Last day on the job
Rick Bowen said it was no accident that his last official day as UW-River Falls athletic director was Monday.
"That was totally planned," he said about leaving on the same day as the 25th annual Don Page Varsity Club Golf outing. "I just thought it was a great day to quit; to see some old friends and enjoy the day."
Bowen, who announced his retirement in March, hosted over 140 golfers and even more people for dinner in his last official act as the school's athletic director. He also paid homage to his predecessor, Page, who he took over for after Page retired in 1992.
"He is the face of UW-River Falls athletics," Bowen said about Page. "There is only one Don Page. He gave me my very first college head coaching job. Then I took over for him as athletic director. He is a mentor, a friend and a father figure."
Bowen said things were different when Page was in charge.
"The athletic department was often run on napkins and his phenomenal memory," he said. "If I did one thing, I took us from napkins to spread sheets."
Bowen has done much more than that. While doing double duty as athletic director and coach of the Falcons men's basketball team, Bowen led the 2004 Falcons to their first conference championship since 1950. He was named the WIAC basketball Coach of the Year, and his peers also selected him as the National Association of Basketball Coaches West Region Coach of the Year that season.
Since retiring as basketball coach in the spring of 2006, Bowen has been the full-time director of athletics at UW-RF. He has worked tirelessly and been the spearhead of the Ramer Field Renovation project, with plans that include a new brick stadium, expanded press box, new lights, field turf and trees completely surrounding the facility. The new lights are being installed this summer.
Bowen said he's been lucky to been able to work at a job he loves for so long.
"Other than family, I don't think there's any bigger joy in life than going to work and loving what you do," he said.
Bowen said he gave a lot of thought into his decision to retire.
"I went into this year thinking: 'I'm 65 years old; this may be it,'" he explained. "'Let's get through the year and see where we are.' After 42 years, to use an old poker cliché, I'm just not 'all in' anymore. This is a very, very demanding and time-consuming job. I just think it's time for a new voice and a new face. We've got a new chancellor, and the chancellor can get a person who can put a new face on the department."
Bowen said the university is close to naming his successor. In the meantime, assistant athletic director Crystal Lanning will serve as interim AD.
Bowen said the decision to retire as athletic director was more difficult than when he stepped down as basketball coach.
"Was it tough leaving basketball? No, it wasn't because I still had the athletic director job," he said. "People asked me, 'Do you miss coaching?' No, I didn't. There's a message there. I missed the kids and I missed the locker room, but this is different in that this is final. I was just switching gears the last time."
Bowen said the biggest challenges his replacement will face will be in the form of personnel and facilities. He said he's still passionate about helping the university upgrade Ramer Field and Karges Center and will help in any way he's asked to.
"I think the first thing that has to happen is: The new athletic director has to come in and get up to speed and figure out where he wants to go. He doesn't need me meddling," he said. "The fact remains, between Ramer and Karges, something has to be done. This athletic department and this university deserve it. For our level of competition, we probably have the worst facilities in the Midwest.
"Is it an embarrassment? I don't know; it is what it is," he added. "But we've got to do something. Hopefully, at some point in time, the state will do what it needs to do with Karges. But Ramer has to be fundraised and it has to be done. I'm very proud we got that started."
Bowen said he's looking forward to spending more time with his family. His wife, Sandy, a retired River Falls High School teacher, have two sons and two grandchildren. Oldest son Matt is the head man's basketball coach at Bemidji State University, while Mike owns and operates Bowen's Garage in downtown River Falls.
"I'll still go to a lot of basketball games," he said, adding his does a lot of scouting for both his son Matt and his successor as coach at UW-RF, Jeff Berkhof. "Mike Bowen is fortunate; I know nothing about what he does down there so I won't be a pain in his butt."
Bowen said he does plan on spending plenty of time at Mike and his wife Pam's property in the town of Clifton.
"He has six acres out in the country. I put in a small orchard and have a huge garden," Rick said. "But you may have to start questioning me when you see me in town with a ponytail."
Bowen said he's loved living in River Falls since 1986.
"I coached high school ball and taught in Indiana for 12 years," he said. "I coached six years in Division 1, five of those in the Big Ten. I can honestly say, this is the best place I've ever lived and the best job I've ever had. I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've had."
He said it's easy to get melancholy over leaving.
"I'm a little sad; I love my job," he said. "I loved being the basketball coach at UW-RF. I love carrying the lunch pail and being the underdog. But it's time. I'll be 66 in August, so it's time. I want to die in my garden, not at my desk."