GWsports.com Q&A: Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero
A year into his tenure, GW's AD discusses success, transition, A-10 realignment, and Twitter
June 8, 2012
GWsports.com sat down with Director of Athletics and Recreation Patrick Nero this week to reflect on his first year at GW and the successes enjoyed by the Colonials in 2011-12.
GWsports.com - Last summer, you told The Washington Post that you wanted to "see us [GW] win championships." What was it like then to see GW win a record five titles in 2011-12? What do you think are the major factors attributed to such a year?
PN - "I think the most fulfilling part of that is to see our student-athletes and coaches be able to achieve it. Everything from the [men's] soccer game [vs. Duquesne] with the players and fans running on the field, to the [men's] tennis match when the guys rushed the court. It's just that feeling of satisfaction that your student-athletes got to experience that. I have been very lucky in my career to have been around a lot of championship programs. I understand what that means to a student-athlete to actually win a championship because that can never be taken away from you. So to me that's the best part - to know that, between those five teams, 60 or 70 or maybe more student-athletes will leave knowing that they won a championship. They will have a ring and they will have a trophy and you know those things are very important."
GWsports.com - In that same article, you said what was most important to you "would be to match the excellence that is everywhere on campus." Has Athletics made strides toward that end this past year and what remains as the biggest needs for improvement?
PN - "We have, we've made strides and I think that the first part of that was embracing winning. That's what we said from the beginning, making that the ultimate goal - winning championships and being excellent. To me, it was not just the five championships, it was also matching the excellence by having our best ever softball season, having our volleyball team have one of its best seasons, having the lacrosse team go further than they have gone recently. It wasn't just that five teams got there, just about every one of our teams made progress towards that goal."
"You're not going to do it all in one year. Sometimes that journey is even better. To see this year where softball came from and where it ended up. To them, they didn't need a championship to know that they fulfilled everything they possibly could. They became a championship-quality team. So that's what excellence is to me - everything you put in you get in equal return in the end. In the end, we made great strides in a lot of our programs."
GWsports.com - With all the success experienced in 2011-12, the flagship sports of men's and women's basketball struggled to match that success in competition. What can you hang your hat on with those programs this past year and what do you anticipate from those programs in 2012-13 and beyond?
PN - "Both of those programs were and continues to be in transition. Ultimately, we have high goals for the men's and women's basketball programs. They are our flagship programs and they have had tremendous success throughout their history. We had to, this year and over the past year, create a path to say 'how do we get those programs to be successful.' We've taken strides to do that and some of those have been difficult starts. We feel we're making progress towards getting those programs where we want them. It was a good Year 1 for both of those programs in my eyes. Are we better positioned today to have long-term success in those programs than we were a year ago? That's where I feel we have made good strides."
GWsports.com - With the Athletics Strategic Plan announcement in February, it was stressed that the university would make a firm commitment to support funding for an athletics program ranked 13th out of 14 programs in the A-10. Where do you anticipate GW will rank among its A-10 peers now in terms of funding?
PN - "It's a five-year plan, so within that the goal is that each of those programs, not just those that compete in the Atlantic 10 but in some of our sports that don't compete in the Atlantic 10, that they will be funded in the top third of their conference. Our goal is that in each year we be competitive towards the top of the conference and consistently finishing in the top third. If you do that then you are going to have the chance to participate in the postseason. Once you get into postseason that's when a lot of strange things can happen, especially in college sports where, I think except for softball and baseball, everything is single elimination. That's why college sports tend to be a lot more exciting, and you see so much fluidity in postseason."
"For us it is a matter of putting ourselves in position and in order to do that the goal is to fund the programs in the top third. Not only the top third in operating [budgets], but facilities that are in the top third of their competition and scholarships that are in the top third. It's a five-year plan and this fiscal year is really the first year of that from a funding standpoint. That's where people will tend to lose sight when they see how much success we've had this year. That was about the students. There were some changes made this year, but it was really about that pride that this is important for us and we are going to give it everything we have."
"Everywhere we won the difference is that everyone has the same goals. It is not just everyone having their own individual and personal goals. I'm never shy about saying 'this is our expectation of our student-athletes,' so why would I be shy about saying 'this is our expectation of our coach or staff member?'"
GWsports.com - What were your primary goals coming into the job last year, and where do each of those goals stand currently? Will any goals change or new goals be set entering your second year?
PN - "Coming into Year 1, it was about aligning all of the people that we work with on a daily basis. I feel that was the most important thing to do in Year 1. Everyone from our student-athletes, to our coaches, to the rest of the campus, faculty, former athletes, community, and alumni aligning to say 'we all have the same goal and same expectations of athletics at GW, how can we work together to reach that goal and how will we measure ourselves?' I feel like we have gotten there, everyone is on the same page. At this point, I don't think anyone can question what our expectations are of this program. We have made that really clear. In Year 2, we have to continue to discuss each and every day what are the resources necessary, and what are the tools our student-athletes and coaches need to reach those expectations."
GWsports.com - As a former conference commissioner, what was your role in the Atlantic 10 adding Butler and VCU? As AD at GW, what are the takeaways from adding those programs to the league?
PN - "I feel very fortunate that when I came into the job I was very aware, knowledgeable and close with Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McClade. Bernadette was part of the reason why I came to GW - she recruited me to come to GW, she said a lot of great things about it, and from Day 1 has been a great partner. I think all 14, well going to be 16, athletic directors who've worked with Bernadette trust her and have confidence in her. She did a great job of going out and saying 'how do we build the strongest conference in the country that is not based around the sport of football?' She has done that."
"We were fortunate at GW that both president Knapp and myself sat on a very small membership subcommittee involved in the expansion. That was great, but it was really Bernadette's leadership and the support of that subcommittee of three presidents and three athletic directors. It was great to have great leadership. It was similar to what we are trying to do here at GW - have all those that are interested aligned. There was never a doubt when we went out and we were able to get both Butler and VCU to join that it was unanimous, everyone agreed and said 'this is something that we need to do.'"
GWsports.com - You're quite active on Twitter with your @GW_AD handle. Why that forum?
PN - "I find it a good medium to interact with a lot of different people. I think it is very diverse. If I looked at my followers it could be anyone from a current student-athlete, to an alumnus, to a season-ticket holder, to a staff or faculty member, to somebody in my profession. So I find it reaches a great deal of diverse communities and is a way of quick, to-the-point communication. It comes down to the amount of people you can get a message out to."
GWsports.com - Sticking with the Twitter theme, in (approximately) 140 characters or less:
My first year at GW was...
PN - "A year for me to educate myself on who we were and set the path to who we want to become as an athletics department. To get an understanding from trustees and the administration of the strategic plan - evaluate where are we today, what the athletic department was like when I got here, and where do they want to see us go over the next five years."
Your favorite moments as GW AD in 2011-12?
PN - "I would say our leadership day, spending the day with nearly all 420 student-athletes at Mount Vernon Estates, was special to me. Also being there when both our men's golf and men's tennis teams won the Atlantic 10 Championships, the senior banquet and the Georgey Awards."
What's most attractive to potential student-athletes about GW?
PN - "The high-quality education. Whenever we're recruiting that's what we should start with. It's a very unique education that is for the right person. If you get the opportunity to get a GW education you should take it."
When people hear 'GW,' what do you want them to think?
PN - "One of the nation's best universities with an athletics department to match it."