Legendary Director of Athletics Judy Rose is retiring, but she will forever be associated with the Charlotte 49ers; her iconic leadership helped shape UNC Charlotte’s modern intercollegiate athletics program.
UNC Charlotte is markedly different from when Judy Wilkins arrived on campus as a newly minted women’s basketball coach in September 1975.
“I was hired to lead a startup women’s basketball program,” said Rose, who earned an undergraduate degree in physical education from Winthrop University. “But, I also coached tennis, taught a PE course and oversaw the lifeguards.”
A contemporary of Pat Summitt, Rose assisted the University of Tennessee coach while completing a master’s degree in physical education in 1975. During seven seasons at the helm of UNC Charlotte’s women’s basketball, Rose compiled a 93-56 record.
For Rose, win-loss records, while a measure of success, are secondary to putting student-athletes first. She recalled being a coach and getting a midnight call that a player’s mother had passed away.
"I was living in South Charlotte, but I called the player’s roommate and asked her to go to her room until I could get there," she said. "Then, I brought them both to my house to spend the night. That player, Patricia (Walker) Caldwell was going to need our support -- we were going to be her extended family."
Personal and professional aspirations led Rose to transition toward athletics administration. She first served as coordinator of women’s sports, before being named associate athletics director under Jeff Mullins, who -- in addition to being athletics director -- was the men’s basketball coach.
Chancellor Emeritus Jim Woodward said, "I wanted someone who could help build UNC Charlotte by guiding the athletics program. This person had to know intercollegiate athletics, had to have demonstrated administrative skills and an ability to work in the community and had to be respected by the coaches … Bottom line, Judy Rose was simply the best person for the job at that time (1990)."
"I felt I could better focus on running the overall program rather than just one sport; I am a detail-oriented person, and I thought I would be a better administrator than coach," she said. "Also, I thought I’d have more time for myself -- which turned out not to be true."
CONSTRUCTING WORLD-CLASS FACILITIES
More than $100 million of construction has occurred during Rose’s tenure, with much of the funding from private sources.
Rose spearheaded fundraising for new facilities, starting with the Wachovia Field House (now Wells Fargo Field House) and extending to a wide range of other sites: the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center and its Dale F. Halton Arena, the Irwin Belk Track and Field Center and its Transamerica Field, Robert & Mariam Hayes Baseball Stadium, Miltimore-Wallis Athletics Training and Academic Center, Halton-Wagner Tennis Complex, Stubblefield Golf Center, Sue M. Daughtridge Softball Stadium, Jani-King Field, D.L. Phillips Sports Complex, Judy W. Rose Football Center, Hunter and Stephanie Edwards Promenade and Jerry Richardson Stadium and its McColl-Richardson Field.
Judy Rose served as one of the University’s greatest fundraisers, developing professional relationships with donors, many with athletics facilities named in their honor. Pictured from left to right (below): Judy Rose and Chancellor Woodward at groundbreaking of Wachovia Fieldhouse; Hugh McColl, Judy Rose and Chancellor Woodward surveying construction of Transamerica Field; Judy Rose and Chancellor Woodward with Ike Belk and his sons at the groundbreaking of the Miltimore-Wallis Athletic Center; and Judy Rose with Chancellor Dubois and Head Football Coach Brad Lambert at the football stadium groundbreaking.
"Getting people interested in the University and supporting our athletics program has been a major function of my job," said Rose. "Most of our athletic facilities are named for people who didn’t attend UNC Charlotte, but they adopted us, if you will, which has been very gratifying. With EXPONENTIAL: The Campaign for UNC Charlotte, we are seeing an increasing number of alumni supporters. They are coming of age now and have greater financial resources to give back to their University, which is tremendous."
BUILDING THE BRAND
As athletics director, Rose advocated for athletics to have a branding identity to raise its visibility nationally. Her efforts resulted in the creation of the Charlotte 49ers brand for the University’s intercollegiate athletics program, which helped with team standings in print and on television, she said. Since then, the Charlotte 49ers marketing team has entered into various radio and television contracts and other promotional efforts to foster the 49ers brand, regionally and across the country.
She also championed the University and Charlotte as ideal hosts for NCAA tournament events. Her efforts led to the Queen City’s selection for the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 1994, the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 1996 and the 1999 and 2000 Men’s Soccer College Cup. Charlotte continues to host first- and second-round games for the men’s basketball tournament.
“Getting people interested in the University and supporting our athletics program has been a major function of my job.”
Athletics under her leadership also navigated a host of conference moves -- from the Sun Belt to the Metro to Conference USA to the Atlantic 10 and back to Conference USA.
Intent on securing the ongoing success of the Charlotte 49ers, Rose engineered a noteworthy capstone to a modern intercollegiate athletics program -- football. Chancellor Philip L. Dubois, who’d returned to the University in 2005 after eight years as president of the University of Wyoming, appointed a Football Feasibility Committee, chaired by Mac Everett, a retired banking executive and former UNC Charlotte trustee.
Officials spent nearly two years researching the impact and implications. In November 2008, the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees voted unanimously to add football as part of the University’s Athletics Department.
"Going after what you want takes courage, and achieving it takes everyone," Rose said at the time of this historic decision. "Uniting this campus and this city with this game isn’t a challenge -- it’s an honor."
Rose and her team set about the work of building the football program. Football seat licenses were sold to generate revenue to support the program. Brad Lambert was hired as the team’s inaugural coach. Charlotte philanthropists embraced the vision and provided substantial gifts -- including Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America, and Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. Ground was broken for a stadium in April 2011; it was completed in time for the Charlotte 49ers first game on Aug. 31, 2013.
THE END OF AN ERA
For Judy Rose, June 30 will bring a close to 43 years at UNC Charlotte, a tenure virtually unprecedented at the highest level of leadership. She promises that she and her husband will continue to be phenomenal supporters and great fans of the 49ers.
"Regrets? Absolutely not. Good, bad, up and down -- you take them as they come," she said. "I surrounded myself with great people who have been very loyal. Together, we’ve created the infrastructure for this program. When we didn’t have the right conference affiliation, we moved to fit us at the time.
"We’re bookended by the ACC and SEC,” she said, noting the prestigious Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences. "I hope that what we’ve put into place -- the buildings, facilities and support -- that at some point in the future, when realignment comes again, we’ll be considered for one of those.
"We’re in a dynamic setting with great relationships with professional sports teams and surrounded by great people across campus and in the community -- there’s nothing but bright days ahead."