“We got about halfway through fall ball two-a-days, and our new athletic trainer faced a sudden medical condition that took him off the field.”
The start of Ross Bailey’s career reads more like the second act of a Shakespearian tragedy than a young athletic training assistant’s big break. At the start of the 1976 Texas Christian University Horned Frogs’ football season, the team’s longtime trainer fell ill and had to take medical retirement. This was followed by the exit of the former athletic trainer’s righthand man, whose own medical condition prompted his retirement as well. Bailey had just graduated and was working as the trainer’s assistant. After the departures, the title of athletic trainer rolled down once more, calling Bailey himself off the bench.
At only 24 years of age, Bailey was named head athletic trainer, though no one had actually bothered to tell him right away. When he went to put in his notice with the athletic department’s secretary that he’d received another job offer elsewhere as an assistant, she told him, “Ross, you’ve been the head trainer here since October!”
Forty-seven years later, Bailey is still in Fort Worth, Texas. Respectfully nicknamed “Mr. TCU” by former Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Del Conte, Bailey’s tendency to “get nosy” ultimately resulted in the one-time trainer assuming a senior athletic director role and overseeing upward of $500 million in athletic construction. Bailey has been at the university long enough to see stadiums built and renovated multiple times over, but he maintains he’s got a lot of work to do before he rides off into the hazy Texas sunset.
The unlikely path from stabilizing injuries to stabilizing foundations is a little more understandable when Bailey talks about his upbringing. “When it was getting dark and my mom was outside looking for me, I could be found watching an electrician fixing something, or trying myself to figure how the telephone system worked,” Bailey recalls. “When mom went out of town, I was the kind of person that ‘tuned up’ her Pontiac, making the family car, at least temporarily, a speed demon.”
That trademark inquisitive nature is something Bailey admits has never really stopped. “A lot of what made me a successful athletic trainer is that the human body is a big machine,” he says. “It was easy for me to see how all that transitioned into the construction business.” The first project the senior associate director was able to get his hands dirty on was a remodel of the TCU athletic training and locker rooms. “In the old days, we didn’t have a lot of staff at the university like we do now to oversee these things. The reason they kept coming back to me for these projects was my mistake: We came in on budget and on time,” he remembers with a laugh.
Bailey quickly found out that he had a knack for the construction side of his athletic duties. With the changing of an athletic director and chancellor, Bailey was asked to take a more prominent role in building efforts. “They asked me to take a 3,000-foot view instead of a 3-foot one,” Bailey says. “That was 16 years ago, and it’s just been a whirlwind since then.”
Bailey helped oversee the implosion and rebuilding of the Amon G. Carter Stadium—the home of Horned Frogs football—as well as a new baseball stadium, a track overhaul, two new athletic complexes, a soccer field, a basketball arena, a second addition to the football stadium, two more athletic training and locker room expansions, and multiple overhauls of every athletic landmark listed here. It’s more than $500 million of construction, a pay grade of responsibility a bit above Bailey’s introductory training assistant salary of $7,500. “We just rolled from one project to the next, mainly because we’ve had great friends and donors to the university who have helped fund all these projects.”
Those donors are just part of what has kept Mr. TCU at the university for 47 years. “Fort Worth is such a great place to live,” Bailey affirms. “It’s everything you want from a city, but with a small-town feel.” The director says every personal challenge he’s ever wanted has come in tandem with TCU; it only seemed right to stay and see it through.
And while it’s been almost half of a century, Bailey says there’s too much to do to think about leaving quite yet. “In the immediate next year, I’ve got a football project to help finish,” he teases. “Then we’ll see what the future brings and what our new athletic director has in store.” When it’s ready to be built, Mr. TCU will be waiting.
Not His First Rodeo
While Ross Bailey’s job requirements have taken him away from his athletic training roots, he’s still able to apply his craft as a volunteer for the Justin Sports Medicine Team, a Justin Boot Company program that provides support for rodeo athletes. As one of 300 volunteers providing free medical care, Bailey has donated his service to area rodeos for decades. “It’s funny to say that I go to work to relax, but it’s true,” Bailey says. “Out there, I don’t have to be the boss. I just get to help people.”