Sense of direction
New UChicago athletic director Erin McDermott has experience and high expectations.
Erin McDermott isn’t the type to dawdle, and the call of duty didn’t let her. Even before her July 22 start date, the new UChicago athletic director was already involved in the search for a new football coach—Dartmouth associate head coach Chris Wilkerson’s hiring was announced July 30. After 13 years at Princeton, McDermott is still adjusting to her new digs; when I arranged to meet with her she didn’t know where the Reynolds Club was, although she got there just fine. “I feel like I’m kind of graduating from Princeton, and I’m going to be like a first-year in Chicago,” she said. After three years working as assistant director for compliance at Columbia University, McDermott worked her way up to deputy athletic director at Princeton. She also chaired the NCAA’s postseason selection committee for field hockey and served on the NCAA’s Championships Cabinet. As an international business major at Hofstra College, she lettered in basketball, later earning a master’s in sports management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In an interview with the Magazine, edited and adapted below, McDermott discussed the importance of the student-athlete and her own experience in sports and sports administration. Ice in her veins I remember one game against Lehigh or Lafayette my senior year. I had been a very consistent free-throw shooter in high school, and that seemed to not be the case as much in college. The game was very close, and it was the last play. It was a feed from a guard to me down low, and I was able to make a basket. I was fouled, and the opposing coach called a timeout—they were trying to make me think about it. I came out of that and made the shot. I remember going back to the locker room, and the opposing coaching staff was in front of me and didn’t realize it. One of them made a comment, “can you believe it was McDermott that made the free throw at the end?” So I ran by. I didn’t say anything derogatory, but I just let them know I was there. Interdisciplinary discipline I always liked that my sports experience offered discipline both within that athletic area but also in the academic area. It’s a very similar approach that makes you successful in both places: you have to invest time, you have to really work at it. You can’t just go to class and expect things are going to come naturally. You have to read, you have to do the research. And it’s just the same in playing. You can’t just show up for games, you have to go to practice, you have to work on those skills. Chicago’s second female AD I think it’s fabulous that I’m not the first. In this case to have had a woman so long ago be the athletic director [Mary Jean Mulvaney, 1976–1990], I think says a lot about the institution. At that time, that was very uncommon for sure. So there’s certainly a lot of pride in being another woman hired as an athletic director. But I would hope that that focus on gender, at this point, is not really a defining thing. Division of labor I feel like you have really the greatest set of attributes here, where you can fully be about the student-athlete experience. It’s not about the conference realignment at Division 1, which means you’re pulling kids out of class constantly. They’re not having a normal student experience, and I think that gets clouded sometimes in the competitive aspect of things. And that’s just not what I’m about. So that’s why I felt such a connection here. The student-athlete experience I want students to leave here a UAA champion, maybe even a national champion, feeling like they’re going to be connected to their coach for the rest of their lives, and that it’s somebody who really developed them and influenced them in a very positive way. And to leave here feeling like they took everything out of this place that they possibly could. To me that would mean they had the best possible experience they could have had.