By JASON HABERMEYER
Newly appointed Men’s Athletic Director Val Hale doesn’t condone players receiving penalties, but had he been near a football official when administrators promoted him, he would have been flagged for excessive celebration.
The 41-year-old Hale took over official duties July 1 after former athletic director Rondo Fehlberg stepped down June 18. Hale said he was surprised by the announcement but excited for the opportunity. He expects the position to be full of challenges, but following BYU sports has never been difficult for Hale, who was born in Arizona but grew up in Orem.
“BYU athletics has been my love and my passion for most of my life,” he said. “Ever since I was born I followed BYU sports on the radio in Arizona. Whenever we came up here, I went to everything — I was no respecter of sports.”
Hale came to BYU as a student in 1975 on an academic scholarship, and walked on to the JV football team as a freshman. Following a two-year mission, Hale decided to major in Public Relations and began seeking an internship at the Athletics Media Relations office. No job was available at the time, but Hale returned again a semester later, and then a third time before Sports Information Director Dave Schulthess offered him a job.
That happened to be the 1980-81 season, the year of the “Miracle Bowl” comeback postseason victory over SMU in the Holiday Bowl, Danny Ainge’s “Dash for Glory” and the year the golf team won the national championship. The events fueled Hale’s love of BYU sports.
“It was really one of the glory years in BYU athletics and I was right there on press row for all of it,” he says. “It got me excited and introduced me to the business.”
Hale has been part of the athletic program ever since, except for a two-year stint as the assistant director of development for fundraising from 1987 to 1989. In 1982 he became the special events promotion director as a full-time promoter of athletics and special events. Following the retirement of Schulthess in 1989, he was promoted to the position of assistant athletic director for public and media relations. His former boss says the experience has served him well.
“The big thing is that Val has developed a good background in the university family,” Schulthess said. “The jobs he has held have given him a good feel and he learns quickly. I’m very happy that the administration had the confidence and vision that we did in hiring him for the job.”
Hale knows the stress involved in taking over one of the top collegiate sports programs in the country. BYU ranks 12th in the nation in the Sears Directors Cup, which looks at the overall strength of athletic programs. Hale says he would like to see both the football and basketball programs consistently ranked in the Top 20, but knows it won’t be easy.
“I feel the weight of the great tradition of BYU athletics on my shoulders,” he said. “President Bateman has issued the challenge that we have all of our teams in the Top 20 and it’s my job as athletic director to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal.”
Hale is well-respected by his peers as a leader who has been prepared by three former athletic directors, including Fehlberg, who is stepping down after four years in the position.
“Val is a very close friend of mine — not only as a highly competent athletic administrator, but also as a very close personal friend who has extraordinary talents in many areas but is willing to defer both his ego and his agenda to others,” Fehlberg said. “As a result, many people may not know him as the capable leader that he is.”
Hale says the recent outbreak of Honor Code violations and character issues will be just two of the challenges he will face in his new post, and that the new Student Athletic Center will play a significant role in helping athletes adjust to life at BYU. As BYU begins its first season in the new Mountain West Conference, Hale is optimistic about the new opportunities.
“We need to establish ourselves as the big dog, but we have to do that on the field — past glories don’t mean anything now,” he said. “We want to let everybody know right off the bat that we’re the team to beat.”
That optimism, says Nancy, his wife of 20 years, is Hale’s strongest asset, along with his ability to get along with people. She shares his excitement for the new opportunity.
“I am just thrilled, and this is something he’s been working on and his dream ever since he graduated,” she said. “This is the ultimate job for him and I think he will succeed because he desires it and he works so hard. I know that when he makes a decision that he will have the overall picture of BYU athletics in mind.”
Hale serves as first counselor in the Orem Cascade Stake presidency, and knows his new responsibilities will occupy even more of his time. He enjoys spending time with his three children — Chris, 18, an incoming freshman defensive back, Brandon, 15, and Rachel, 14, and looks forward to spending time with his family, his calling and a job he loves.
“I’ve worked my way up the ladder,” Hale said. “I’ve had opportunities to leave and go elsewhere but I’ve had so much fun here that I never could convince myself that I should go. This is going to be fun.”