In early September, Jeff Ward was named Interim Director of Athletics. We caught up with him for a few questions heading into his second semester on the job.
Q: Why did you decide to get back into college athletics?
A: Frankly, I never thought I would have the opportunity. I've been very blessed to work at places with exceptional academics and exceptional athletics. The combination is powerful. At this point in my career, I'm not willing to compromise on either side. Places that offer that kind of mix are pretty rare. Plus, my wife still lives and works in Maine and I really wanted to be closer to her than I was in my last job in NYC. As a consequence, it was a pretty easy decision when President Liebowitz called. In addition, I knew President Liebowitz from when he was at Middlebury and I was at Bowdoin. I knew he valued athletics in the same way I do. When I spoke with Provost Lynch, it was very clear from the beginning that we were also like-minded. That gave me confidence that I could make an impact at Brandeis.
Q: As a swimming and diving coach, what principles from that sport do you apply to be an athletic director?
That's an interesting question. After 40 years in college sports, I have come to believe that all sports are much more similar than the conventional wisdom suggests. I guess if there is one thing in particular that I've taken from swimming it is the value of precise evaluation. In swimming, you measure everything, every day, and the clock never lies. As a consequence, I'm always trying to figure out how to evaluate my performance honestly.
Q: How would you make the comparison between two of the top academic and athletic conferences in Division III, the UAA and the NESCAC?
Obviously, there are far most similarities than differences. Great students. Great coaches. An appreciation of the educational value of athletics. The biggest difference for me comes from the size of the athletic programs, relative to the size of the institutions. At Brandeis, varsity athletes make up about 11% of the student body. At Bowdoin, it was closer to 40%. That creates some different pressures and different responsibilities.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you've learned about Brandeis Athletics so far? About Brandeis University as a whole?
With regard to Athletics, I wouldn't say it is a surprise, but I really like and enjoy both the coaches and the students with whom I work. As for the University, I've been a little surprised at the how supportive the institution is of all students. It is a very, very caring place. That isn't true of all universities.
Q: What's something we would be surprised to learn about you?
My coaching claim to fame is that two athletes whom I worked with when they were 8 years old and starting their sporting careers went on to win Olympic gold medals. That means I can take zero credit, but it is a great fact when I play "Two Truths and a Lie".
Q: What opportunities do you see for growth in Brandeis Athletics?
The potential for Athletics at Brandeis is huge. With a little work, we can distinguish ourselves both on and off the field. Many fantastic initiatives were already starting before I arrived, including the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy and the career mentoring program, which combines the work of the Hiatt Career Center and the Friends of Brandeis Athletics. We need to make sure these flourish at the same time that we work to renovate our facilities and improve our operational support. All together, it will equate to broad-based athletic success, the strengthening of both the campus community and the greater Brandeis community and a more powerful impact on our athletes for their lives after graduation.
Q: What were your favorite moments of the first semester, either on or off the playing fields?
That's an easy one. My trips with Men's and Women's Soccer to Chicago and St. Louis and with the Volleyball team to the UAA championships at Rochester were amazing. It was so much fun to get to know the students.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the next semester at Brandeis?
Much of what I've done over the past four months is just to learn. While I am sure I have much still to absorb, I think that we'll be able to start to make some substantive changes in the next few months. The results won't be obvious overnight, but I am very excited by many things on the horizon.