The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 30, 2013

MSU grad living the dream in Miami

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— During Blake James’ undergraduate days at Minnesota State his favored apparel tended toward shades of green and orange — the hues of the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Why was a kid from Coon Rapids cavorting in ‘Canes colors? Simply put, he was smitten by them and all things Miami, and had been ever since he first went to Florida on family vacations.

After earning a marketing degree from MSU in 1992 he hightailed it to St. Thomas University in Miami to pick up a master’s degree in sports administration

So when James tells you he’s finally ascended to his dream job he’s not just saying the right thing for public consumption.

He’s in his second month as Miami’s athletic director, a job he says he’s coveted for 20 years and wants to still be doing 20 years hence.

At which time he’d be only 63.

The 43-year-old is one of the youngest athletic directors among NCAA major Division I schools. It’s a job he’s strived for since he set foot on campus as an odd-jobs athletic department volunteer a couple of decades ago.

This is his third stint at Miami. There were previous stops working in the athletic departments at the University of Nebraska and Providence (R.I.) College, and he spent five years as athletic director at the University of Maine.

In fact, so strong was the tug to return to Miami that he left his position at Maine to take a lesser job at Miami.

He’d been serving as Miami’s interim athletic director since October before being named permanent director in February.

On Thursday he was in Washington, D.C., watching the basketball  Hurricanes’ March Madness tournament run come to an end with a loss to Marquette.

In big-time college athletic programs a team’s season-ending loss merely signals the immediate start of its next campaign, James said by phone Friday.

“This is a 365-day job. In this business everyone’s trying to get better.”

That often equates to outspending the other schools down the road, an arms-race fact of collegiate athletics life that James doesn’t necessarily buy into.  

“There are a lot of schools spending a lot of money that aren’t winning.”

As conversation wound back to Mankato and MSU, James spoke of the Grove Street house he lived in and, before that, his on-campus room in Gage dormitory.

Then the career fast-tracker repeated something he said at the start of our chat.

“My time in Mankato was 41/2 of the best years of my life.”


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email