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Athletic Director In Residence: Jim Paquette (Loyola Maryland)

By Jim Paquette, Loyola Maryland
8 min read

I’m in the process of interviewing for two positions at the same time, one internal and one external (that happens to be in the same conference). It looks now like I am going to receive offers from both, but my preference is for the external position. Right now I have received the external position offer in writing but I need to clear a background check which will take about 2-3 weeks. My athletic director sent me an email today saying he wants to meet sometime in the next week to hash out details.

 

What is the best way to turn down the internal offer without hurting my relationships in the department and university? I can’t officially resign my position until I clear the background check, but I don’t want to string along my current AD either.

 

First, congratulations on advancing your career.  It is an exciting time and it is critical that you are “being nice to everyone as you are moving up because you never know who you’ll encounter again on your way down”.  Hopefully, you have been having candid conversations with your supervisor and/or Athletic Director about your career aspirations.  My experience has been that it is normal to have conversations about other opportunities, but once talks advance to the on campus interview stage, you must notify your supervisor. Aside from being a professional courtesy, it is the right thing to do.  If your supervisor and/or Athletic Director learns of a campus visit from another source it may significantly diminish their trust level with you and could jeopardize your job.

 

My advice would be to meet with your AD and share exactly what is happening.  Let them know you are grateful to have had the chance to work at the institution, but believe this new job presents a significant growth opportunity and the chance to learn how another school operates.  Your decision is not a reflection of what is going on at your present place of employment but more about the potential you see in this new position. Thank them again for the chance to have worked with them and respectfully communicate that you would like to stay in touch and continue to use them as a professional resource. The AD may try to persuade you to stay or to at least consider it. Be respectful by actively listening to them and then make your decision within the agreed upon timeframe. Finally, finish strong at your old job; while it may be difficult, it’s important to leave on a high note.

 

Our most recent baseball was season was underwhelming, to say the least. In truth, our performance over the last several seasons has been consistently mediocre. Yet our head coach has been at the helm of the program for decades and is beloved by student-athletes and fans. I want us to win, but not sure at what cost. What would you do in this situation?

 

The truth is that only you can make a decision in this situation. In order to do that, you have to: (1) have a clear idea of what your on field performance expectations are (commensurate to the resources provided); (2) conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program (academics, graduation rates, student-athlete feedback, campus/community engagement etc.); and, (3) have an idea of what the coming years may be like (i.e. incoming recruiting classes).  You have to remove the emotional component of this decision and do what is in the best interest of the program and the student-athletes. That being said, you must also weigh whether or not you have the political capital to make such a move.

 

Once you decide it is time to make a change, you’ll need to have a series of conversations with the current head coach. Transitioning a legendary coach can be one of the most difficult moves an AD has to make.  Ideally, the coach will see that their program is in decline and will work with you on a seamless transition. Perhaps, they will publicly announce that next season is their last one and allow people to honor them throughout the year. However, this is not always the case and often times the coach will be in denial and simply believe they are entitled to dictate the exit on their own timetable.

 

Whatever you do, make every effort to do it in a dignified and respectful manner. You will be evaluated not only the decision to make a change but also in how that change was implemented.  The coach will appreciate the opportunity to have some input (not decision making ability) on their successor and perhaps another role in the department (Development/Alumni Relations) which may benefit the program and school.  The optics on this are critical as everyone internally and externally will be watching how you treat the head coach.  Many may agree that it is time for a change, but few will agree on how it should be conducted.

 

It would be helpful to get feedback from trustees/major donors/key alumni on their perception of the program and what their expectations are for success without tipping your hand as to what your plans are.  However, that may be not be possible because of the depth of the relationship the coach has with some of them.  Also, be sure that the leadership of the school is aware of the rationale for the change as they will surely hear about it from people once it becomes public.  If you are relatively new to the school, I would be especially sensitive to long term employees whose perspectives on the move may differ from yours.  Once the decision is made, a carefully constructed communication plan will help, but again, moving a long term employee on is not always easy.  The right decisions are not always the easy ones.

