Mr. Reliable: 30 Years of Stats

For 30 years, Bob Olson has held one position in the UC Irvine Athletics Department — the sports information director. As the coordinator for 18 intercollegiate athletics teams at UCI, Bob oversees what he’d refer to as a familial staff.


Balmore Ruano/Photography Intern

Stacey Shackleford has worked alongside Bob for 25 years in the sports media department. She handles media relations for women’s golf, women’s basketball and men’s volleyball. Fumi Kimura has worked with Bob for 10 years; she oversees baseball and women’s volleyball. This is Alex Croteau’s first full year in the athletic communications office; he coordinates soccer, tennis and women’s water polo. That leaves men’s basketball, men’s golf, track and field, men’s water polo and cross country to Bob.


Bob has written recaps, scheduled interviews, mailed film to future opponents and provided all the Anteater information anyone would ever need to any media contact that has ever requested it  — for 30 years. As the times have changed, Bob has changed along with them, adjusting to technology, personalities and trends (He now sends out Tweets). But Bob’s memory has never faltered, he’s always been on the ball  — a UCI sports fact-checking machine.


“Hmm … did we beat Utah State in the second or third round of the Big West Championship in 1994?” he asks himself while rifling through a stack of stat sheets layered throughout his desk. Next to his remote that he uses every time an Anteater road game is televised, Bob finds an old men’s basketball program. “It was the third round. That was quite a year,” he says with fond memory.


On a fall evening, Bob can be found in attendance at one of the men’s basketball team’s first practices of the season. He then ventures across the soccer fields outside Crawford Hall to Anteater Stadium, slips past the ropes, onto the track and over to the media tent to observe the women’s soccer team’s playoff action.


“[Bob] is a history book of UCI sports,” women’s soccer coach Scott Juniper said. “If I need any info of the history of the program, he could tell me the score of a game played on Sept. 22, 1994. Not only that, he could also tell you who scored and what the temperature was like that night.”


While men’s basketball coach Russell Turner is barking out a pick-and-roll to one of his freshman forwards from the end of the Anteater bench, Bob sits pleasantly beside him at the end of press row.  A hefty man in a black sport coat with a blue Hawaiian shirt peaking through, Bob wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to the Anteaters. While he may clap for a Will Davis II alley-oop dunk or sigh when the Anteaters commit a clumsy turnover, Bob always handles his role with professionalism and class.


At this point in the year, Bob spends most of his time working with the basketball team. When the whistle sounds for a timeout, he shoots up out of his chair, paces his way along press row and facilitates updated stat sheets to members of the media. After games, he arranges interviews, funneling sports reporters into a quiet room to meet with Coach Turner and players.


Bob puts in a majority of his work before and after games; watching the action is a bonus. Some nights, he remains in the office until 11 p.m., writing recaps and shipping off scouting reports to future opponents. At the end of the evening, he returns to his home in Costa Mesa.


Bob is single or “a bachelor,” as he likes to refer to himself. He’s never been married, but has had a stable matrimony with the Anteaters. Fargo, N.D. was his hometown as a boy. He developed a love for athletics in a state that doesn’t feature a single major sports team.


In the summers, his dad — a school teacher — would take him on three-hour drives to see the Minnesota Twins play at Metropolitan Stadium (demolished in 1985). Bob also grew fond of the Minnesota Vikings. He played football, baseball and basketball in high school. As a freshman, he was 6 feet tall and was slotted as a forward on the basketball team. He hasn’t grown an inch since. As his teammates hit growth spurts, Bob shifted over to guard. On the gridiron, Bob played fullback and linebacker. And on the baseball diamond, he claims that coaches would hide him in the outfield — they needed him for his bat.


When he was 12 years old, his dad took him out west to Oregon,while attending a conference. Before heading home, they passed through California, a place Bob would call home 14 years later.


After starting out as a hotel, restaurant and institution management major as a young college student, Bob interned at a hotel in Reno, Nevada one summer. He realized that he liked staying in a hotel more than working in one. Bob changed his major to journalism after returning from his internship and transferred schools. He received his diploma from St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. That’s when Bob met his first athletics office. Bob had found his dream job, one that combined athletics and writing, two aspects that he flourished in.


At 26, after three years at St. Cloud State, Bob came into contact with a former sports information director from UC Irvine, working alongside him in St. Cloud’s athletics office. The man told him that UCI had a vacancy.


Back then, Campus Drive was a dirt lot and there were approximately 9,000 students enrolled. Bob applied for UCI’s position, flew out to Irvine for the interview and waited a nervous month before being offered the job.


“I waited about five seconds before accepting,” Bob said. “I stumbled upon paradise; I really had a nice feel for the place.”


He was hired in 1982, the same year the Stanford band ran out onto the field as Cal executed “The Play.” It was also the year that Michael Jackson released “Thriller,” the best-selling album of all time. As Bob was getting situated in Irvine, Time Magazine named the computer “Man of the Year.” The same week he joined the staff, UCI hired Vince O’Boyle, the current coach for track and field and cross-country.


Bob, who is a month shy of 56, returns home to St. Paul, Minn. every summer to visit his parents, sister and brother-in-law. His father is retired from teaching and his mother, who was always “a homemaker,” enjoys playing Sudoku and bridge these days. They’re in their 80s.


Throughout the years he’s witnessed buzzer beaters back when the basketball team still played in Crawford Hall, and he was in awe when Scott Brooks dropped 43 points at opening night of the Bren Events Center in front of what he referred to as a “festive crowd.” He was in attendance when the fans of Omaha, Neb. jumped on the Anteater bandwagon and chanted “Ollie, Ollie” when Ollie Linton drove in the go-ahead run in a College World Series victory.


Bob has never seen a UCI national championship in person. His eyes were locked on the men’s volleyball team’s recent championships, but it was on television.


Bob doesn’t like to play favorites when it comes to Anteater teams, coaches or athletes. He’s proud of all of the current and former players, but he can’t help but show his appreciation for the “outstanding character guys.”


“Jerry Green met with the media after every game,” he said.


Green nailed a game-winner in the Big West Tournament at Utah State in 2002, ending the Aggies’ 31-game home-winning streak. It ranks near the top of Bob’s Anteater moments.


Another name that comes to mind for Bob is junior Mike Wilder. While he loves to see the afros in the crowd on gamedays, he believes Wilder should be beloved for his energy, his great personality and his work ethic.


“In the last four years, 22 of our teams have advanced to NCAA tournaments,” he said. “It’s satisfying to see the success of our teams and seeing hard work pay off. Being around young, intelligent, creative minds is rewarding.


“I like seeing student athletes attend games and show their willingness to work together,” he added.


The senior discount is now applicable to Bob at Denny’s, but he has no plans of retiring anytime soon. As long as he has his health, he’ll be wandering the sidelines, shuffling through stat sheets, writing recaps and handling his business.


“This is my life’s work,” he said with pride.


A college athlete plays four years at a university, occasionally five with a redshirt year. Coaches come and go. Some take positions at other universities, some find a new profession and some stick around. Bob Olson has seen seven athletic directors and four men’s basketball coaches come through. He isn’t looking to move his way up to UCLA, Stanford or North Carolina. He’s stable and proud to be an Anteater, accumulating information by the day, Bob is waiting for his next great memory, which he’d be happy to share with anyone years down the road.