New London - Coast Guard Academy athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick was at last summer's National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention in Dallas, when he found himself on a panel with former Tennessee athletic director Joan Cronan.
A rock star of sorts.
"I had met Joan a number of times. I was wowed with having the opportunity to work with her for a two-day period," Fitzpatrick said. "She's an icon in our business. She's always been a hero of mine."
Of course, Fitzpatrick recruited Cronan for Coast Guard's second annual Women's Leadhership Symposium held Tuesday on campus. And Cronan, now Tennessee's women's athletic director emeritus/consultant and advisor to the chancellor, accepted.
Cronan, 68, the longtime face of women's athletics at Tennessee, was named interim athletic director for both the men's and women's programs in 2011, bridging the gap between outgoing AD Mike Hamilton and current director Dave Hart. During that time she hired baseball coach Dave Serrano and helped oversee the merge of the university's then-separate men's and women's athletics programs.
On Tuesday, Cronan, a Louisiana State graduate who bills herself as " Cajun, with orange blood," found herself in rival territory: Connecticut.
Cronan led off the conference, imparting some of her core values and the "passion and pride" which make Tennessee the athletic powerhouse that it is. She called former women's basketball coach Pat Summitt "one of the best leaders athletics has ever had," and sprinkled stories from Summitt's Hall of Fame coaching tenure in with tales of her own successes and mistakes.
Cronan was joined by Horizon League associate commissioner Alfreeda Goff, in her second year on the panel; Lori Ebihara, senior associate athletic director at Maryland; China Jude, vice president of athletics at Queens College; Laurie Priest, athletic director at Mount Holyoke; and Charlie Robert, athletic director at Nichols College.
Attending were women from the Coast Guard and Connecticut College athletic communities, as well as colleges from around New England.
"It's a lot of initiative the Coast Guard has taken," Cronan said. "I'm very impressed with Tim and his ability. I couldn't help but be excited."
Cronan spoke of the three C's that are necessary for success: competition, confidence and communication. She spoke of watching former Lady Vols women's basketball player Dena Head, who, having missed crucial free throws in the past, sank two with seven seconds in regulation to help win the 1991 national championship.
She said she's added a fourth C since seeing Summitt battle early-onset dementia: courage.
"She is fighting it straight up," said Cronan, who at first told Summitt that she didn't have to fight the battle publicly if she chose to keep it private. "She looked me straight in the eye and said, 'We do.'"
Cronan said she has the initials "BELLS" written into her iPhone, something she tries to abide by every day. Read the bible, exercise, learn, write a handwritten letter or note to someone and try to do a special project, such as vacuum, she added with a laugh.
Overall, Cronan said she is grateful Tennessee had a women's athletic department all those years, so that the women's program had a chance to build.
"I loved every bit of it. I love every day I go to work," Cronan said. "… Tennessee said 'yes' to women's sports before it was cool and that has continued. Pride and passion. That's what you see when you walk into Thompson-Boling Arena."
"It's awesome," said first-year Coast Guard women's basketball coach Alex Ivansheck of the second-year conference. "I haven't been to anything like it. Hopefully it will continue. I like it that (Fitzpatrick) thinks outside the box."