Every year across the nation, athletic directors fill the roles of their predecessors at different colleges and universities. For some of them, it’s their first time working with that specific institution. That level of unfamiliarity adds to an already daunting task in front of them.
For first-year Springfield College Director of Athletics Craig Poisson, that barrier of unfamiliarity was knocked down early on, as he brought 19 years of experience with the athletic department on Alden Street when he took over the role in 2015.
“Knowing the people and the culture helped tremendously,” Poisson said. “But there were a lot of other things that I was new to even though I had been here for 19 years.”
Poisson’s role as a supervisor was enhanced as he made the transition from senior associate director of athletics to the full role of director of athletics. Reporting directly to President Mary-Beth Cooper, and having a deeper, more constant relationship with all 26 head coaches are just a few of the new tricks Poisson had to learn in his first year.
“So there were definitely some things that were new, but the fact that I had known the landscape helped,” Poisson added.
While the director of athletics has changed in the past year at Springfield College, one things hasn’t: the success of the athletics program. In Poisson’s inaugural year, Pride sports teams haven’t skipped a beat in succeeding at the highest levels. That success has included women’s volleyball and soccer qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, the men’s volleyball program in hunt of another championship, and many individual sport’s successful post-seasons, including the men’s gymnastics program sending six athletes to the NCAA Championship.
“That’s a tribute to the coaching staff that we have,” Poisson said. “They work endlessly at their craft.”
Maintaining a well-oiled machine of athletics is no easy task however, regardless of the level. As Poisson explained, money is always a factor.
“The challenge is, for an elite program, we try and maximize every dollar,” Poisson said. “There are several capital expenses that need to be looked at and addressed, and those of course are challenging. We’re trying to renovate the baseball diamond; we’ve done some work on that. That’s a challenging process moving forward. We’ve spent some time this year tightening up the teacher-coach evaluation process, something that’s not often seen or heard about. That had its challenges, but we met our goal.”
And of course, money aside, there are 26 varsity programs on campus that all want the best for their teams. As Poisson has learned in his first year, it’s not always easy to please everybody.
“Part of what I do every day is I try to, and I don’t necessarily succeed at it every day, but driving into campus every day, I try to make it a point that I have contact with every member of my staff,” Poisson said. “In that way, they know the director is present, is engaged and is looking out for their program. I try to get to yes with their requests, but that can’t always happen.”
But the 2015-16 athletic season has brought for some high points for the program and Poisson himself. As he explained, the strengthening connection with the Friends of Springfield College Athletics, the post-season success, the 3.24 cumulative GPA of student athletes in the fall, and the announcement of the first endowed coaching position at Hall of Fame weekend are just a few of the highlights.
One of Poisson’s proudest moments however has been wrapping the new team buses.
“I think that has elevated the pride of our athletes when they go to a contest and they’re fortunate enough to get on those buses,” Poisson said. “And I think the student population in general likes it. I received an email from a non-athlete that kind of shared with me her joy of seeing that bus. That’s a personal highlight.”
Poisson’s first year has given him plenty of chances to grow and change the athletics program as well, as two legendary coaches – Mike Delong of football and Ken Klatka of track and field – have announced their retirement.
“The work that that group of coaches did was remarkable,” Poisson said. “I factor that into our tradition piece. But then in the same breath, [the hiring of new coaches is] an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for me, and it’s an opportunity for the program. We’re taking it as an opportunity to make some changes, advance the programs.”
As the 2016 athletic calendar year winds down, Poisson and his staff already have their eyes set on the following year to come.
“We did some work this year with student athlete leadership development,” Poisson said “One area I hope to tackle in the near future is captain leadership. That’s certainly on the list. I hope to, by September, have a strategic plan, after spending one year in this office, that will outline initiatives in every area.”