University of Colorado athletic director Rick George couldn't have been more nonchalant in announcing a historic piece of fundraising news Thursday during his presentation at the annual football recruiting luncheon in a downtown Denver hotel ballroom.
In front of hundreds of CU football fans and donors, George mentioned as part of a presentation on the school's facilities plan that the athletic department fundraising team already has raised more than half the $50 million needed to begin work on a $143 million facilities project later this spring.
"Good people," George said afterward when asked how he has raised so much money so quickly. "We've really gone after it hard since I've been here. Any time we have a trip we try to meet with people, and at home we host people in the box."
George's first day on the job was Aug. 12.
"I think we've got a good, solid vision for where we want to go, and I think people are wanting to invest," he said.
George said CU has more than 50 gifts committed and documented. He said most of the money has come from people who have donated to the athletic department in the past. He said several former athletes have committed to making major gifts as well.
"That's an area we need to do better in," he said. "We've had a couple of our former football players step up, and they've been very helpful."
Prior to this, the CU athletic department had never raised more than $15 million in one year. George said his predecessor, Mike Bohn, who was hired Thursday as athletic director at the University of Cincinnati, had raised some of the money for the project, but the majority of it has been raised since August.
In December, the Board of Regents approved George's plan for $143 million in facilities upgrades in and around Folsom Field and required that about $50 million be raised before construction can begin.
George has maintained a goal of beginning construction this spring or early this summer with a target date for finishing the project in early fall 2015.
George said he expects to be able to put shovels in the ground and begin building an addition in the northeast corner of Folsom Field and a permanent indoor practice facility on the east side of the stadium as well as major renovations to the Dal Ward Center in April or May.
"I just think it's a solid plan and people are excited," George said. "One thing I heard when I got here is, 'People want to see a plan before they're going to invest.' Well, we've got a facilities plan and now we're going to pull out this strategic plan in two weeks, and it's fantastic. I think people are going to be really excited about where we're going."
He is scheduled to present his long-term strategic plan for the department to the regents at their meeting in Colorado Springs later this month. George assembled a group of more than 30 people, including alumni, student-athletes, faculty, staff, donors and administrators back in the fall to begin collectively putting together the strategic plan.
It includes annual goals, three-year goals and other benchmarks the department hopes to meet over the next 15 years.
Kurt Gulbrand, associate athletic director for development and leader of the Buff Club, was hired by Bohn away from Michigan. Gulbrand was asked Thursday what has changed under George's leadership that has allowed the department to suddenly achieve such dramatic and historic fundraising increases.
"Personally, my belief is that we've come up with a plan that is strategic in nature," Gulbrand said. "It shows our needs and not our wants, and it benefits every student-athlete on campus. So it's a holistic vision that looks forward decades to come and will benefit everybody on campus.
"I think it's inspiring to our donor base. People see that and say it's a vision beyond one sport and one subset of student-athletes, and it gives them the ability to make their lives better right now both academically and athletically."