September 29, 2004
By David Wilson
The Santa Clara
New Athletic Director Dan Coonan has followed a long -- and sometimes winding -- road on his path to Santa Clara, serving as a political advisor, finance director and even as a lawyer.
Coonan considers himself a builder, someone who will improve Santa Clara athletics.
"I see my role as one of building on what is a pretty solid foundation," Coonan said.
His third-floor office in the Leavey Center overlooks the basketball courts and has a window looking down on the field. Coonan jokes that he didn't even get to see the office before he was hired and that it was a much-added bonus.
"I didn't get to see it during the process," he admitted. "The whole thing was confidential. I didn't see the office until after the press conference when I came in with Fr. Locatelli. He said it was nicer than his office."
Coonan has already started connection with alumni, and has made a good first impression with several coaches.
"He was at the art and wine festival before he even started work wandering around seeing who he could run into," Softball Coach Jaime Forman-Lau recalled. "He was at our kickoff meeting and spoke to the athletes.
According to Forman-Lau, Coonan plans to meet with each of the coaches to find out what their visions are.
She appreciates him trying to get everyone on board rather than coming in and taking over.
"Coming from Cal I'm excited to see what he'll bring in," Forman-Lau said. "It's in the same area but defiantly is a very different institution."
Even before he came here, Coonan impressed women's soccer Coach Jerry Smith.
"Although Dan and I haven't had a formal in office meeting, we have chatted a few times on the phone and face to face and my first impressions are that he has a tremendous character and is a very caring person and that he's really excited about his new position here," Smith said.
Though Smith was in Greece during Coonan's hiring, he returned to hear that one of his players broke her leg. Dan was the first to call Smith and see how she was doing. He wanted her cell phone number to call her and see if she was OK, even though he wasn't working at Santa Clara at that point.
That type of concern, Smith feels, made the best first impression. Though hired, Coonan had yet to work a day.
Coonan strongly feels his legal background has been essential in his career, referencing the NCAA compliance, which is about 500 pages long and full of tricky rules. He believes many schools even need a lawyer specifically to oversee compliance.
"Each school needs a team to deal with compliance," Coonan said. "I did NCAA enforcement work for the Pac 10."
Out of law school, Coonan explains he received a great offer and decided to pay some bills. After seven years he decided he had enough of the law. He worked on a political campaign and then ultimately ventured into college athletics.
Coonan reveres the chance to work on a congressional campaign as a finance director. He believes he would have followed his candidate had she won, but is happy to be at Santa Clara.
His political aspirations provided him the fundraising skills he believes is essential to his current post.
"Any athletic director needs to be good with fundraising with rising tuition costs, campuses tightening belts," Coonan said.
Coonan has wasted little time in this aspect of his job.
"I've been trying to make a dozen phone calls to reach out to alumni and donors every day. It starts by making those connections," Coonan explained.
Forman-Lau hopes he will explore different avenues to identify alumni and get them involved with athletics. She points out that there is an established alumni group, but that there are others out there as well.
Coonan doesn't see many long-term changes happening his first year.
"Especially in on field performance, athletic directors effects are long term," Coonan admitted.
In his first six years as athletic director, Coonan hopes the six "ticketed sports" will compete for national championships. Ticketed sports are those where there's a demand for people to pay for tickets to attend the events.
Across the board, he hopes to compete for conference championships in all sports. Meanwhile, he wants a rewarding college experience for student athletes. Coonan wants to see athletes graduate at the top of the conference. He also hopes to continue improving school facilities. Coonan believes all his goals are achievable in the next six years and will be formulating plans to help reach them.
Even though he grew up in Los Angeles and is a Dodgers fan, he and his family would live nowhere other than the Bay Area. He was taken by the fact that a school of Santa Clara's size and scope can compete for national championships in a variety of sports.
"I have always been aware of Santa Clara's academic reputation and was attracted to the Catholic nature, and Jesuit mission of the university." Coonan said.
Coonan left the University of California at Berkeley because he had a desire to run his own program. He says he had a major impact in his scope of influence there, but didn't see the kind of advancement he desired.
Coonan came to Santa Clara in a combined recruitment extending from a cold call to the school. "I didn't look at any other schools, this is it," Coonan admitted. "We wanted to stay in the Bay Area, and when this came open this was a natural. I was happy at Cal, I wasn't even looking to leave, but when this opportunity came it was too good to pass up. There were no other positions I was seeking."
Regarding bringing football back at Santa Clara, Coonan says it's not part of his agenda.
"It takes a tremendous amount of funding if we introduced football and we would have to rethink our approach," Coonan said. "It is not my sense of my directive."
As for up and coming sports, Coonan mentions sports like baseball.
"With the baseball stadium project, it is set for success," he believes.
Coonan does not give up on the major sports alone and plans to improve all sports at Santa Clara.
"My hope is that in the longer term through fundraising and program-building that success can extend to non-ticketed sports as well," Coonan said.
He also advocates the need for ticket demand.
"We need demand to get sports ticketed," Coonan said. "We need to become ultra competitive. It takes money, scholarships, facilities, equipment, etc. Ticketed is not the real issue, crew can be a national championship sport but it wouldn't necessarily have the masses clamoring to pay money to go to those events. Same with college golf." Regarding his role at Santa Clara in the coming years, Coonan's message is clear.
"I think athletics can really help distinguish Santa Clara nationally," he said. "I think success in athletics can stimulate admissions; it gets Santa Clara's name in he papers. It can really have a role in the vision of positioning Santa Clara nationwide among the elite catholic schools."