Spotlight On: Nina Baloun, Houston Football

Nina Baloun
Director of Internal Football Operations
University of Houston Football
Hometown: Amherst, Ohio
Education: Toledo
Official bio
Twitter: @ninabaloun

What do the first two hours of your day look like?

On a normal day, the first two hours consist of checking emails, following up on anything that came up during the evening, and planning out the rest of my day. Typically we have a morning staff meeting which will also fall in that two hour window. One day a week we have an academic meeting, on that morning I print the academic reports and get those handed out prior to the start of the meeting. Throughout the day my office always has someone in it, usually players, but during the early hours they are either in meetings or lifting so it is pretty quiet which allows me to be able to focus and tackle a lot of things that I can’t always get done during the day.

Name one go-to resource (or two or three) that helps you with your duties.

My go-to resources are people, this job cannot be done effectively without utilizing the people around you. I spend a lot of time building relationships with the other departments across athletics, some of these individuals have been at the University of Houston for a number of years and they are very knowledgeable. I believe that building positive relationships with everyone from compliance to facilities can only help make your job easier. One of my main resources is our Associate AD for Football Operations, Marcus Tubbs. During this past year at Houston I have learned so much from Marcus, he is very patient with me and never makes me feel like a question is too small. He has taught me so much in not only the operations world but athletics in general. I also like to keep in touch with other teams DFO’s to get ideas on what they are doing different and to bounce ideas off of. Operations is a very small community but we all have 1 goal and that is to help these young men become successful.

If you could go back to your first day on the job and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Never let the little things bother you or let your emotions get in the way.

Best career or work advice you ever received.

Coach Mike Phair, one of the individuals I lean on heavily for support and advice, gave me the best advice “Stay Uncomfortable.” This can be looked at from different aspects but to me it means – never settle and always stay alert and ready for change. In athletics, tomorrow is truly always different then today and the moment you start to get too comfortable is the moment when things start to slip.

Another great piece of advice that comes from Coach (Major) Applewhite is “work hard but remember to have fun.” This is something Coach tells the players every day and it’s something that I think is great. Work is hard and challenging but you have to always remember to have fun!

Something that was also said to me that I always keep in the back of my mind when working with the players is that these are looking for someone to care about them. As often as I can I try and go down to training table and eat with the guys, walk back from practice with a group of them, and I always have an open door policy. I love getting to know these guys and when you really invest in them it shows on and off the field. There are guys that will text me pictures of good grades they have received, guys that bring their girlfriends to meet me, and guys that call when they really need some advice. You have to be passionate about what you, if you don’t love this job you won’t be successful. I care about our players not only as athletes, but as students, and as people.

First event, person, or job that sparked your interest in this field of work.

There are two individuals that really sparked my interest in football operations, Coach Lou Ayeni and Coach Tom Manning. I worked with both at the University of Toledo back when staff sizes were still very small and everyone did a little bit of everything. Coach Manning was moved in the operations role after the former DFO left for another job. He really put trust in me and let me help him with a lot of different things, this showed me a completely different side of football and really got me interested in football operations. Coach Ayeni also put a lot of trust in me and taught me a lot about how operations and coaching went hand in hand. Coach Ayeni also was the pro-liason at the time and let me help him with pro-day logistics and it showed me another side of operations. My time at the University of Toledo is where I started learning everything I know. It is where I learned that you never say no to work, you take on tasks and you build on your skill set. This is a job where people help each other become successful even if it means taking on something you wouldn’t normally do.

Tell us a story of the most unusual, craziest, or unexpected thing that has happened during your tenure in operations and how you handled it. Or perhaps this is another way of looking at it: What is the most creative or innovative thing you’ve had to do to address a specific incident or situation?

I was three weeks into my new role in operations, we were in the middle of fall camp and I was constantly checking the weather just in case we had to change locations for practice because our indoor facility was not ready for use. I started seeing reports of a possible hurricane and began to panic.

Growing up in Ohio and living in Illinois for four years, hurricanes were never something I had to worry about. I started to ask some people for advice and the general answer was – we will be fine, don’t worry. All of a sudden things changed, the approaching hurricane become stronger and it was inevitable that it was going to hit Houston.

After practice our Athletic Director and two senior associate athletic directors met with Marcus Tubbs, Coach Applewhite, and myself to discuss relocating the team. In a matter of a few hours we came up with a plan and first thing in the morning we were taking the team to Austin, Texas. Not only was I still new to Texas, I was new on the job and I had never been in a hurricane before. Through all of this I had to keep my emotions to myself and put the safety of the team first.

With a lot of teamwork we successfully packed up our football team and department and made it to Austin. The University of Texas was willing to let us use their facilities so we were able to still hold practice. A few days into our stay we found out we would have to switch hotels due to an earlier scheduled conference that the hotel could not relocate. Luckily Marcus and Coach Applewhite had maintained relationships with hotels from their time in Austin and we were able to move to another one without trouble.

After a week we were given the all clear to head back to Houston. We did not know what we would be heading back to and tensions were high. This experience brought our staff and our community together and made us all closer. Everyone pitched in and helped, no one cared what their specific job title or role was, we were all in this together with the common goal of staying safe. This experience made me stronger as a person and showed me that no matter the situation is as long as you work with people who have your back it will all work out in the end. On a funnier note, I had just got back from my advance trip to Hawaii to check out everything for our bowl game, I walked out my office to head to a meeting, tripped and broke my foot! This resulted in having to spend my time on the beautiful island in an air cast rolling around on a scooter.

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