Dear Commodore Nation,
During my first day on the job at Vanderbilt, I was fortunate to sit down for coffee with Vanderbilt Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president Fernanda Contreras, a women’s tennis All-American on the court and a mechanical engineering major in the classroom. As Fernanda opened up about the factors that drove her Vanderbilt decision — that is, the ideal balance between championship-caliber athletics and elite academics — I couldn’t help but smile. I told her that exact emphasis on the true student-athlete experience is what I immediately found so compelling and is ultimately what lured me to Vanderbilt as its new athletic director.
Throughout this first month on campus, I have found Fernanda’s perspective to be a familiar refrain as I’ve met with other student-athletes, our entire head coaching contingent, and our athletics department staff. This firm commitment to the student-athlete is, and will remain, a lasting nod to the remarkable legacy and principles left behind by David Williams.
I am enjoying learning firsthand what it means to be part of Commodore Nation and the unique passion and pride that comes with it. This was on full display when my wife Jessica and I attended the annual baseball team banquet. Head coach Tim Corbin hosted a wonderful evening, and interacting with many of our current and former student-athletes and Commodore fans was both a thrill and a great way to cap off my opening weekend at the helm.
These past few weeks also coincided with a stellar stretch for many of our student-athletes. Both golf programs brought home tournament titles last month, including two from head coach Greg Allen’s women’s team. Reigning NCAA champion bowling claimed a pair of tournament victories, top-ranked baseball and lacrosse have enjoyed red-hot starts to the season, and both Commodore indoor track and field and swimming re-wrote the school record books at their respective SEC Championships. It was a thrill to celebrate women’s basketball’s defeat of Tennessee for the first time on its home floor in Knoxville, and I am hopeful this achievement can be a springboard for a brighter future for the program. While it has been a challenging year for our men’s and women’s basketball programs, I am firmly committed to supporting the return of “Memorial Magic.”
Within McGugin Center, the optimism, excitement and passion for our programs is abundantly clear. Yet it’s also clear that there’s a shared sense that there’s even more out there for us. As I noted at our first department-wide staff meeting — for all the success we’ve had at Vanderbilt, we don’t know what our ceiling is. Let’s go find out together.
Over the past few weeks, I was pleased to participate in my first Board of Trust meeting and join our Athletics Campaign Cabinet to discuss perspectives and capital campaign planning considerations. I also participated in Development and Alumni Relations’ Volunteer Leadership Weekend, and joined the Faculty Senate Task Force’s town hall on its final report on University Athletics.
Our commitment to progress will become more evident in the coming weeks as I will continue to work closely with Chancellor Zeppos and other key partners to finalize planning efforts surrounding our athletics strategic plan and related facility initiatives. This includes a plan for a significant portion of the university’s capital campaign to raise funds for improvements to athletics programs and facilities, including the football stadium. While we have a lot of work to do, we know the task at hand and the future is undoubtedly bright on West End.
On a more personal note, Jessica and I (and our border terrier Huntley) could not be more excited to call Nashville home. As we continue to get settled, we have already begun to explore Music City. In fact, between unpacking boxes from our move from New York City, we attended our first Predators hockey game, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and enjoyed a remarkable Valentine’s Day performance by the Nashville Symphony with Chris Botti. And we continue to find a new favorite restaurant with each passing week — on deck is trying the hot chicken we’ve been hearing so much about!
Going forward, I plan to use this column as a way to engage Commodore Nation and keep you informed on our vision and progress. Your ideas and your passion help make this a special place, and I welcome your thoughts and input. I can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and on Twitter (@VandyAD). Let’s continue to build upon our success together.
Until next time, Anchor Down!
Vice Chancellor • Athletics and University Affairs • Athletics Director