Apollo native returns to alma mater to help Robert Morris athletics grow
When Chris King was growing up in Apollo, his mom wouldn’t get home from her second job at Giant Eagle until midnight.
When he was a teenager, he delivered newspapers and worked in a nuclear power plant.
For the past 25 years, he has worked his way up the college sports ladder, going from staff positions at Campbell and Liberty to assistant athletic director posts at Central Florida and Alabama before settling in as AD at Texas Rio Grande Valley for the last decade or so.
In that context, Tuesday’s announcement that the 46-year-old King was taking over as the athletic director at Robert Morris was a moment for celebration.
A lifetime of hard work has led a hometown boy back to his alma mater to revel in taking the helm of an athletic program that s already is headed in a pretty decent direction.
Earlier this month, the university unveiled the new, $7 million, 4,000-seat UPMC Events Center on campus.
For the first time in school history, three teams – women’s basketball, men’s lacrosse and men’s golf – won conference championships and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in the same academic year.
The school’s basketball and hockey teams, while not perennial entrants in the NCAA field, are almost always contenders in their respective conferences.
Plenty to celebrate.
But from the moment university president Chris Howard introduced King at a news conference in the rotunda of the new arena, it was clear there was another agenda at play.
Howard isn’t content to preside over a nice, little athletic program on the western outskirts of town. He brought in King not to maintain, but to foster growth.
“He’s coming back to Robert Morris,” Howard said, “to take the Colonials to the next level.”
It’s a challenge King is happy to accept.
When he looks at UPMC Events Center, he doesn’t just see a venue that should provide a recruiting boost to the men’s and women’s basketball programs. He sees a blueprint for the school’s other sports moving forward.
“This is an incredible facility, but why stop here?” King said. “Aggressive plans, audacious thinking. Facility enhancements really take you to that next level.”
He wants fans and alumni in the seats of all the university’s athletic venues. Not just once in while, either.
“They go sit in their seats. Is it difficult to get to the seats? How are the concessions? Are the restrooms clean?” King said. “That’s all your brand. You have to take that very, very, very seriously, because you might not get that person to come back. It’s easier to retain somebody than find somebody new.”
King played basketball at Apollo-Ridge and acknowledged men’s basketball is the spotlight sport most capable of bringing acclaim to Robert Morris. Still, he said his goals for growth extend beyond that.
“When you’re in the Pittsburgh market, you’re talking Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, Pitt and Duquesne basketball, Robert Morris basketball,” King said. “A lot of the other sports get kind of pushed to the side. I don’t really believe in that. I believe in comprehensive excellence.”
Having spent the entirety of his career in the south, he said he is looking forward to new challenge of overseeing sports such as hockey and lacrosse.
“I love hockey. I always thought I’d have been a good lacrosse player,” King joked.
He also said rejuvenating a football program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 could act as a doorway to the school’s other sports.
“It is the sport that starts the alumni engagement, the community engagement in games, the excitement level that leads into basketball, that leads into hockey,” King said.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .