When Jeff Schulman succeeds Bob Corran as athletic director at the University of Vermont on July 1, he will be only the ninth person to hold that position and the fourth since 1973.
It is a job Schulman has been moving toward almost his entire life.
Schulman grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., next to playing fields for a neighborhood middle school. He spent endless hours at those fields, watching whatever competition was at hand, be it dodge ball or field hockey or lacrosse. As a student and varsity hockey player at UVM, Schulman loved watching games of other Catamount teams.
“I’ve always been passionate about athletics, particularly in an educational context,” Schulman said. “(Athletic administration) is in my DNA – I love what I do. I love interacting with student-athletes; I love being part of a university community. Professionally and personally, this is a fantastic fit for me and I could not be more proud to be this university’s next athletic director.”
A history of athleticism
Schulman’s roots run deep at UVM. The 49-year-old husband and father of three was a four-year letter winner in hockey. He has earned two degrees from the school and, after beginning his professional career as an assistant athletic director at Bates College, has been a member of Vermont’s athletic department since 1993.
First as an assistant athletic director, and since 2002 as senior associate athletic director, Schulman has been an integral piece of UVM’s management team. He was the only person among ten finalists that the search committee recommended to president Tom Sullivan.
More than 100 people gathered last week at Patrick Gymnasium for the formal announcement last week of Schulman’s appointment a group that included current and former coaches and athletes, family and alumni. They were enthusiastic in their support.
“I think it’s a huge positive that Jeff comes from within the department,” said men’s hockey coach Kevin Sneddon. “He has great relationships already with key constituents which is a great edge. And he brings a level of confidence to the position knowing that he was clearly judged to be the best candidate for the job.”
Men’s basketball coach John Becker feels an extra kinship with Schulman, because he, also, was promoted from assistant to head status.
“This was a great hire for our department and Jeff deserves this,” Becker said. “He has a very clear vision and as an alum he brings an extra bit of passion to the position. He is the right guy as the right time.”
A focus on fundraising
Schulman has made clear that he intends to be more involved with fund raising, with a particular emphasis on moving forward with plans for a new multi-purpose events center that would be home to UVM’s hockey and basketball teams.
“It’s no secret that (the new events center) is an extremely high priority and absolutely was a point of discussion during the search process,” Schulman said. “There are some really exciting new developments and one of my top priorities is clearly going to be to vet all the possibilities along with President Sullivan and along with university leaders and how we want to move forward.”
Schulman said they plan to make those decisions by the end of the summer, “and then really go out and aggressively pursue donors and others who want to support us and partner with us to make this a reality.”
In a change of past protocol, Schulman will now report directly to President Sullivan and be a member of the presidential leadership team.
“I think this is a strong sign from the highest level of leadership at the university that athletics are extremely important to him,” Schulman said. “Tom Sullivan is absolutely committed to a model Division I program that does it the right way. He wants to be more engaged and more involved with athletics.”
Supporting student athletes
In his remarks to the student athletes, Schulman stressed that providing the support and resources for them to have a transformative intercollegiate athletic experience would be the starting point for every decision the department makes. But he followed that with this: winning matters.
“I wanted to make sure they heard loud and clear from me that (winning) is important,” Schulman said. “But I was very careful to make sure that I said that winning isn’t an end unto itself.
“It’s really about reinforcing so much of what we do here – to help students learn and grow and develop into people so that when they leave the university, they go on to be successful in whatever they choose to do.
“I think winning reinforces that. And I know that winning brings our community together in a very unique way, a way that very little else can on a college campus. When our teams succeed on a high level it enhances the reputation of the University of Vermont in a way that’s very difficult to buy with advertising or marketing.”
In that light, Schulman faces an immediate challenge. While the department must find a new assistant to take his place and must also handle the upcoming retirement of long-time assistant athletic director of Joe Fisher, hiring a new women’s basketball coach looms largest.
That once proud and dominant program suffered six consecutive 20-loss seasons under Lori Gear McBride. Schulman will chair the search committee charged with finding leadership to return the Catamounts to past glory.
“This is a critical hire for us that is extremely important program for all sorts of reasons,” Schulman said. “We’ve met with the student-athletes on multiple occasions and we’re aggressively going out and recruiting candidates and also evaluating candidates that are approaching us.”