Now that he’s only a few days away from a life-changing charge into retirement, is there any chance that Gil Cloud would reconsider and continue as the Tulsa Public Schools’ athletic director for another year or two?
“No,” he replied. “It’s time. This past year, with COVID and all of the protocols — it was a very difficult year. After an old friend retired, he told me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time.’ He was right. For me, this is that time.”
Cloud is happy to commit the next 12 years or so to watching his granddaughter Kylee, who already shows signs of becoming a big-time softball athlete. As a 7-year-old, she belted 35 home runs.
“I gave her five bucks for each home run,” Cloud said. “She cost me a lot of money.”
As a 9-year-old pitcher today, Kylee’s velocity has been measured at 44 mph. For a girl of her age, her fastball heat is uncommon. Kylee already has mentioned OU and UCLA as possible college destinations.
Cloud intends to be at the ballpark for every game involving his granddaughter. In retirement, he has that flexibility.
Before that, though, there is a heavy responsibility.
As the 74-year-old Cloud is the chairman of the TPS search committee, his final significant move as the athletic director will be to help identify his successor.
Tulsa Public Schools got it right when it hired Cloud, and now TPS has to get it right again. About two weeks from now — in the June 21-23 window, most likely — TPS is expected to finalize and announce a hire.
I’ve presumed that Mick Wilson, Cloud’s top assistant, would be promoted to the athletic director’s office. “We’re sworn to secrecy,” says Cloud, who won’t even acknowledge whether Wilson is a candidate.
In 2012, as TPS scrambled to recover from a scandal and identify its new athletic director, Cloud enlisted for a 4½-month term as a placeholder administrator.
A former Union athletic director, he wound up staying at TPS for 9½ years.
The Cloud era will be remembered as a time when TPS athletics flourished in spite of budget cuts. In 2012-13 (Cloud’s first full year on the job), the budget for TPS athletics amounted to $2.1 million. In 2020-21, it was $1.7 million.
There are a few less coaching jobs today than were there in 2012, but there has not been any reduction in competition opportunities for students from the seventh grade through the 12th. If a TPS student wants to play ball, TPS makes it happen.
Cloud’s department fills the money gap with annual revenue generators like the TPS Athletics Hall of Fame banquet, the Tournament of Champions basketball event and the All City Preview football games. On Friday at LaFortune Park, there is the 21st annual TPS Golf Classic.
Sponsors are eager to support these events because they recognize the need for a healthy TPS sports culture, and also because Cloud is such a popular figure in this city.
Any time there’s been a change with the TPS athletic director’s position, it’s been an important appointment for the district. In 2012, it was doubly important because the department was damaged.
Cloud’s predecessor, Stephanie Spring, had been accused of taking money from off-the-books rentals of TPS facilities. As she would serve a seven-month federal prison sentence, Cloud began to rebuild a department that was nearly broke.
“When I got there on the 7th of February (in 2012),” Cloud remembers, “we had about $15,000 in the account. The next fiscal year, we closed with $250,000 in the account.”
Among administrative jobs in urban schools, Cloud says, the TPS athletic director’s position and the TPS sports operation have positive national reputations.
A significant reason is the district’s emphasis on having quality facilities. Each of the nine TPS high schools has an artificial-turf surface on which games or practices can be conducted. Since 2010, new fieldhouses were built at Booker T. Washington, Edison, Memorial, McLain, Webster and Rogers. Soon, East Central gets a beautiful new fieldhouse.
“That doesn’t happen in most urban school districts,” Cloud said. “Also, we have good coaches. We can’t keep them for very long because we can’t pay what the suburbs pay, but we attract good coaches because of the quality facilities and support from our office. Plus, it’s a good educational environment for the kids.”
Cloud himself was a TPS athlete — a Will Rogers lineman and placekicker during the ’60s. Last year, there was a labor-of-love project: He oversaw the construction of Rogers’ on-campus football stadium.
For more than 80 years, Rogers teams bused elsewhere for “home games.” On opening night at the new stadium, Cloud was the happiest, proudest man in Tulsa.
“Combining the high schools and middle schools, we’ve got 350 coaches,” Cloud said. “After I’d been here about six months, I told (former superintendent) Keith Ballard, ‘We’ve got 3,000 student-athletes, 350 coaches, 20 athletic directors and 20 principals. Do you know what that means? I’ve got 4,000 chances to screw up every day.’ ”
It’s a funny anecdote, but Cloud’s statistics underscore the enormity of the TPS athletic department. Also, they underscore the serious nature of his ongoing project.
It’s critically important for the next Tulsa Public Schools athletic director to have excellent organizational and budget-management skills, fundraising acumen and a heart. Cloud and his search committee are looking for a candidate who would care — as Cloud cares — for all 350 of those coaches and all 3,000 of those athletes.