Shifting dreams: coach, graphic designer, USD professor
5 mins read

Shifting dreams: coach, graphic designer, USD professor

When instructor Gary Larson came to USD in 1987, he didn’t come to teach sports marketing.

At the start, Larson was head women’s basketball coach at Lakeland College in Wisconsin but said he was looking for something bigger and better, so he accepted a job as assistant women’s basketball coach and tennis coach at USD.

“(I) was assistant basketball coach during the basketball season, and in the spring I was head women’s tennis coach, so it was an interesting combination,” Larson said.

Back then, Larson said, coaches had an “80-20” contract, where 80% of their time was spent coaching and 20% of their time was spent teaching. Larson taught a recreation leadership class, as well as multiple lifetime sports classes, which involved playing sports in a class setting.

When the head women’s basketball coach resigned, Larson became head coach, ceasing to coach tennis. He stayed in this position for five years.

“I still taught, it was still all part of the deal, but it did help me do a lot more with teaching, so that worked out pretty well that way,” Larson said.

By 1996, Larson left coaching to further pursue his education, receiving degrees in technology education and teaching. From there, Larson ended up working for USD’s nursing program, doing distance education and multimedia projects for the department.

On the side, Larson worked for a company that got involved with sports television, so he began doing graphics and animation work for live games.

“We started doing live television for CBS … so we did the whole journey from the Big 10 tournament to the Final Four,” Larson said. “There wasn’t any teaching involved, there wasn’t any coaching involved, but it was still sports.”

Meanwhile, the Media & Journalism department lost an instructor who was supposed to teach a digital imaging course. The university didn’t want to cancel the course, so Larson was asked to step in to teach and was eventually hired as an adjunct professor. 

“I (was an) adjunct for about four years and then eight years ago, I got hired full-time to teach,” Larson said. “It was a big circle, but it’s back to teaching, so that’s been good.”

Landon Kemp, a senior sport marketing major, has Larson as an academic advisor. Kemp said she’s taken all of Larson’s undergraduate courses, which she said she loves because they are hands-on and project-based.

“I am not a very good test-taker or book-reader, I’m not one of those people that can memorize stuff and spit it out on a test,” Kemp said. “(Larson’s) classes are completely the opposite of that. It’s like, ‘okay let’s get hands-on, let’s actually do this, let’s actually learn this.’ That’s where I’ve figured out I actually like (sports marketing).”

Makena Bischoff, a senior sports marketing major, also has Larson as an advisor. Originally, Bischoff was pursuing an education degree, but after an internship with the Baltimore Ravens, Larson encouraged her to take media classes.

“I ended up like loving them, and at one point … I ended up totally switching over (to sports marketing),” Bischoff said. “Even when I was within education and thinking about switching over, he was able to help me along the whole way.”

Larson also went the extra step, Bischoff said, when she suffered a seizure in one of his classes and he visited her in the hospital afterwards.

“He really cares about his students and wants them to be successful … and help (them) in any way that he can,” Bischoff said.

Though he doesn’t coach anymore, Larson still manages to stay involved with athletics. When USD installed the first graphics scoreboard in the DakotaDome, Larson said Daktronics charged the athletic department a lot of money to run the board. He said since he knew everyone in the department, he offered to make graphics and videos.

“They didn’t have nearly the staff they have now. I saved them a lot of money by not having Daktronics come down and do all that. We did starting lineups for football, we did some fun videos and all the advertisements for the scoreboards,” Larson said. “When they went Division I, they really exploded with more staff, but now I train all those people to do that.”

Kemp, who is also a pole-vaulter on the track team, said Larson attends sporting events and keeps up with university athletics. She said it’s good to see a professor involved with their field of study.

“He’s been to track meets, or he’ll be like ‘oh I’m running the timing system.’ It’s good to know that he actually cares outside of just being your professor,” Kemp said.

Teaching, Larson said, is like coaching in that it involves getting students excited about their field. He said he’s seen a lot of great students come through the program, and he hopes he helped them to get excited about sports marketing.

“It’s more fun than news,” Larson said. “I really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun to see the growth and the ‘aha’ moments.”