Max, Ehlers taking decades of Ram history into retirement

Doug Max

Doug Max (right) worked with Tom Weimer to get the iconic “Rocky Mountain Rumble” sculpture installed at the main entrance to Canvas Stadium. It was one of many construction projects that Max oversaw during his long career in CSU athletics.

Next time you’re at Colorado State University, and you see majestic Canvas Stadium keeping watch over the southern edge of the main campus, remember to think about Doug Max.

It was Max, you see, who oversaw the massive undertaking that led to the creation of Canvas Stadium in 2017. The two-year, $220 million construction project provided an on-campus home for CSU’s football team and has become a community gathering place for hundreds of events.

Max, senior associate athletic director for facilities and event management, has been building things on CSU’s campus for more than 30 years, including the Jack Christiansen Memorial Track, the McGraw Athletic Center, the Indoor Practice Facility, the Anderson Academic Center and the Hughes Stadium renovation and deconstruction. In all, Max (B.A. health and physical education ’75) has overseen projects worth more than $300 million and have transformed the face of Rams athletics.

“It’s been quite a ride,” he said.

No experience required

Doug Max
Doug Max was inducted into the CSU Sports Hall of Fame for his many contributions as an athlete, coach and administrator.

Want to know the funny part? Max has no background in facilities management or project management. None. Zippo. Nada. And yet he has been an incredibly important figure in recent CSU athletic history.

That’s why his impending retirement on Dec. 31 is a milestone event. When he and good friend Tom Ehlers, a member of the CSU football coaching staff for the past 32 years, retire at year’s end, they will take more than 72 years of service to their alma mater with them. And that doesn’t include the years both of them spent competing at CSU as student-athletes – Max in track, Ehlers (B.S. business ’85) in football.

“Doug is a great guy, and I’ve really enjoyed working with these many years,” Ehlers said. “Doug’s a great example of what makes Colorado State such a great place.”

Lifetime Rams

The two share many things in common. Both arrived when CSU was desperately trying to find itself athletically – Max in 1971 as a hurdler, Ehlers in 1980 as a center. Neither had particularly noteworthy athletic accomplishments – “I was a great teammate,” Ehlers said, echoing a similar thought from Max – but both went on to have remarkable influence as coaches and administrators.

Ehlers, for instance, came back to CSU in 1988 to join Earle Bruce’s staff, where he worked with, among others, Urban Meyer (winner of national championships at Florida and Ohio State) and Chuck Heater, CSU’s current defensive coordinator. In 1990, the Rams defied all odds by qualifying for – and winning – the Freedom Bowl against Oregon. It was CSU’s first bowl game in 41 years.

Mentor to Ram legends

Ehlers was retained by Sonny Lubick when he replaced Bruce in 1993, and Lubick’s teams went on to win six conference championships and play in nine bowl games over the next 15 seasons – the greatest run of success in program history. Ehlers was fortunate enough to coach a bevy of future NFL stars on the defensive line, including Joey Porter, Brady Smith, Sean Moran, Adrian Ross, Clark Haggans and many others.

Tom Ehlers
Tom Ehlers (front row, far left) was part of Earle Bruce’s original staff. Urban Meyer is next to Ehlers, and current CSU defensive coordinator Chuck Heater is next to Meyer.

Ehlers spent 15 seasons as CSU’s director of football operations, overseeing everything from team travel and meals, bowl game preparations and logistics. In all, he has either played for or worked with eight coaches and been a part of 16 of the 17 bowl games in CSU history.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said.

Like Ehlers, Max had plenty of success in coaching before shifting to the administrative side of athletics. CSU legend Thurman “Fum” McGraw hired him to be head track and field coach when he was just 26. The cinder outdoor track was woefully out of date, and the indoor “track” at Glenn Morris Field House was dirt with chalked lines.

“We had a lot of work to do, right from the start,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot, but we kept working to improve.”

A place where champions roamed

Max coached numerous All-Americans during his tenure, including Shelly Greathouse Borrman (NCAA runner-up in the discus), Mattias Borrman (All-American in the throws), Liz Toman (All-American in the high jump and shot put), Sandy Ham (All-American distance runner) and Libbie Johnson (All-American distance runner, 2000 Olympian). His two greatest athletes were Bryan Berryhill, a 10-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion (indoor mile, outdoor 1,500) and Casey Malone (All-American and NCAA champion, two-time Olympian in the discus).

Fittingly, both Berryhill (Wyoming head coach) and Malone (Colorado throws coach) are now college coaches. And another Max recruit, Brian Bedard, is CSU’s head coach.

“I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to work with so many great student-athletes,” he said. “I loved working with them when they were here, but it’s also gratifying to see them learn and grow in their adult lives.”

Gaping hole in athletics

The departures of Max and Ehlers adds to a series of retirements that has left a huge hole in the Department of Athletics. Over the past several years, senior administrator Christine Susemihl and longtime media relations director Gary Ozzello have retired, taking nearly 150 total years of institutional knowledge with them.

The four of them were reunited during a virtual celebration this week. The stories, the laughs and the memories flowed.

“Colorado State is an amazing place, and I am so thankful I had the chance to be part of this place for more than 40 years,” Max said. “I met so many amazing people – it really is like a family.”