By Ronald Hanaki
It has been one year since Josh Looney took over as ESU’s Director of Athletics. Before coming to ESU, he was Associate Director of NCAA’s Division II.
During the past year, Looney has overseen the renovation of venerable Koehler Fieldhouse and assisted in the rollout of the new athletic logo and mascot.
Although he has tirelessly worked to increase the visibility of ESU sports overall, he was quick to give a lot of the credit to the coaching staffs who have made his transition easy.
“It’s been an incredible first year. The reason for that is that we have a great group of coaches already in place here. We also have great presidential leadership,” said Looney.
“It was about looking at our strengths and identifying them in order to get this place to take off and increase our visibility. It’s exciting for our athletes to see the new logo and mascot. We are also beginning to see our facilities transform,” said Looney.
“The branding is fun, but a lot of our improvements have gone on behind the scenes,” said Looney.
Looney is a big believer in investing in relationships.
“We’ve been investing in relationships throughout this campus. Investing in our relationships with our student-athletes and giving them a place to take pride in and be successful helps our coaches recruit,” stated Looney.
Two of the big investments has been the transformation of Koehler Fieldhouse and the unveiling of ESU’s new athletic logo and mascot.
“Renovating a 50-year old building [Koehler Fieldhouse] was a challenge. The idea was to do it during the month when school was out,” said Looney.
“We started a day after commencement in December and completed the project on the Sunday before MLK Day,” continued Looney. “Dr. Brenda Friday and her work in this has been key as well.”
“The first step of our rebranding has been pretty good. Everything we are doing has been up-tempo with energy,” said Looney with excitement.
Rasheed Moore is a senior who recently completed his career as one of the all-time greats of ESU basketball. Moore had this to say about the transformation of Koehler Fieldhouse:
“Looking around all the changes made to the gym makes me feel better. It makes me feel positive about the gym, and I am looking forward to seeing the new art logo and jerseys next year. It gives me a positive vibe for the program in the future.”
Expect more renovations as phase II is coming.
“We want to incorporate some of our new branding with our athletic facilities outdoors,” continued Looney. “We want to upgrade our baseball and softball fields.”
“Next season, our baseball teams will be playing their games on Stroudsburg’s Little League baseball field, so that should free up more space on our campus,” said Looney.
“It’s a multi-year process, but it’s good. We’ve made a lot of progress in our first year,” stated Looney.
Sandy Miller is Head Coach of ESU’s Field Hockey team.
Miller said, “I’ve been here 33 years, and Mr. Looney is my eighth athletic director. By far, he has been the most proactive as far as getting things done.”
For that, Miller credits Looney’s experience as Associate Director of NCAA’s Division II.
“He has experience working in the NCAA and working on Division II campuses. He has knowledge that other ADs [athletic directors] don’t have, and thank God he has been using it,” said Miller.
“It’s been nothing but positive,” continued Miller. “The support has been good. We have a tight financial budget, but I haven’t seen us as an athletic program impacted negatively, and it’s because Looney has been proactive and forward-thinking. I am a huge fan of that,” said Miller.
Looney continues to innovate and transform ESU Athletics by creating new synergies.
“We’ve taken the departments of exercise science and athletic training and formalized our partnerships. It has benefited ESU in many areas. It has opened new doors to academic research for our faculty,” said Looney.
One of the results has been ESU’s Sports Performance Institute, which debuted last summer. The purpose of the new institute is to increase and better its student-athletes’ sports performances through a five-pronged holistic combination of athletic training, exercise science, academics, psychology and athletics.
In addition, Looney has his own blueprint for success. It involves the three C’s.
“One thing we’ve done is change the culture. Our three focus areas are the classroom, competition and community. We’ve made clear explanations in how our three groups are measured and what our departments should be measured on. We’ve done a lot of restructuring in how we go about our business in order to give our student-athletes the best experience,” said Looney.
“We are proud of our student-athletes in the classroom. 161 of our student-athletes have a cumulative GPA of 3.25 or above,” said Looney.
“And then people see how competitive our teams are. It is a reflection of our coaches,” stated Looney.
The faculty mentor of the game is the brainchild of Looney and Dr. Nancy Jo Greenawalt, Associate Athletic Director for Student Success.
Looney said, “I was talking with Dr. Greenawalt, and we wanted to come up with a way of acknowledging the faculty who are working with our athletes every day.”
“A student-athlete presents the professor with a framed photo during halftime of our football and basketball games. It’s a small way of giving back to our faculty,” said Looney.
“Our student-athletes continue to give back to the university and charity groups. Moreover, we have invested in our relationships with our corporate donors and helped fundraise with the ESU Foundation. We are in lock step with Rick Santoro [Executive Director of the ESU Foundation] in raising money for athletics and scholarships,” said Looney.
But there have been some tough times as well. The APSCUF faculty union went on a three-day strike last fall.
“The strike was a tough time for the university as a whole, but everyone in our athletic department handled it maturely,” said Looney.
“That is behind us now,” continued Looney. “Nobody involved in the strike lost their focus on our student-athletes. What helped us through the strike was that our departments had clear and transparent communications, so our operations did not surprise anybody. Regardless of what decisions people chose to make, that’s all you can ask for,” said Looney.
Looney praised the Department of Sports Management with helping ESU Athletics.
“Our relationship with the sports management department has been tremendous. Many of them help with the sports teams,” said Looney.
“Two grads assist with the sports teams, and one intern in sports management helps out. Between these three individuals, they’ve tried new things to market our sports events with our corporate partners,” said Looney.
One of the marketing innovations is the halftime basketball shootouts during the games. The winner gets a gift certificate from Chili’s.
“It’s really become an event in itself. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to us and say that they wanted to participate,” said Looney.
Former ESU swimmer Sophie Coy graduated from the sports management program last spring. She was recently offered a sports management internship at the University of Mississippi while she was pursuing a master’s degree at ESU.
“We lost her [Coy] in February, but we’re really proud of her. Now she’s in the SEC (South East Conference). We wish all of our graduates the best wherever they want to go,” said Looney.
“We want to continue to build upon what we have done while also streamlining what we do. We will look for new revenue opportunities and smarter ways of doing things that benefit the university as we continue to move forward,” said Looney.
“Our challenges aren’t unique here. Those schools who are the most innovative in the next five to 10 years are going to be the most successful,” said Looney.
“We will look to build while being good stewards of the university. I look forward to year two,” stated Looney.
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