Jan. 11, 2005
By Jon Wilner
San Jose Mercury News
One day he's talking Santa Clara basketball with alums in Stockton. The next, Broncos baseball with former players in San Francisco, or scholarship funding with donors in Santa Cruz.
The location, audience and topics may change, but first-year athletic director Dan Coonan's goal is always the same: heal an SCU community fractured by the elimination of football in the early 1990s, the polarizing reign of former athletic director Cheryl Levick and the perceived deterioration of the school's family-first approach in favor of a win-or-else mentality.
``For a variety of reasons,'' Coonan said last week, ``over the last 15 years, a number of Santa Clara people have left the fold. My first task has been to connect with people.''
So far -- 110 days into his tenure -- Coonan is a hit.
Steve Schott gave a glowing review. Brandi Chastain offered to babysit Coonan's three children. Two SCU teams volunteered to move the family to the South Bay from Orinda, where the Coonans lived when he worked for Cal.
Perhaps most telling, boosters who distanced themselves from SCU over the past decade are starting to re-engage, due in large part to initial impressions of Coonan.
``He's a very likable person, very adaptable,'' said Schott, the A's owner and SCU alumnus who donated $4 million for a new baseball stadium, scheduled to open in April. ``I think he's fitting in very well.''
In that respect, Coonan, 42, differs greatly from Levick.
During her four-year reign, Levick modernized the athletic department's infrastructure and ramped up the competitive atmosphere at the request, she said, of SCU President Rev. Paul Locatelli. Levick also left Coonan with a fiscally sound department and solid support staff, which frees him to spend so much time out of the office.
But Levick had a tumultuous relationship with the Bronco Bench Foundation, the department's fundraising arm. A few members were put off by having a woman in charge, especially a woman from Stanford who restructured the organization during her first year on the job. Others did not like her hard-driving, bottom-line approach or the way she appeared to marginalize former basketball coach and athletic director Carroll Williams.
``She was a change agent, and she paid the price for it,'' Bronco Bench President Rick Giorgetti said. ``She kind of teed it up for Dan.''
Coonan's résumé -- bachelor's degree from Notre Dame, law degree from Loyola -- instantly endeared him to the Jesuit school's old guard, and his pretense-free demeanor makes constituents feel at ease to air frustrations. In dozens of meetings with booster groups throughout the state, Coonan has done nearly as much listening as talking.
``From the Bronco Bench's perspective, he appreciates what we do,'' one donor said. ``And wow, that's a nice change of pace from, `How come you aren't hitting your numbers?' ''
The money raised by the athletic department and Bronco Bench accounts for almost half of SCU's 97 athletic scholarships. (The university pays for the rest.)
Coonan's goal is to generate at least $1.2 million this year and increase that figure by 7 percent annually to keep up with tuition. Any additional funds would enable him to boost coaches' salaries and increase the number of scholarships.
``There's no limit to how good we could be in softball if we could fund it better than we do,'' Coonan said of the program that won the Pacific Coast Softball Conference last season.
Because Santa Clara's fiscal year runs through June 30, it's too early to quantify Coonan's impact. But in the Bronco Bench's headquarters, the phones are starting to ring.
``We're getting positive vibes,'' Giorgetti said.
Not everything on Coonan's schedule involves community relations, however.
He spent his first two weeks getting to know the coaches. (Once the off-campus commitments subside he plans to schedule regular meetings.)
He moved the student section at the Leavey Center closer to center court to create a more frenzied atmosphere.
He's constantly searching for new sources of revenue, such as renting out Leavey for a Bob Dylan concert.
And to the delight of coaches, alums and donors, Coonan has reached out to Williams, an SCU icon.
``If Carroll called up and said he wanted to get together,'' Giorgetti quipped, ``then Dan would say, `In five minutes or in two?' ''
``Carroll has been a key figure,'' Coonan said, ``and he will continue to be a key figure in what we do.''