If home is where the heart is then Jim Donovan has found himself right where his heartbeat began, in Orange County. In a press conference on Dec. 13, Donovan, 53, ensured his stay at home as he was named as Cal State Fullerton’s 11th athletics director.
He is no stranger to campus of Cal State Fullerton as he used to help drop off his father as he was taking classes to complete his master’s degree in system engineering, which he completed in 1970. Donovan recalls waiting for his father’s classes to end at night while parked on Nutwood Avenue with his mother.
“He (Donovan’s father) would walk across the street, get in the car and go home. So he would talk to me about his classes, and I didn’t understand, it was system engineering so it was way over my head,” said Donovan while laughing.
Donovan was raised in Anaheim and recalls it as being one of the nicest places to grow up in the country. Sports also became a big part of his life at an early age as he began competing in pop-warner football.
“Through my participation in sports, I really enjoyed being a part of a team and a bunch of people working together for a common cause, common goal,” Donovan said.
Eventually he attended Servite High School and continued performing on the athletic field there. He said that from an athletic standpoint, the school emphasized discipline and the players there were fortunate enough to have experienced coaches. However, Donovan, believes that not only athletics were important there but also an emphasis on academics.
“Often times I finished practice at 6:30 or 7 (p.m.) and I’d be doing homework until 10:30 or 11 at night … So it really helped me be successful in college both athletically and academically and the whole experience has helped me become successful in life,” Donovan said.
After Servite, Donovan attended Santa Ana College then went on to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geography. At the time, it was one of the top 20 geography departments in the country.
He also was a student-athlete at the university as an offensive lineman in the 1981 and ‘82 seasons. They had winning records in both years and at one point in the ‘81 season were ranked 16th in the country.
Shortly after graduating, Donovan started out as a facility manager for the baseball stadium at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He did that for three years then moved on to sports marketing which he did for six years. Then he began supervising the ticket office, business office and marketing, and worked his way up to the No. 2 position where he ran much of the administrative side of the department.
He then left the university to work for ESPN for about six years. In 2008, Donovan came back to the University of Hawaii at Manoa but this time as the Director of Athletics. With the position, he was overseeing a 21-sport operation with a budget of more than $30 million from 2008-12.
Just four years later, in 2012, Donovan was placed on an indefinite paid administrative leave then ultimately not reinstated as the Director of Athletics. In December, Donovan found himself at the next stage of his career as he was named the Director of Athletics at CSUF.
“I always will love Hawaii but I really appreciate the opportunity to come back and be the Athletics Director at Cal State Fullerton because that’s where I grew up and I really understand Orange County,” Donovan said.
When compared to the University of Hawaii, it would appear that the athletics department at CSUF is much smaller; however, he believes that the concepts are still the same.
Aaron Tapper, assistant athletics director of facilities, said that he thinks Donovan has done a great job with the transition as he is going right after all the wants and needs from the different areas of the athletics department and university. Tapper also said that Donovan has many traits that will help the athletics department moving forward.
“He likes to look at the big picture and he’s very motivated, very customer service oriented. I think it’s going to benefit greatly. He also wants to be a collaborator on this campus and work with all the departments on campus and get Titan athletics to where it should be,” said Tapper.
Donovan said he has many reasons for his return to Orange County, the first being that his parents still live in Anaheim while in their late ‘80s and he’s excited to be closer to them. He also said another great reason to be at Cal State Fullerton is because of the area being one of the best recruiting areas in the country. Lastly, he said that both President Mildred García and Berenecea Johnson-Eanes, vice president for student affairs, understood the value of athletics to a university.
“When you have that top level administration understanding why athletics is important and what role it plays for the university. You combine that with being able to come back to an area that I know, with the potential and with the support in the administration, it just made a lot of sense to take this job,” Donovan said.
A big focus that he has had in his short tenure as the athletics director has been something he calls the “Titan Top Ten Musts” list which he has shared in the athletic department’s first full staff meeting, his supervisors, donors and the state basketball booster club. A big theme in the list is a focus on customer service, which he feels is a key component in running a successful business.
Chief of Operations David Forgues said he believes Donovan’s goal is the same as everyone’s for student-athletes to be successful both on the field and in the classroom. Forgues is also familiar with the “top ten” list and thinks it’s great for the athletic department.
“I think that it shows the level of expectation that he will have for all of the folks in athletics. I think that is really good and I think people have really appreciated hearing very directly from him exactly what he expects and exactly what direction he wants the program to go in. I think that’s just a great way to start things off,” said Forgues.
Donovan said his passion comes from seeing student-athletes graduating and becoming successful in life. He believes that there are various components and tools that a student-athlete can take from their competitive experience and apply them to all facets of life.
“Being a part of a team, having a game plan, reaction to adversity, belief in yourself, belief in others, paying attention to detail and by the way winning, winning is a very important component in life. So those are all the things they get taught here, seeing them graduate and be successful in life that’s my passion,” Donovan said.