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High-profile WNY athletic panel provides universal messages

It’s not too often that the athletic directors from six area colleges and universities can get together, but Wednesday provided the group with the perfect opportunity.

As part of the American Cancer Society’s “Coaches vs. Cancer” outreach program, the local chapter of the organization assembled the men to speak about a wide range of topics at a Sports Leadership Forum on Wednesday at Medaille College.

Attendees, mostly consisting of high-school coaches and administrators, listened to frank unscripted discussion among Danny White (University at Buffalo), William Morris (Daemen College), Bill Maher (Canisius College), Pete Lonergan (Medaille), Tom Crowley (Niagara University), and Jerry Boyes (Buffalo State College). Doug Buczak, a Medaille graduate who has done extensive voice-over and reporting work, moderated the event.

Early subjects included leadership, hiring practices, assessing success, and strategic planning, and the panel’s comments could equally apply to any business environment.

“The right thing is always the most difficult thing to do,” Lonergan said. “You have to be willing to do that and not compromise your values and your standards. An awful lot of what gets done correctly is done if you follow your gut feeling.”

White was emphatic about making sure than an entire organization is on board for a consistent message.

“We talk about creating one voice for the department and a clear vision,” he said. “Let’s not let things build up and have that one hard conversation because we didn’t have the multitude of maybe difficult conversations along the way.”

Crowley also addressed one specific type of dialogue to be prepared for in any leadership position.

“When you’re the A.D. or the head coach, you have to be able to say no and live with that,” he said. “If you can’t handle that, you’re in the wrong line of work.”

Boyes stressed the need to do a variety of tasks to be better prepared for a leadership position.

“In order to be in your position of leadership, you’ve had to have been in the trenches,” he explained. “How can you help your coaches if you haven’t gone through the trials and tribulations, the good times and the bad times?”

The second half of the forum delved into more sports-specific topics, with Maher speaking at length about the increasing role of technology in every level of the modern athletics department. He explained how tools now enable coaches to break down game film by player and type of play, and also allow for live game broadcasts on the Internet. He then addressed the role of social media, recognizing the advent of Facebook and Twitter as a mixed blessing.

“We don’t tell our kids that they can’t do anything,” he said. “It’s part of our world. They have to understand discretion. It’s a teaching opportunity.”

The talk about technology naturally led to an analysis of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and the recent controversy about the validity of an online relationship.

“Defending the student-athlete is the right thing to do,” White said. “You don’t want to say anything publicly which would put the institution at risk. In any kind of crisis, you ultimately have to worry about getting sued, so we’re careful about what we say.”

The final 30 minutes was devoted to recruiting. One major issue discussed by the panel was the explosion of youth sports leagues and the effect it has had on colleges accelerating their pace at seeking commitments from athletes.

“It’s a competitive business,” Maher said. “We have to try to drive that recruiting process back to a reasonable level. There are so many forces working in the recruiting process that it’s a challenge.”

To end the session, Crowley explained that there should be no difference in an organization’s ability to plan effectively because of its size.

“It’s all a matter of scale,” he said. “All the business strategies and tactics are all there, to raise money, to connect with alumni and fans, it’s the same stuff. Everybody up here can tell you where Ohio State and Michigan are. It’s not even in the same galaxy as where Niagara and Canisius are.”


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