Coast Guard must continue to build on Fitzpatrick's positive work

And so Coast Guard Academy suddenly finds itself with a significant hire to make, the position of athletic director, otherwise known as the person overlooking the wing of the institution that generates perpetually positive headlines.

Perhaps you've noticed recent news thrusting the Academy on Page One for all the wrong reasons. Flip to the sports section, though, to read about the 7-3 football season, the encouraging basketball season to date and other human interest stories that always reflect the better angels of our local military hamlet.

The man in charge of the athletic wing is leaving in February to become president of the New York Youth Baseball Foundation. Tim Fitzpatrick, here for seven-plus years, will be missed.

And for all the aforementioned reasons, not to mention Fitzpatrick's good work done here, the Academy needs to get this one right. Keep the momentum going, lest we forget how athletics have been a great deodorant lately, covering up things elsewhere on campus that could perhaps offend the olfactory sensations.

Fitzpatrick's contribution at the Academy should be a beacon for Division III athletic departments across the country. Translation: Just because you are Div. III doesn't mean you need to think that way. He proved you can run Div. III like Div. I, leaving a number of accomplishments and programs that have elevated the entire concept of Coast Guard.

Fitzpatrick is responsible for an apparel deal with adidas, formed a booster club (CGA Bear Club), renovated Billard Hall into the Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence and used his contacts at ESPN to televise selected football and men's basketball games, which continues through 2022.

That doesn't just happen, especially within Div. III. It's quite innovative. And leaves his successor with the task of big picture thinking to sustain what Fitzpatrick has wrought.

His successor also needs to be equipped with enviable people skills, working with admissions to ensure athletics remain more than competitive within the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference. I've found admissions to be unnecessarily restrictive over the years to many Coast Guard coaches, who don't insult the integrity of the Academy by recruiting kids who can't academically succeed. They get it. They don't always get the kids, however.

And so the new athletic director must continue fighting the fight, if for no other reason than it is athletics — and no other wing of the academy, really — that's on ESPN, brings 4,000 people on campus on fall Saturdays and makes Page One for the right reasons.

Remember this one and write it down: Sports produce the qualities Coast Guard wants in its officers. Quick decision-makers in prickly situations, all while surrounded by people with varying levels of engagement, motivation and interest. It's not the tired, "are we here to produce officers or football players?" One begets the other.

Big picture thinking isn't for everybody. Especially around here. We tend to be a bit provincial. That's why Fitzpatrick's work was so necessary and ought to be appreciated. I'm not as interested in his successor's resume as much as his or her willingness to fight the good fight. Every day.

I know better than to suggest potential replacements in print, although there isn't a person in the athletic department who wouldn't be thrilled with the promotion of current assistant Dan Rose. I get it though: national search and due diligence.

Coast Guard's leadership should know that athletics is on the cusp of something great. Fitzpatrick's programs and insights have the athletic department's inner workings among the leaders of Div. III. The two marquee sports, football and men's basketball, just might be good for a while with the current momentum. And it is the responsibility of admissions to ensure the momentum builds.

Meanwhile, they should raise a glass to their outgoing athletic director. He leaves quite the legacy.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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