By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Sean Ford couldn’t find a job for a year after graduating with his master’s degree and working four internships at four different colleges in a four-year span.
Jim Tooley worked as an unpaid intern and later paid his dues for seven years in the Continental Basketball Association.
Today, they are what Jerry Colangelo calls his “right arm” and his “left arm” at USA Basketball: Tooley as the executive director/CEO and Ford as the men’s national team director.
Together, they have 38 years of experience at USA Basketball, which they shared Tuesday afternoon during a question-and-answer session with a sports marketing class and other students at Grand Canyon University.
“I think back to being in class just like you guys are right now. Everything is out in front of you, with more questions than answers,” Ford told the students. “You know what you want to do but you’re not sure how to get there. … I always tell people who want to get into sports: ‘If you want to do it, you’ll be able to do it. It just won’t be at the pace you want.’
“But it’s not how fast you get there, it’s how long you stay. If you picture where you want to be, make sure you’re ready to be there so you can stay there for a long time.”
Ford and Tooley were in town to meet with Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball, about that organization’s future – which Colangelo hinted could include a youth initiative and expansion with offices in Phoenix.
But before they got to all that, Colangelo brought his two guests to GCU to speak to students from the Colangelo School of Sports Business that bears his name.
“One of the things I said I would do is expose you to people in this business,” Colangelo told the students. “And the business of sports is enormous.”
Ford and Tooley stressed to the students that making connections with people, treating those people the right way and expanding their networking skills were paramount to finding a job in the industry. And, even then, they’ll probably have to start at the bottom.
Ford was a manager for the basketball team at Villanova for four years, went to Georgia Tech for a 10-month internship that paid $6,000, moved on to the University of Massachusetts for its sports management program while serving as an administrative assistant for men’s basketball coach John Calipari, did another internship at the University of Cincinnati while finishing his master's that paid $500 a month plus room and board, and volunteered at USA Basketball during the summers of 1993 and ’94.
In other words, he wasn’t getting rich. But he was doing what he loved and making connections with people. And he wasn’t afraid to relocate to advance his career.
“There were four times in my life I packed up everything I owned and put it in a car and drove to another state,” Ford said. “You have to be flexible.”
Tooley had similar experiences.
“I didn’t get paid for my first internship, and that’s the job that launched me into the rest of my career,” Tooley said. “I could have flipped burgers or whatever and made more money, but I wanted to be in this profession. I had an opportunity to work in this industry and get paid zero, and it’s the best thing I ever did.”
Rikki Jaeger, a senior at GCU, sought advice from the speakers about networking and getting in front of those key executives while working at an internship without seeming pushy or interrupting their busy schedules. She was relieved to hear that most executives at their level like to give back and lend a hand to younger professionals looking to further their sports business careers.
“It was good to hear that they look for us to come up and shake their hand,” said Jaeger, who has heard Colangelo speak on campus before.
“This was one of the more informative ones we’ve had,” she said of the question-and-answer session. “He has been able to bring in executives he works with to share their experiences. … Those connections open up a lot of opportunities for us as a smaller school.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].