 

In the past few months, what is the smallest change you have made at Loyola that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return?

 

It’s been more than a few months, but I strongly encourage our sport administrators (and other administrators) to travel with our teams.  There is no better way to demonstrate your support, learn about team operations and more importantly to build relationships with student-athletes and coaches than to do it in different settings.  In addition, it is a great way to see other campuses facilities, to meet other administrators and to learn from them.  Some of my best conversations with student-athletes or coaches have been held at airports, restaurants, hotel lobbies or at walk thru practices.  At first, when I sit with student-athletes at a team meal they are quiet, but eventually we get the conversation going and get to know each other in a casual and low key way.  Also, if the primary sport administrator can’t attend a conference championship, we’ll send another athletic staff member who may not supervise sports.  Staff members enjoy the opportunity for travel and professional growth.

 

I worked in an athletic department with a high rate of turnover and what was (in my mind) a toxic work environment. I was fired for the first time in my professional life last summer. I know it’s something like career suicide to say your old bosses were horrible people and that you were victimized, but when asked about why you left the last job, what is appropriate to say?

 

At some point in their career, everyone will be terminated or their contract not extended.  As with most things in life, it is not what happens to you, but how you react to it.  You will not advance your career by saying negative things about your past employer and there is nothing to be gained from toxic talk.  In fact, the interview may end quickly if you go in that direction.  You would be better served by fully disclosing why you were terminated and stating that School X was simply not a good fit for you.  You should consider accepting some responsibility and state that even though it was a difficult situation it was a great learning experience and it helped you grow as a professional. The reality is that college athletics is a small world and many folks may already know that you are coming from a challenging work environment.

 

Running a mid-major athletics department can be overwhelming at times. We’re underfinanced, short-staffed, and our league seems to be in constant flux. How do you decide what (and who) gets priority in your day to day work?

 

For 16 years at Boston College, fundraising was my highest priority and I remember learning from someone to “major in the majors”.  It was simpler as an Associate AD and has become much more complicated as an AD.  While it is important to have your daily operations perform at a high level, it is critical to not get “caught up in the weeds” and lose sight of “big picture” issues.  Sometimes you just need to shut your office door, turn off your phone/email and quietly reflect on the issue that you and only you can address that will have the most impact on your department and school.  You need to quickly learn what can be delegated and what cannot.

 

For me, the best way is to just make a list and then identify a few items that, if accomplished, will result in a highly productive day.  Some people will make a list of 50 items and accomplish 40 of them.  However, if you did not accomplish the most important items on the list then you simply had an active day but not a productive one.

 

Spending time with your staff, coaches, student-athletes and the campus community is always important.  Some AD’s are committed to “walk around” management and schedule times during their day to do so. That being said, it is important to be accessible, but not too accessible.  It is critical that your team learn how to manage issues without you on occasion.  Learning to make decisions is an important part of their own professional growth.

 

For one reason or another, our department has never taken the time to create a distinct set of core values or develop a long term strategic vision. Looking at what our peers have done in the area, it seems as though all you find are cliché and often unrealistic notions of what people think their organization should stand for.

 

If you had to leave Loyola for a year and the only communication you would have with your administrators, coaches and student-athletes was a single paragraph, what would you write?

 

Most of us are involved with college athletics because we are passionate about sports and its ability to transform people’s lives. We are incredibly dedicated to our school, department, coaches and student-athletes and fully realize that we have chosen a lifestyle and not simply a job.  As you progress, through the coming year please keep a couple of things in mind.  Work Hard, work smart, work together and have fun.  Be selfless and make decisions which are based on the collective best interests of Loyola University Maryland and Greyhounds Athletics.  Most importantly at the end of the day, I want you be able to put your head on your pillow and simply know that you did your best.

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