Every Wednesday, Shannon Kelly will sit down with a coach's wife, a former Wolf Pack athlete or a woman in the Northern Nevada community to have a conversation over a glass of wine (or whatever drink they choose). This week, she sat down with Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness at TMCC, Tina Ruff. They talked about launching her career in the coaching world, making the transition to athletics, advice to women pursuing a career in sports, remembering TMCC assistant coach Gonzalo Lopez and some of Tina's hobbies, among other topics.
Foot in the door
Sports have always been a part of Ruff's life. She played softball at Reed High for Dick Allen and at Arizona State for Linda Wells, who were some of her biggest mentors. She wanted to follow Wells’ footsteps as a coach, so Ruff pursued her master’s degree in educational leadership and was a graduate assistant for the Sun Devils before landing her first coaching job at Minnesota State University, Mankato as an assistant softball coach and human performance instructor. Ruff returned to Reno in 2002 to help former Sun Devils assistant coach, Michelle Gardner, help relaunch the Wolf Pack softball program before she began a 14-year tenure in the Wolf Pack administration.
"I got this passion of wanting to be in administration and wanting to work with all sports and be part of that," Ruff said. “Before Coach (Chris) Ault stepped away from being the athletics director, before Cary Groth came in, he promised me a GA position, so I was going to go back and be a GA and get my doctorate, so that’s what I wound up doing. Coach decided mid-year of 2003 to go coach football, then we hired Cary in April of '04 and she honored that and put me in the compliance office as a graduate assistant and then eventually I became full-time and eventually moved into the business office, and then moved into facilities and operations as an assistant AD, then an associate AD and then Doug Knuth got hired and I got put on senior management team, so the rest was history from there. I kind of grew up in administration from that point.”
Be a utility player
In fall 2018, Ruff was named the Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness of Truckee Meadows Community College. I asked her how her time with the Wolf Pack helped prepare her for her next journey.
“There’s a couple things that come to mind, just having the willingness to tell someone what you want to do and where you want to go, and that’s huge for growing in a career, especially when mentors are above you and you have supervisors who are willing to move you up because you are willing to do whatever," Ruff said. "You just have to work hard and have the grit and then also if you are good at what you do you’re very detail oriented and you’re a sponge and you bleed the Silver and Blue or whatever colors wherever you work and you’re always there, and always asking questions and you’re always willing to learn, those mentors are going to want to bring you up and move you along.
"So that’s kind of what happened, and then whenever there was a spot available for growth, they thought of me. I was a utility player when I was an athlete. I feel like when I was in the athletics department, I could play all kinds of positions and I feel like I was pretty versatile, so you just have to be able to have it. It’s kind of prepared me for what I’m doing as an athletics director now, because you have a lot of filters, right? And you come from a lot of different places, so when I’m talking about facilities, I’ve done that. Remember when you were a softball player, I was in game management.
"Also the budget part of it, how much money you need and how much money you need to go raise, the development part of it is actually going out and raising that money, and I worked in athletics fundraising at Nevada, so there’s just a lot of things that you do as an athletics director, you have a lot of hats that you wear, and doing what I did at Nevada really prepared me and launched me into this opportunity.”
With nearly 20 years of experience working in collegiate athletics, I asked Ruff what advice she would give to women wanting to pursue a career in athletics.
"One good one would be to get your master's degree," she said. "I think that in order to get yourself in the 'yes' pool these days is to get your master's degree, finish that. Also be willing to learn and just be able to get dirty and do what you need to do. If you want to be in facilities and operations, if you want to be an equipment manager, if you want to be in the business office, but be willing to cross train too and learn other areas and be that utility player, be that person. Also, I think be assertive and be willing to speak up at the management table and be willing to fight the good fight because no one else will if you don't."
A new opportunity at TMCC
Almost two years into her journey with the Mighty Lizards, I asked Ruff what she's learned most during her time at TMCC so far.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Ruff said. “I’ve learned that TMCC is a fantastic place to work. I have such great collages. The junior college level is a really fun time for student-athletes... It’s an opportunity for students to go to college that they never thought maybe they could go to college and working with a really great team of individuals that we’ve assembled. We really have wrapped our services around our student athletes to provide them with the services that they need to be able to get them to an AA degree and hopefully launch them into a four-year institution, but giving them those skills, so learning about the junior college level has been a big thing that I learned and we’ve gone through a lot of trials and some challenges this last year just becoming a first year program, so that’s something that’s been huge for me has been learning how to launch a program.
"So when you’re at a Division I, four-year school you are like one unit, so at a junior college, so at a junior college like myself, I’m a one person show with my coach so you really have to really rely on other people that wear other hats in other units and you really collaborate with the people on the education and student services side and then really help education them about athletics and they help educate you about their areas so that’s been a huge learning curve for me too.”
Wine Wednesday topics with Tina Ruff
- Running an athletic department from home – 0:00
- Pursuing a career in sports – 2:52
- Foot in the door in Minnesota – 4:06
- Returning to Reno 4:49
- Pursuing a full-time role in athletic administration – 5:40
- How Nevada prepared Ruff for TMCC – 6:58
- How the landscape of an athletic department has changed – 9:55
- A new opportunity at TMCC – 12:05
- Advice to women pursuing a career in athletics – 18:05
- Remembering TMCC’s Gonzalo Lopez – 19:45
- Tina’s hobbies – 21:29