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Harry Sheehy’s Theory of Management

The Valley News had a serious interview yesterday with Athletics Director Harry Sheehy. An excerpt:

VN: How difficult is it to fire coaches?

HS: You have to really believe in your heart that you’re doing things for the right reasons. I work for Dartmouth College. I don’t work for any one of our programs, so my objective is to make the whole (athletic) program better, and sometimes you have to make really hard decisions.

We get the words “simple” and “easy” confused all the time in this country. When I look at some of the decisions I’ve made, they’ve been pretty simple, but they haven’t been easy. You’re impacting people’s lives, and it stinks sometimes. I go home and I agonize and I don’t sleep, but I know in my gut what I consider to be right.

VN: Do you agonize less now that you’ve been doing this job for so long?

HS: Yes, because I know if someone is ill-suited to a job, you aren’t doing them any favors by keeping them in it. As hard as it is to look at someone and tell them they’re losing their job … you honestly believe you’re doing the right thing for the institution.

Such rigorous thinking about personnel should apply to all other parts of the College, don’t you think? Of course, such a spirit of excellence already animates decisions regarding the reappointment and granting of tenure to young members of the faculty (at least we hope that it now does under Phil), but it should be extended to the administration, where most staffers seem to have jobs for life, no matter how poor their performance.

Sheehy also commented on the poor state of Dartmouth athletics at the end of the Wright administration:

I knew exactly what I was getting into here, and the first three years was just reworking stuff. It was really just last year that we started to think we should see results. I’m not criticizing anyone who came before me, but I don’t think there was much of a sense of where the department was going. It wasn’t always easy to get people on board, some of whom were collecting their paycheck and laying low.

The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and that’s exactly where we were. There was a bit of a malaise, a sense of woe-is-me. Before I got here, dealing with admissions and financial aid and the whole environment was tougher. Jim Kim and (deputy director of athletics) Bob Ceplikas, during his year as interim athletic director, made my job tons easier because that stuff was taken care of.

Needless to say, the College’s press releases didn’t say so at the time, but clued-in alumni knew how bad things had gotten. That’s still true about other areas of Dartmouth today.

Addendum: Sheehy notes that his department’s annual budget is $22 million. That figure amounts to 2.6 % of the College’s $835 million in expenses in fiscal 2013. Money well spent, I’d say, especially when the Dean of the College’s budget is almost four times that amount.

Addendum: An alumnus from the 1960’s writes in with a comment:

I am surprised that in the entire interview Harry did not once mention the amazing successes of Dartmouth’s many club sport teams. And we are talking about national championships here: men’s rugby (two Sevens national champs in four years), sailing, women’s figure skating. These may not be teams under Harry’s direct oversight, but the kids wear the green just as proudly and they compete just as intensely as their DCAD compatriots. Harry’s omission, while seemingly inadvertent, may say something about his (unconscious) mindset when it comes to acknowledging the full range of athletic competition at the College. With all the mediocrity that has characterized so much of Dartmouth athletics in the past two decades, one would think he would jump at the chance to brag about the club sport successes at every opportunity.


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