCAA Division II Swimming & Diving Championships, the highest finish ever at the time for a minor athletic team at an NCAA championship event.
He also raised funds that led to facility projects, including Gibson Arena, Allgood Bailey Stadium and the Student Recreation and Fitness Centers. In his final two years, he secured $7 million in gifts and commitments for Miner Athletics.
This from a Kentucky native who swam for Danville High School and later for Eastern Kentucky University before going into coaching, with what’s now Truman State University in Kirksville his first assistant’s job.
“I was fortunate to be under the direction of Donovan Conley, who allowed me the opportunity to recruit, write workouts and run some of the practices,” Mullin said. “As I was finishing a successful year and preparing to graduate and find a job, Donovan informed me he was accepting a position at the University of Georgia in Athens.”
Mullin coached Truman State the next four seasons, and the S&T athletic director called after its outgoing coach recommended him.
He coached from 1985 to 1998, and held dual roles as AD from 1992 to 1998 after Billy Key’s retirement.
“The initial years would provide challenges both with personnel and finances,” Mullin said. “I felt confident leading, but there can be some adjustments when a peer becomes the individual in charge. I learned very quickly that if you hire good people, good things happen and the organization benefits. We tried to create a family atmosphere of working together, celebrating each other’s successes, and helping others with their challenges.”
Fundraising became a labor of love, as he combated public funding that annually was a moving target and could be lowered.
With that in mind, he set out to develop scholarship and operational endowments. Two alums from Tulsa, Okla., John Gibson and Keith Bailey, threw their support behind his efforts, too.
“We were also able to create a corporate sponsorship club that grew into a successful entity that aided our annual budget and helped create new opportunities for our student-athletes and coaches,” Mullin said.
Not that he was solely focused on fundraising. Not by a long shot.
Mullin also centered the department around the whole development of the student-athlete and, in 2005, and moved S&T from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) into the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
All in all, it was a terrific job by Mullin, who had the support of many. Among them were his wife, Joanie, and their daughters, Elizabeth, Katie, Melissa and Nina.
“It was and continues to be a rewarding journey as we were all able to in some way positively impact the lives and futures of our student-athletes,” Mullin said. “We have Miner student-athletes who were astronauts, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, doctors, attorneys, and engineers and scientists who are constantly changing the world for the better.”