Building upon Keeling’s success

At issue: Emerson searches for permanent athletic director

Our take: He or she must be willing to follow through on Rudy Keeling’s groundwork

On the second lower-level of Piano Row, tucked into the corner of a row of offices that overlooks the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker gym, sits a room that student-athletes currently use to chat, do homework, or simply recharge their batteries.

The room, once the office of Emerson’s athletic director, is expected to resume its former use later this year when the college anticipates it will hire a new, full-time director.

Emerson’s athletics program is at a pivotal moment, as it transitions from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to the more-competitive New England Women and Men’s Athletic Conference, a move that will match our teams with schools like MIT, Wellesley, and Babson.

At this decisive moment, the department needs a strong head. The new AD must not betray the potential established over the last several years, from the hiring of more full-time coaches to investments in facilities like the Field at Rotch Playground and the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym. Emerson owes it to the man who revealed that potential: former athletic director Rudy Keeling, who died in July after a bout with cancer.

In searching for a new director, Emerson must keep in mind Keeling’s creativity and ambition. Keeling, decisive and forward-thinking, oversaw a similarly significant period in Emerson sports, carving out a true space for athletics among the school’s focus on arts and communications.

Athletics have come a long way at Emerson, but much of the student body still lacks an appreciation for the strong program that has been growing here. To convince their peers to take notice, student athletes need a director who will take on significant challenges and shepherd significant strides.

When Kristin Parnell, the department’s last full time director, resigned in May 2012, her decision was met with optimism among student-athletes who were hoping for an improved relationship with the department. In the 15 months Emerson has spent without a permanent Athletic Director, the college has assessed feedback from current and former student-athletes and athletics administrators about the department’s deficiencies.

Now is not the time to exercise caution. Though Emerson should perform its due diligence in finding a new AD—as it has done by commissioning the services of consulting firm Alden & Associates to assist in the process—the new head of the department should be comfortable taking risks, like Keeling. The candidate should open avenues of communication in the department, something that was amiss during Parnell’s tenure. 

There was only one Rudy Keeling. But hopefully, Emerson can find a new athletic director with a similar passion and inventiveness.