October 27, 2023 – Executive recruitment firm Spelman Johnson has been retained by University of California, Santa Cruz, to lead in its search for a director of athletics & recreation. Dell Robison, athletics practice leader and senior consultant, and Anne-Marie Kenney, senior consultant, are leading the assignment. The school seeks a dynamic, student-centered, and culturally competent professional to serve as its next director of athletics and recreation.
Reporting to the campus provost/executive vice chancellor, the director of athletics and recreation has overall responsibility for all aspects of the Department of Athletics and Recreation, including the visionary leadership, strategic development, management, coordination, and supervision of a comprehensive NCAA Division III intercollegiate athletics program. The director leads a team of over 50 coaches and administrative staff and oversees an operating budget of approximately $2.7 million.
As a strong institutional partner, the director provides leadership to staff and coaches and works collaboratively and productively with a wide range of constituents, including but not limited to the Campus Provost’s office to which it reports, and to the offices of External Relations, Student Affairs and Success, the Student Union Assembly, the greater Santa Cruz community, the Coast-to-Coast Conference, and the NCAA.
Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree and significant, progressive professional experience leading a complex, dynamic, and diverse department They will possess a comprehensive understanding of intercollegiate athletics administration, scholar-athlete development, NCAA compliance within a Division III environment, and an appreciation for recreation and physical education as a component of a comprehensive education. The next director should be able to mentor and inspire the professional development of coaching staff, recreation staff, and athletics administrators; commit to supporting recreation in the holistic development of students; and have demonstrated strategic planning acumen. An advanced degree and significant capital planning and fundraising experience are preferred.
UC Santa Cruz is a student-centered research university and a member of both the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the ten-campus University of California system. Founded in 1965, the school offers 65 graduate programs, 64 undergraduate majors, and 41 minors. UC Santa Cruz’s athletics program consists of 15 varsity sports – men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, soccer, volleyball, swimming, cross country and diving, and women’s golf.
Spelman Johnson is based in Easthampton, MA. Established in 1991, the search firm has helped hundreds of academic institutions identify professionals, pairing leaders with positions across all facets of colleges and universities.
Mr. Robinson partners with organizations of all types to recruit athletic directors, commissioners, coaches, and other leaders across all athletic associations, divisions, and conferences. A former NCAA Division I athlete with over 25 years of experience in athletic leadership, he draws on his deep experience in sports and athletic administration and leverages his professional network for his clients. Prior to joining Spelman Johnson, Mr. Robinson served as commissioner of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
Based in Boston, Ms. Kenney leads searches across a range of institutional types and administrative functions, with particular depth of practice in student affairs, student support services, and intercollegiate athletics. She joined Spelman Johnson in July 2018 after a 20-year career in student affairs at private institutions in Massachusetts. She most recently served as dean of student success at Newbury College.
Athletic directors are playing an increasingly vital role at colleges and universities across the country. With the expansion of athletic departments and, for the larger schools, the infusion of big dollars for sports, more schools have turned to search firms when such positions become open. Too much is at stake, they feel, to go at it alone. What’s more, the AD job has come to demand greater business and management skills than the typical academic search.
“The AD today is the CEO of athletic operations at a college,” said John Lahey, current president at Quinnipiac University. “Thirty to 40 years ago, you were more likely to see former coaches and athletes promoted into those roles as a way of rewarding success or longevity, but now you need a business-person who is able to lead people, generate revenue and understand how the marketing and brand of athletics can impact the entire university.”
Bill Lennox, president at St. Leo University in Florida, said schools must make sure that the AD is a senior member of the entire university staff. “We moved the AD to the equivalent level of a vice president, so he sat in all of the meetings and in the decision-making process with the rest of the VPs of the university,” he said.
The modern AD position oversees finances, marketing, human resources, student-athlete wellness, media contracts, and of course overall performance – all while salaries head well into seven figures and beyond.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; and Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media