Jim Fiore Woody HayesOn November 11, I was invited to join the Sports Tao podcast to speak about the landscape of the athletic director position at the collegiate level.  I’d personally like to thank Troy Kirby for his invitation and platform to speak on this constantly evolving role in college sports.  Been fortunate to work in higher education for over 20 years and have served as a consultant to several organizations for the past two years while also providing leadership as Partner, President and CEO at Dynamic Sports Management.  During that time I have been able to sit back watch listen and learn so much about “The Profession”.

Over the years, the role of an athletic director has drastically changed but throughout my career both in and out of  higher education I’ve learned that some core traits are  needed in order to be successful as an “AD” and a leader.

Highlighted by the explosion in popularity and professionalism of college sports, the responsibilities and expectations have vastly increased for the decision makers (AD’s). The role is catered more towards professionals that are highly trained and experienced at a managerial capacity but also must have a dynamic personality to mange the ever evolving work place that changes quickly and without notice.

In the podcast, I spoke about my experience as the athletic director of Stony Brook University but I also referenced the lessons I learned that define the position and what makes someone successful in that leadership role on a college campus.

In 2012 I was named the Under Armour Northeast Region AD of the Year mainly because of the infrastructural changes, personnel transactions, cultural improvements, team and individual championships and overall fundraising leaps we attained at Stony Brook. Those elements of “judgement” are even more essential for athletic directors currently.  One must “be all things to all people” while making very difficult and needed changes.

I would say that there is about 14-15 different really important responsibilities as an athletic director. Personally, I took great satisfaction and pride working with great people and the opportunity to develop and mentor young people (student-athletes, staff, coaches and other entities) was incredibly rewarding.With that said, there are a handful of factors that are used to determine the success of this position.

When operating at such a highly critiqued role, it’s essential that one has an strong personal foundation at his/her core.  One must have strong faith and personal confidence that will pull them through the difficult decisions that this position may require and any and all fall out of such decisions. One must have a loyal and strong inner circle within the workplace and outside and away from the office. 

Being an athletic director requires a great deal of leadership because it is an all encompassing role with many moving parts. But, personally, I believe that a potential athletic director must do the following to sustain and grow as an employee as well as grow the university’s program. They must have a strong core confidence, be introspective, secure tight knit and trusted inner circle, be able to manage BOTH “up” and “down”, and have the ability to develop, articulate and sell a vision and mission for success.  You must have strong interpersonal skills.  Such,  vision and mission for success must be communicated effectively through all levels of the organization internally and externally.

It’s also essential to have prior managerial experience because collegiate sports has evolved into a business just as much as it is a past time. Finally, you must have faith in your decisions.  The reality is that the skill-sets of successful college athletic administrators vary per case just like the the role itself does. Division I institutions employ hundreds of staff members and place a large focus to generate revenue and fundraising which leaves an array of responsibilities for the athletic director.

Though the landscape of the collegiate athletic director is changing, the principles that make a successful athletic director still stand. Maintaining a voice that’s in-line with the university’s vision of the athletic department is mandatory, but the determining factor are the values and goals that you’ve set for yourself.  It is a great profession with great people and the opportunity to develop and mentor young people (student-athletes, staff, coaches and other entities) is a responsibility that is both humbling, enticing and incredibly rewarding.