Last week, Lawrence University announced its search for a new Director of Athletics, a role the university has historically filled with one of the coaches within the athletic department. Since 2009, Mike Szkodzinski has held this position in addition to his role as the head hockey coach at Lawrence.
A dual responsibility of leading a specific team and of supervising every other program in the department has always proved a challenge, as balancing both doesn’t enable a director to devote all his energy to the department or a coach to devote all his energy to his own program.
“There really was not just one reason that led to this decision,” said Szkodzinski, whose contributions to Lawrence Athletics have included renovations to the Banta Bowl, the Lawrence tennis courts, the Whiting Field track, the baseball and softball fields, and a new scoreboard, lighting and sound system in Alexander Gymnasium. Additionally, he has led the Viking hockey program for nine seasons and has gained a reputation as the coach with the most wins in Lawrence hockey history.
“It came down to the realization that one person cannot do both jobs at the level needed to be excellent,” Szkodzinski said. “There simply is not enough time in a day to do everything that needs to be done as a coach and a director. Our athletes deserve a full-time athletic director and our hockey team deserves a coach who can give them his full attention.”
Head cross country and track and field coach Jason Fast said, “With all our teams getting bigger in size and with several expanding facilities, having someone who is just the athletic director will allow us to continue to do the things we want to do.” Fast was one of Szkodzinski’s numerous additions to the Viking coaching staff while he was athletic director.
“There’s only so much energy you can focus on each area when you combine a director with a coach, so someone solely dedicated to administration can be more focused on setting a standard for the whole department and helping us all move forward.”
Under Szkodzinski’s leadership, the athletic department has begun growing in size and prestige, and he is confident the forward momentum will continue.
“Viking athletics is in a great position to take another step toward excellence,” he said. “The current staff and coaches are outstanding. The university administration—President Burstein and Provost Burrows, specifically—are 100 percent behind athletics. We all should expect even greater accomplishments in the very near future.”
Szkodzinski will remain the head of the athletic department until a new director is found. “We are confident our university administration will create a committee that is fully capable of hiring the best candidate for the position,” he said.
Who is that best candidate? Ideally someone with administrative experience, particularly in an environment similar to Lawrence. Understanding the liberal arts agenda and the rigors of our institution are important, especially considering the needs of our student athletes and our university.
“This change is more evidence that the university believes that a strong athletic program is an integral part of a liberal arts education,” explained Szkodzinski. “Having someone who can focus solely on enhancing the department as a whole will be a tremendously positive change.”