Q&A with Don Tomkalski
Longtime sports information director at the University of Tulsa
Don Tomkalski is the longtime sports information director at the University of Tulsa. Don Tomkalski is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. He has spent 34 years at the University of Tulsa promoting its athletic departments.
Don Tomkalski has witnessed a lot over his 34 years at the University of Tulsa. He was named TU’s sports information director in 1984 and today serves as the senior associate athletic director for communications.
Over that time, DonTom or DT, as he’s known, has seen 10 Golden Hurricane football coaches and 11 men’s basketball coaches come through, while also enduring the women’s basketball program going dormant for nine years (1987-96). All along, one thing that never changed was the way he has helped facilitate smooth relations between media and all those coaches, as well as countless student athletes.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Tomkalski started in big-time sports as a kid, working as a team attendant for the Cleveland Cavaliers while also being assigned to the visiting team for all 41 home games. Then, after graduating from St. Thomas University in Florida in 1983, he interned with the Detroit Pistons, believing a life in the NBA was in his future.
But then came Tulsa. It was one of the few opportunities in athletics open in January. TU initially hired him as sports information assistant before he was promoted to SID six months later. Tomkalski has been there ever since.
To have this job for so long, staying at TU all this time, you must enjoy it. What do you love about it?
You have routines, but there’s something different happening all the time. I enjoy the student athletes, getting to know them and getting to see their success. I enjoy the coaches and getting to work with them. And I enjoy the different seasons, the different (sports). You’ve got football, then you’re going to basketball and then you go into spring, and that’s what I really enjoy about it: the variety of it.
What exactly are your responsibilities?
I am over the media relations, broadcast and video services sides. In our media relations side, we all have sport responsibilities. I manage the entire department, but my sport responsibilities are football and women’s golf.
I like to make sure my staff is involved in other events. For example, Stephanie (Hall, director of media relations) and Jordan (Korphage, assistant director of media relations) work all football games. I work all home basketball, men’s and women’s, games. I’m there to do whatever they need me to do. I may work some softball games. I like that we’re all involved in different sports. It’s something that I enjoy.
How has the job changed with technical advances?
I joke with some of our students, and I’ll pull out our old conference call phone where you push buttons and it’s a speaker-phone-type deal. I still have it here, and I have two IBM Selector typewriters in the corner, and I say, ‘See, that’s what we used,’ and it’s funny just to see their reaction. Yeah, technology has changed the job tremendously.
When I first came here, we had the old machines that you had to input the ink when you were copying stuff, and the fax machine took six minutes and it was a roller that the fax burned.
Social media has just taken it to another level, because now everyone is a member of the media.
I would imagine the social media aspect of it has probably increased your responsibilities quite a bit.
We have a social media director here now. We hired Sam (Lazarus as digital marketing coordinator in June 2017). Sam was a student of mine here in media relations and then was working in marketing, and we hired him. He’s coordinating social media for the athletic department.
How do you measure success? How do you know if you’re doing a good job?
Obviously, it’s wins and losses, but I have nothing to do with wins and losses. But when you’re winning, it makes it a lot easier to sell your product, and that’s our job, trying to push stories.
The way media has gone, obviously, we have seen the changes that have occurred locally, with fewer newspaper writers, less time for sports on TV. It’s difficult. You’d like to judge it on what kind of coverage you’re getting, but I don’t know if that’s fair, either. It’s hard to judge.
I want our coaches to feel like their sport is the most important to us. I know that’s difficult at times, because we’ve got so much going on, but I want the coaches to be satisfied with what we’re doing and sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t. And I want the athletes to feel comfortable around us and comfortable around the media and that we’re able to impress upon them how important media interviews are, and talk to them about, ‘Hey, you’ve got this interview coming up, this is what you can expect.’
Obviously, wins are what coaches want most, but whether we’re having a winning season or not, I want them to feel like we’re busting our butt for them and we’re doing everything we can for them to help their program. If we can do that, then in my eyes, that’s success. Obviously, I’d love to be on the front page every day. I’d love to be on ESPN for good things every week, and you’ve got to work toward that, which is difficult.
What do you like to do outside of work? Any hobbies?
I try to spend a lot of time with my wife, Gary Ann, and we enjoy our cats. Right now, we have three. We’ve got an older one that is 16, and we have two that are 2. I’m not a golfer because I’m really bad. I try to spend a lot of time with my wife, and I love doing yard work and that type of stuff. If I could be in the ocean every day, I’d want to be in the ocean every day.