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Creighton A.D. Bruce Rasmussen prioritized people and had 'a special ability to connect'

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July 29, 2013

Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen

Check out five quick facts about Bruce Rasmussen's coaching and administrative tenure at Creighton.

There'd always be light emanating from the second floor of Creighton's practice facility when former CU guard Mitch Ballock arrived for his daily workout during his Bluejay playing career.

Ballock walked in the building at 7 most mornings. Sometimes even earlier.

Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen was already hard at work in his office.

"Rass was the only person that beat me to the gym," Ballock said Monday. "There'd be that one light on. He'd hear the ball bouncing, and he'd come down and I'd take my earphones out and we'd talk. About everything."

That's how their bond grew. Ballock said countless other current and former athletes surely have their own stories about connecting in similar ways with Rasmussen. The 27-year athletic director announced Monday that he will be retiring in a month.

Rasmussen, 70, was in charge of a multimillion-dollar enterprise, yet Ballock said he never seemed too busy for a meaningful conversation with anyone who walked through the CU athletic campus. Players or coaches or donors — even their friends and family members.

"It's a gift that he has, a special ability to connect," Ballcok said. "Whether he knows you for 20 years or two minutes, he gets you talking. Then you say something, and it triggers an experience he's had. He just gives everybody the time of day."

That may have been Rasmussen's defining character trait as Creighton's athletic director — maybe even the most important aspect of his impact here. Multiple people associated with the department brought it up during interviews with The World-Herald on Monday.

The Jays will miss that presence. Athletes, coaches and administrators acknowledged that fact, while also expressing excitement for a man who finally gets to take time away from the job.

"There's just an overwhelming sense of happiness for him," said Associate A.D. Kevin Sarver, who's entering his 33rd year with Creighton athletics. "He won't be the guy opening the building every morning, but I'm sure he'll be around."

It wouldn't be CU without Rasmussen.

Rasmussen guided Creighton into a new competitive stratosphere. He fundraised to build new facilities — one of them has his name on it. He hired successful coaches.

But as his colleagues reflected Monday, they often focused on his genuine, judgment-free interactions with those around him. His approach to the job seemed to create a family-oriented culture that permeated through all 14 sports programs.

When women's basketball coach Jim Flanery found out that his girlfriend (now-wife) was pregnant, he went to Rasmussen. And his boss talked his ear off about the joys of fatherhood.

When former women's basketball player Marissa (Janning) Murphy lost a season to injury and found herself dealing with the emotional toll, she sat down to chat with Rasmussen.

"I burst into tears in his office," Murphy said. "You can tell when someone truly cares for you. I could see he was hurting for me. And then he's reminding me there's light at the end of the tunnel."

Volleyball coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth tweeted that Rasmussen cared more about people than wins and losses or donor dollars. That doesn't always happen in high-level college athletics, she said.

It has led to success. Creighton's won Big East titles in five sports since joining the league in 2013.

It's also why head coaches have such longevity at Creighton, according to men's basketball coach Greg McDermott.

Of the Jays' 12 head coaches, seven have been in their positions for at least 18 years. Two of the newest hires — men's soccer coach Johnny Torres (2018) and women's soccer coach Ross Paule (2014) — are CU grads. That's a reflection of Rasmussen's leadership, McDermott said.

Connie Yori, one of Creighton's all-time great players, coached the women's basketball team from 1992 to 2002 and returned to campus in 2018 as an adviser to the program.

"Other than my parents, no one had a bigger impact on my life," Yori told The World-Herald. "Bruce Rasmussen is a self-made man who worked very hard in every role he's had at Creighton. He's smart, consistent, caring, wise and has an incredible way with people."

Rasmussen was undoubtedly committed to his duties as A.D.

First one in, last one out — plus weekends, Sarver said of Rasmussen.

Sarver said Rasmussen had a saying: "Don't tell me what's easy. Tell me what's right."

The CU staff heard that regularly this past year, when the athletic department faced the financial constraints of the pandemic. But Sarver remembers those words uttered by Rasmussen way back in the mid-'90s, when the department moved to a priority seating plan sure to be unpopular with men's basketball fans in the Civic Auditorium.

Rasmussen has high standards for himself and his employees, Sarver said. But that never superseded his calling.

"He just genuinely cares, about his staff, about their families, about the student-athletes," Sarver said. "He cares about their welfare, about their experience. And that's his focus every day."

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