Harper, New A-10 Athletic Directors Poised to Lead Institutions
Oct. 29, 2015
By Patrick Stevens - Atlantic10.com
It is a year of change throughout the Atlantic 10, with four of the conference’s member schools hiring new athletic directors since the start of March. Each has brought his own stamp to the job, and all four have some vital ties that should help them position their respective schools to compete for many championships in the Atlantic 10 and beyond.
Tim Kenney arrived at St. Bonaventure as an almost ideal fit for the school. He is plenty familiar with western New York from his time as a student-athlete at Buffalo, and is deeply rooted in the Atlantic 10 after spending more than a decade as an administrator at Massachusetts.
That history should serve him well with the Bonnies, and Kenney is direct in what he hopes to accomplish in the years to come.
“I think the first priority in and of itself is to position the athletic department as a vehicle that will assist the institution as a whole,” Kenney said. “With some of their challenges, that’s very important because athletics can be out there on an island. We want to be able to help with those challenges and make sure that athletics can be a solution for the school.”
To do so, improvement in one sport --- basketball --- stands out. That includes funneling more financial resources into the basketball programs while also upgrading facilities.
“We’re poised to make strides in upgrading basketball operations, whether it’s new facilities or budget,” Kenney said. “We’re setting it up pretty good. The fact we got 17 games on television is great. That’s visibility that we’re poised to start capitalizing on. We’re building it up so we’re consistently competitive in the top half of this conference every year.”
Like Kenney, Massachusetts’ Ryan Bamford was hired in March for a job that geographically suited him. Bamford, a New Hampshire native, spent more than eight years at Yale before a four-year stint at Georgia Tech (the last two as senior associate athletic director).
Bamford now oversees a program that includes a storied basketball program. It’s also a large public research university, which Bamford believes provides Massachusetts with plenty of reach.
“We have a large majority of our student population that comes from this state and a lot of our alums stay here and most of them go to Boston,” Bamford said. “We have a good base here in the state. I want to become the college property for this region and specifically for Massachusetts.”
To get there, Bamford wants to grow the entire Minutemen athletic department.
“We’ve had some pockets of championships here and there, but we’re looking forward to competing every day, representing the commonwealth and expanding our brand and strengthening our brand not only from an athletic department perspective, but also in concert with what our university is doing in becoming a top-30 public research institution. We want the athletic programs to fall under the same trajectory.”
There were two more hires in the conference in September, both of which had deep roots with Dayton’s ultra-successful department. Dave Harper, who spent several years as an administrator with the Flyers before becoming the vice president of advancement at the school, accepted the athletic director job at Duquesne.
His strategy tends to return to one important word: Learning.
Harper is familiar with Pittsburgh after spending time as a football coach at nearby Robert Morris. But there’s still a lot he plans to pick up about Duquesne as he tries to hit the ground running in his new job in October.
“It’s learning about my teammates, learning about our coaches, our student-athletes and the institution,” Harper said. “I have some information but not the depth I need to help our team get better and help our department get better. It’s that assessment, and learning while having conversations with key constituencies. What are the common themes? What are the critical things that have to be focal points? What’s going well and what needs to be improved?”
In the coming months, Harper’s goal is to help build a unified vision for Duquesne that connects university administrators, student-athletes and many more. Once the vision is set, the process moves to executing longer-term plans.
“At Duquesne, you’re going to have to be a little more resourceful than at some schools, a little more creative,” Harper said. “Where is it that we can isolate advantages for our student-athletes, our coaches and our institution that helps us with our pillars of success. We have to be savvy and we have to pursue things relentlessly on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, Dayton faced a change after veteran athletic director Tim Wabler retired after 22 years at the school. The Flyers, who have enjoyed immensely productive basketball seasons of late with both the men’s and women’s programs making Elite Eight appearances within the last two years, had a major decision to find an administrator who would help maintain such a memorable run.
Dayton ultimately didn’t have to look far, choosing deputy director of athletics Neil Sullivan in early autumn after conducting a national search. The 35-year-old is the second-youngest athletic director in school history, but has spent nearly a decade at the school.
Sullivan thus represents continuity for the Flyers, but is committed to helping Dayton’s programs grow in the years to come.
“I think we have to strike a balance,” Sullivan said during his introductory press conference. “One of our donors told me we need evolution, not revolution, and that stuck with me. I’m excited about the momentum we have and I think it’s our goal is to accelerate it and advance it.”
While there figures to be some change at Dayton --- as there will be at all four Atlantic 10 schools with new leadership this year --- Sullivan does not expect the Flyers’ core essence to be altered heavily even as some adjustments are required as time unfolds.
“We’re not going to have a major shift in culture or a major shift in our core values, but we have to attack the marketplace as the future demands as opposed to how the past demanded it." Sullivan said. “We’re not going to change who we are. We’re just going to adapt as needed.”