Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The AD Emeritus

The man is standing at a podium, lecturing, perhaps.

His suit is black, his shirt is white and his bow tie is bright orange - as is the hint of the handkerchief that is barely making its way above the top of his suit pocket. His hands are folded over, and he has a serious expression on his face.

He certainly looks like what TigerBlog would think of when the terms "Princeton" and "emeritus" are used in the same sentence.

The parrot he shares the podium with has an orange beak, though it's mostly red, yellow and blue. This isn't a real parrot, of course.

This one is a toy, one that with the simple push of a button will record and somewhat distort whatever it hears and then play it back, leaving the listener to wonder who is speaking and what is going on.

It's just one of the many toys that the newly minted Director of Athletics Emeritus for Princeton University has had in his arsenal these past two decades. And of course, it's a dead giveaway that this isn't a traditional emeritus-type.

TigerBlog heard from Gary Walters last night that he had been conferred (TB assumes that's the correct word) the title of AD Emeritus by University president Christopher L. Eisgruber and by a unanimous approval of the Board of Trustees.

It's a rarity, TB assumes, for someone in the position of Director of Athletics to earn emeritus status. It's usually reserved for retired tenured professors.

TigerBlog isn't completely sure what having emeritus status means, if anything, on a practical level. He does know it's a term of respect, and in that case, Gary has certainly earned it.

It's the day after Commencement, a few days past Reunions and nearly a week after the Princeton Varsity Club senior awards banquet. In a normal June at Princeton Athletics, things would be slowing down considerably, with year-end wrap-up tasks to be followed by summer camps, vacations and then the coming of the new athletic year.

This is hardly any other June at Princeton Athletics though.

It's been awhile since Gary announced he was stepping aside as the Ford Family Director of Athletics, something he first made public at the first staff meeting of the recently completely athletic year, back in early September in Dillon Gym. That's nine months ago.

TB had a few days head start on the news, mostly to prepare the public announcement. He first heard about it in Gary's office, when his boss of 20 years somewhat nonchalantly mentioned it.

TigerBlog remembers his reaction, which was one of being shocked and not shocked at the same time. Gary had said in the past that he wanted to be the AD for 20 years and the reality was that at some point he would no longer be the head man of the department.

Still, to hear the words verbalized in that moment was somewhat stunning and unexpected, even if TB knew they were coming.

That led to the last nine months, most of which were business as usual with Gary as the AD. Eventually, a new AD - Mollie Marcoux - was announced, and the planning for her arrival began.

Still, the fact that Gary will soon be vacating his position - and taking on emeritus status - took on a greater sense of immediacy to TigerBlog when he saw, of all things, this month's "current events" email from Kim Meszaros, which came out yesterday. For some reason, that triggered in TB the thought that when the next one comes out, Gary will no longer be the Director of Athletics.

In fact, Gary's last day is June 30. When TB was putting together the story on about Gary's new status, it also dawned on him that June 30 would mean that Gary's tenure will have lasted exactly 20 years. July 1, 1994, through June 30, 2014.

During Gary's time as AD, Princeton won 220 Ivy League championships (the next best total in the league during that time is 146, the third best is 99) and 46 national championships. It's an extraordinary record of sustained athletic success, and TB wonders if there is another team in another conference that can match that record for the last 20 years. Maybe Stanford?

And of course none of that on-field success takes into account all of the time that Gary spent devoted to the student-athlete experience and the educational benefit of playing a sport at Princeton. What did he call it? Um, um - oh yeah "Education Through Athletics."

TigerBlog and everyone else at Princeton have had nine months to get used to the idea that change, major change, was coming. It's exciting to think about a new director, in what directions she will take the department, what priorities she will have.

Still, that's all a few weeks away. For now, it's the immediacy of the fact that it's very close to the end of Gary's 20 years as AD, something that will become more and more immediate the closer to the end of June that it gets.

Announcements like yesterday's make it even clearer.

Director of Athletics Emeritus. A fairly rare title, TB assumes - though well-earned in this case.

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