Goodbye coach: Bill Klika reflects on 44 years at FDU

Interview by W. Scott Giglio

Florham Campus Athletic Director Bill Klika started at Fairleigh Dickinson University as a part-time head football coach in December 1973. Nearly four-and-a-half decades later, after a very accomplished career, he is now retired from the University.

As a football coach, Klika led the program to its best season in 1993 with a record of 8-3. Twice he was given the Metro Award by the Eastern Intercollegiate Football Organization, for his contribution to college football. Klika has served on the NCAA Championship Committee, serving as the chair in 2002 and 2003. He has chaired the ECAC Selection Committee, and served on the Kodak All-American Committee. In 2008, Klika was recognized by the Morris County Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame with The Distinguished Coaches Award for his commitment to college football.

klika 5 ret He became the second athletic director in campus history in 1988, and led the deveolopment of Ferguson Recreation Center and Robert T. Shields Field. During his tenure, Klika added seven new athletic programs and established the FDU Florham Athletics Hall of Fame. He has served on the NCAA Management Council and as the chair of the NCAA Honors Committee. In 2012, Klika was the inaugural winner of the Lou Sorrentino Award presented to the Middle Atlantic Conference athletics administrator who has had a sustained and influential role in conference and national affairs and embodies the NCAA Division III philosophy. That same year, he was named the Division III Athletic Director of the Year for the Southeast Region by The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).

FDU: What are you most proud of?

Bill Klika: The thing that I’m most proud of or happy about is the ability to add athletic opportunities for our students. In 1988 when I started as athletic director, we had 12 sports. Next year, we’re going to have 20 as we add men’s volleyball. We’ve already hired a coach for that. Also, we went from six full-time people in 1988 in the athletic department, and that counted the trainer, the administrative assistant, and the equipment manager. And now we are over 30.

And obviously I’m delighted with the fact that we now have facilities that allow our athletes to have competitive venues they are proud to say are theirs. This building (Ferguson Recreation Center), Robert T. Shields Field, and the fact that we have an athletic master plan that we are now raising funds for in a capital campaign.

My understanding is that we are going to break some ground this fall on a second artificial turf field. And for 2018-2019, we are going to 24 sports, as we add men’s and women’s track and field.

FDU: What’s your most memorable moment?

BK: One of the ones from early on when I was an assistant lacrosse coach, is going to the NCAA tournament. And this is before there was a pure delineation in Divisions I, II, and III.

Also, winning the national champ in women’s basketball in 2014. That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

From a football-coaching perspective, in 1993 we beat Lycoming at their place when they hadn’t lost a regular-season game and they were ranked in the top 10 nationally. Then in 1995, we beat Widener at home 38-36 when they were the number four team in the country.

Early in the first quarter at Lycoming, the public address announcer says, “Be sure to join us to celebrate with Coach Frank Girardi at such-and-such a place after the game.” I’m on the sidelines …. (Makes an incredulous face.) And then it happened again, and then they made an announcement at halftime. The best part, is we win 21-20, and one of our players yells, “Can we go to the restaurant?”

The win was unexpected, and to see the reaction of our players, they felt like, “Hey, we’ve arrived. We can play with anybody.” And in 1993, we certainly proved that. We were ranked at the end of the year.

A lot of the special moments tend to be with the athletes, after they’ve accomplished something, just the look on their faces. It’s such a genuine moment, you can’t script it. Just like last Saturday (May 6) with the women’s lacrosse team winning the MAC Championship, I was down on the field. Their exuberance and their joy was great to watch.

I’ve learned, you remember people more than you remember things. When we had the 40th anniversary event for the football program, we had 160 of them come back. All we did was, “Oh, do you remember this? You remember that?” It’s amazing how good you get when you get older.

FDU: How have the Uuniversity, the campus and athletic department changed since you arrived?

BK: Go back to December of 1973, when I got here, I was asked to come over to speak to Bob Shields, the athletic director. I had no idea why he wanted me to come over. For the two years prior, I had helped to arrange for a site for Fairleigh to play Princeton in lacrosse at Madison High School, where I worked. At the time, I was assistant football coach at Madison, I was the head basketball coach, and I ran the school’s lacrosse club, because it wasn’t a varsity sport. So Bob gave me a call in November, and said, “I want to talk to you about something.” I figured he wanted to use the Madison High field again in the spring. So I came up, and he said, “Dr. Griffo and I have been thinking about starting a football program here and we think you’d be the person to start that.” Well, after I got off the floor … I took the head coaching job, which was a part-time position, and I became an assistant lacrosse coach here at FDU, while still teaching at Madison.

I was young and naïve. I don’t recommend anyone take a college coaching job part time. It was seven great, but unbelievably long and torturous years. My recruiting consisted of trying to call somebody on the phone right after the high school let out.

Morris County schools used to have a week off in February. I spent that week in high schools in Ocean and Monmouth Counties recruiting because they had school that week. That’s how I had to recruit. That and calling high school coaches, and asking them to keep kids a little longer at practice so I could hurry over and speak to them. It wasn’t easy. I went full-time in 1980.

I’ve seen us go from large enrollment, down, then back up, and I think what spurred the growth was the realization that the University had to do things. We had to be like everybody else. We had to have facilities. We had to have full-time people doing things. And I think it has been successful to the point that we have not had layoffs. We haven’t had to drop sports. We haven’t suffered because we’ve been very prudent.

From a personal perspective, I’ve had a seven different bosses in my 30 years as the athletic director. And for the most part, I’ve been very fortunate. They’ve been supportive. They’ve shared my vision for how we can grow.

And one of the things I like to think, is that we are doing something right here because people tend to stay. We don’t have a huge turnover of coaches.

You’ve got my buddy Roger (Kindel). He was my first hire as athletic director. And as I joked at the awards banquet, “How stupid was I? I shared an office with him. I should’ve known better.”

FDU: What are your hopes for FDU Florham Athletics after you retire?

BK: In the immediate sense to finish the athletics master plan. Which includes another artificial field, re-doing the baseball field, and doing the softball field. When you do that, you’re at 24 sports. And our facilities would be as good as anybody’s. Right now that field (Robert T. Shields) is as good as anyone’s, Ferguson is as good as anyone’s. The baseball field is terrible. Softball is okay. If you’re going to add track, you’d better have a track. Adding the artificial field would allow more practice times and also open up things for intramurals. And the plan would give us a first-class baseball field and a first-class softball field. So that would be the most immediate thing. I’d love to see us just keep growing, and stay healthy.

If I think back to when Bob Shields asked me to come over here in November of 1973, would I believe that I’d be sitting in this building in May of 2017? No way, at all!

FDU: How do you plan to spend your time?

BK: I plan to stay teaching. I’m adjunct faculty in the sports administration master’s program. I have two classes already set for the fall. The plan is to have another two in the spring. The University and I have talked about working with the capital campaign to see the field through. And I’m more than delighted to do that.

I plan to spend some time doing things with my wife and the grandkids. We have nine now. And I still have one child not married yet, so there’s still potential for more. I’d like to do a little travelling. I’ll play some golf. I’ll still be involved in some way with athletes. You don’t do something for 50 years and just stop. I’ve been involved in athletics at the high school level or higher since 1959.

There will be some time to just sit back and R&R, but that’s what I’ll be doing. I’ve had people tell me I’ll be busier than I would have thought I’d be. We’ll find out. I’m looking forward to finding out.