Whitman College Picks Spelman Johnson to Find Athletics Leader

May 20, 2019 – Executive recruitment firm Spelman Johnson has been enlisted by Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA to find a new director of athletics and chair of sports studies, recreation and athletics. Dell D. Robinson, search associate with the firm’s athletic practice, and Anne-Marie Kenney, senior coordinator of search services, are leading the assignment.

The director of athletics and chair of sports studies, recreation and athletics supports the mission of the college by planning, designing and administering successful programs in intercollegiate athletics, fitness and recreation, said Spelman Johnson. The director/chair provides vision, strategic direction and administrative leadership to the department by providing development, management and supervision of both present and future facilities essential to those programs.

The director/chair is charged with fostering principles that encourage integrity, student well-being, diversity and inclusiveness throughout all levels of the organization while promoting an environment of excellence and success, said the search firm. The director/chair will be expected to develop, implement and monitor policies and procedures that promote best practices and address personnel development, financial management, facility renovation and enhancement, alumni and community relations, and compliance and regulatory expectations. At the same time, the individual must advance a high level of integration of athletics into the overall student experience.

A Range of Duties

The director/chair works closely with the admission office in the recruitment of scholar athletes and the establishment of a high-level recruitment strategy. In addition, the director/chair also works closely with the advancement office to assist and support the W Club, a membership group comprised of alumni, parents and friends of the college.

The director/chair leads and manages an organization with an annual budget of about $1.3 million, 15 varsity sports, over 300 scholar-athletes, 16 club sports, and 40 full- and part-time positions throughout the department.

Candidates must have a master’s degree, said Spelman Johnson. Significant, progressive professional experience leading a complex, dynamic, and diverse department is preferred. The successful candidate will possess a comprehensive understanding of intercollegiate athletics administration, student-athlete development, NCAA compliance within a Division III environment and the role of fundraising in supporting strategic and operating objectives.

Holistic Development

A collaborative management approach, coupled with superior communication and relationship-building skills, strong planning and fiscal competencies, a familiarity with program development and assessment, excellent problem solving abilities, and a commitment to diversity and inclusiveness will also be important considerations.

The successful candidate will ideally possess a significant understanding of NCAA Division III athletics in terms of program needs, compliance requirements, college rules and regulations, as well as Title IX regulations, said Spelman Johnson. The individual should bring a commitment to an intercollegiate athletics program that operates with the highest integrity and is focused on the holistic development of its scholar-athletes. He or she must provide leadership in the hiring, supervision and professional development of coaches, adjunct instructors and administrative staff with a strong focus on creating a shared departmental vision grounded in equity, communication, colleagueship and the efficient and focused attention on institutional strategic priorities.


Odgers Berndtson Finds Athletic Director for Colorado College
Universities continue to turn to executive search firms to find new athletic directors. Global search firm Odgers Berndtson recently placed Lesley Irvine as vice president and director of athletics at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. “Lesley Irvine will bring great leadership, vision and energy to Colorado College,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the school’s president. 


Whitman College wants candidates to have a significant understanding of fundraising and revenue development; the role calls for collaboration with the office of advancement to continue to enhance fundraising priorities and execute fundraising strategies. They should also demonstrate strong strategic planning skills and an ability to build consensus and support for short and long-term goals, among other requirements.

Pairing Leaders with Top Academic Posts

Founded in 1882, Whitman College is a selective private, independent, co-educational, nonsectarian residential liberal arts college. Whitman’s 1,498 students come from 42 states and 31 countries. The school fields 15 varsity athletics programs which compete in the Northwest Conference of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division III. In addition, there are 16 club sports, many of which are nationally competitive, and a nationally recognized student-run intramural sports program, which boasts an 80 percent student participation rate.

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. Other searches that the firm is conducting include: director of admission at Randolph College, executive director for the National Association for Campus Activities and chief financial officer and corporate secretary for the Georgia Tech Foundation.

Prior to joining Spelman Johnson, Mr. Robinson served as commissioner of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. During a span of 25 years, he has been associate commissioner of legislation and governance at the Mid-American Conference, assistant commissioner for compliance at the Western Athletic Conference and director of compliance and enforcement at the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Ms. Kenney most recently worked as dean of student success at Newbury College in Brookline, MA. With a career in student affairs spanning 20 years, she has also served as assistant dean of students at Lesley University and director of student activities and orientation at Lasell College, among other positions.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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