Thursday, August 26, 2021

Ford Family Director Of Athletics John Mack

The crowd in the Jadwin Gym lobby had been milling around for nearly a half hour. 

There was a sense of renewal in the air. For starters, it had been awhile since all of these people had been able to be together in person. Even if they were all masked, they were still together again. 

There was excitement and optimism everywhere. Had that been all there was to it yesterday morning, had it just been a chance to be together again as an athletic department, that would have been nice all by itself.

There was more, though. Much more. 

After those 30 minutes passed, the man of the hour walked in, flanked by his wife and their three little kids. The applause began immediately and got steadily louder. 

John Mack was home.

Mack, Princeton's new Ford Family Director of Athletics, was introduced yesterday morning in Jadwin Gym. A former Roper Trophy winner from the Class of 2000, Mack is an all-time Princeton track and field great who also worked in the Department of Athletics before going on to work at Northwestern and then ultimately go to law school there.

He was a practicing attorney outside of Detroit when Mollie Marcoux Samaan left to become the commissioner of the LPGA. He jumped at the chance to come back to Princeton though, since the AD job here was, as he has called it so many times, his "dream job."

Knowing why that is tells you a great deal about who Princeton's new Director of Athletics is. 

John Mack grew up outside of Detroit in a small town of a little more than 4,000 called, ahem, New Haven. His father worked in an automotive plant and was a church pastor, and his mother raised seven children - John and his six sisters. 

He was a high school running back in football in addition to running track and field. Fred Samara recruited him to Princeton, and it was on his visit that Hank Towns, then the head equipment manager, met John's father. 

"Send him to Princeton," Hank said, "and we will take care of him."

TigerBlog has heard that story before, from both Hank and John. He heard it again yesterday, when John Mack told it during his 10 minutes of introductory remarks. In fact, Hank was there too, looking good after a tough battle against COVID several months ago. 

John Mack attributes that experience, of being taken care of at Princeton while he grew from an uncertain student into a dominant athlete and graduate, to being fundamental to the person he has become since. He is driven now to provide that same transformational experience to the current and future generations of athletes at Princeton.

During his talk he spoke candidly about feeling that he didn't fit in at first. He spoke about how Princeton is a challenging place. He spoke about the hurdles one has to cross to get to the finish line, and not in a track and field context.

And then he talked about how being a student-athlete helped him get past all of that. He spoke about belonging, being part of a team, being mentored, being able to draw from that Tiger family.

It's what fuels him. It's why from Day 1 when Marcoux Samaan announced she was leaving that he said he was interested.

He will bring that passion with him every day on his new job. He was bring more than that too.

TigerBlog has known John Mack since he was a track and field athlete here. He's referenced him many times through the years here in this space. If you don't know John Mack, he is a man of incredible character and integrity. He has a great sense of humor. He is down to earth. He is humble. He is, as anyone who watched yesterday saw, a great public speaker. 

He can speak to anyone, something that was clear yesterday as he did, literally, speak to everyone. There were coaches there. There were others like TB with whom he goes way back. There were new staff members. There were some athletes. 

"Come to Jadwin and introduce yourself," Mack told them all. And he meant it too. He wants to know them. He wants them to know he's there to support them. It's why he's coming here in the first place. 

This is why whenever anyone asked TB what he thought about a new AD, he said the same thing he said seven years ago when Marcoux Samaan was hired. You need a Princetonian in this job. 

Princeton is a special place. It requires someone who can appreciate what makes it so special to run the athletic department. At least TB firmly believes that. 

John Mack is Princeton's sixth Director of Athletics. There was a manager of intercollegiate athletics in the Dean of the College's office prior to 1941, when Ken Fairman became the first to hold the new title of AD (Fairman left shortly after that to be a tank commander in World War II by the way). Royce Flippin succeeded Fairman in 1972. Then it was Bob Myslik in 1979, Gary Walters in 1994 and finally Marcoux Samaan in 2014.

They were all athletes here. Fairman played three sports (football, basketball and lacrosse). Flippin was a football player. Myslik played baseball. Walters was on the 1965 NCAA Final Four basketball team. Marcoux Samaan was a soccer/hockey player and an All-Ivy one in both. Now Mack, a track alum, is here.

TigerBlog is positive that Princeton's great athletic success has been helped along by AD's who went through it themself. Don't undersell how important that was. 

Mack now has to turn his attention to relocating his family here from Michigan. His wife Alleda is a 1999 grad and an oncologist. They have three children, Jacobi, Jabari and Anaiah, who happen to be 6, 5 and 4. 

He'll be back in Jadwin next week to start to put his stamp on the Ivy League's most successful athletic program. There will be a lot of listening and a lot of learning on his part. 

Through it all, though, he will be John Mack, the person who was introduced yesterday morning, the one who spoke from the heart, the one who was engaging, the one who reached the people he was speaking to with his passion and enthusiasm. Those who didn't know him until yesterday were impressed. Those who knew him long before that weren't surprised.

Princeton Athletics has been turned over to one of its very best. 

John Mack is coming home.

No comments: