Keeling resigns as AD to head ECAC

Five years, two new facilities and one completely revamped athletic program after he began here, Keeling is leaving Emerson to become commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).,Rudy Keeling sat in his office yesterday, a smile of contentment on his face. As he pored through e-mails from well-wishers, he reflected on his time as Emerson’s athletic director.

Five years, two new facilities and one completely revamped athletic program after he began here, Keeling is leaving Emerson to become commissioner of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The announcement came in an e-mail Wednesday from David Ellis, Emerson’s vice president of administration and finance. Keeling will stay at Emerson through June. No announcement has been made as to who will replace him but possible successors include Assistant Athletic Director and Recruiting Coordinator Stan Nance and Coordinator of Athletic Operations Roger Crosley.

Ellis could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Crosley said he hadn’t heard anything about who might replace Keeling, but he did offer some insights into how the changeover might go.

“If they hire someone from within the department, it would be a pretty seamless transition,” Crosley said. “But if they decide to go outside, then there’s going to be a learning curve. That’s not to say that someone from outside wouldn’t do a good job.”

For Keeling, it was a move that took months to make.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made because I think we’re on the verge of doing something special here,” Keeling said. “That’s why it took so long.”

Keeling, who most recently served as the head basketball coach at Northeastern University prior to joining Emerson in 2002, took over an athletic program in shambles. At the time, the college employed just one full-time coach, men’s basketball’s Hank Smith. Furthermore, with no athletic facilities to call their own, teams had to travel far and wide to practice and play home games.

In the five years since, the athletic program has enjoyed a renaissance. The department added five new varsity sports, hired nine new coaches and graduated 100 percent of its players. Keeling focused on hiring a full-time staff that could better serve as recruiters for prospective students. He also brought the department into full compliance with Title IX, which requires schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for both genders.

But his tenure at Emerson will probably be remembered most for the completion of two things: the Field at Rotch Playground and the Piano Row Gym.

Rotch, completed in December 2004, was the first facility built exclusively for Emerson teams. Tucked away in the South End a mile away from campus, the field serves both men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams, as well as the women’s softball team.

A little less than two years later, the department’s piece de resistance opened its doors. The Piano Row Gym gave both basketball teams, as well as the women’s volleyball team, a place to practice and play, and was evidence of Emerson’s increased commitment to sports

“If you look back before he got here, Emerson played all over the place,” said Nance. “When [prospective students] see the gym, they know we’re serious about athletics.”

“Obviously you look around and you see the facilities that were completely non-existent before,” said Crosley. “We have added sports and, probably most importantly, we’ve added full-time employees.”

Keeling will take over the ECAC, an athletic conference with 323 member institutions, including Emerson. He said he would be making more money at his new position but gave no specifics. For Keeling, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“It came down to what I thought was best for my career at this time,” he said.

Keeling spoke about his plans for his newest position.

“It’s an organization that has a great history that has fallen on a bit of hard times,” he said. “I think the biggest thing I have to do is go out and greet the membership, let them know what we’re doing, and get them excited again.”

As word of his leaving spread around campus yesterday, athletes and staff reacted to his departure.

“Rudy has just been there since I’ve been a freshman,” said senior softball player Heather Drobiarz. “He’s always been so supportive, a nice friendly face in the athletic office and I’m sad to see him go.”

“He’s definitely a big loss,” said Nance. “You hate to see your leader go, but he’s moving to a great place.”

“He was the right guy at the right time,” added softball coach Phil McElroy.

At this time next year, Keeling will have a new office to sit in, a new set of problems to fix, a new program to overhaul.

He leaves Emerson having transformed the athletics department from a laughing stock to a legitimate Division III school. The turbulence that existed when he began has dissipated, and Nance said he is confident about the future of sports at Emerson.

“I see the program going forward,” said Nance. “Rudy set a lot of things in place. We’ve just got to keep our coaches and put the right person in place.”