Over the last 23 years, the Yale Athletic Department has seen a host of changes, among them numerous facility renovations and coaching turnovers. But the one mainstay was Director of Athletics Tom Beckett, a sideline presence at games, races and matches.
Come next year, however, that will change, as the longest-serving director of athletics in the Ivy League will retire from his position in June 2018, University President Peter Salovey announced in a schoolwide email Thursday.
“Yale gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” Beckett told the News. “I have been honored to serve this great university for nearly a quarter of a century. I shall forever cherish the incredible memories and wonderful people of this great university.”
In Beckett’s 23 years at the helm of Yale’s Athletic Department, the Bulldogs have earned 73 first-place Ivy League finishes and 118 championships. Off the field, Yale student athletes thrived in the classroom, leading the nation in teams honored for NCAA Academic Progress Rate Public Recognition Awards for more than half of the award’s existence.
The Athletic Department also reached new heights financially during Beckett’s tenure, with its endowment rising from $20 million to $283 million. Yale Athletics completed or renovated 20 facilities in that time, including the renovation of Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the Yale Bowl. Beckett also expanded the number of endowed coaches at Yale from one to 23.
“It is difficult to imagine Yale Athletics without Tom,” Salovey wrote in his email. “He has completely transformed the department in every way, ensuring its academic priorities, reconstructing its facilities, enhancing its endowments, hiring superb coaches and role models, energizing its teams [and] enlarging its fan base.”
Equally as resonant as Beckett’s contributions to athletic achievement is his role as “Yale’s Biggest Fan,” a nickname that dates back to the 1990s. Beckett’s presence during sporting events has served as a constant show of support for Yale’s student-athletes. Head coach of men’s and women’s squash Dave Talbott said he has always been impressed by Beckett’s attendance, noting that most directors of athletics around the country do not attend events for all programs.
In an interview with the News, Beckett described how difficult the decision to retire was.
“You love what you do, but there is always a time to depart,” Beckett said. “If you are fortunate to be able to make that decision it is always better to leave a day too early than a day too late.”
Beckett said he considered one of his greatest achievements to be the establishment of a culture grounded in high expectations and work ethic in addition to his efforts to gain the trust and confidence of alumni and fans.
“Tom has been a tremendous leader and a great friend to everything Yale,” said men’s basketball head coach James Jones, who was hired by Beckett 18 years ago. “He will be missed on so many different levels. I thank him for his guidance and support over my entire career.”
Prior to his arrival in New Haven, Beckett served as associate director of athletics at Stanford from 1983 to 1994. He played college baseball at the University of Pittsburgh and spent time playing for Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants before transitioning to coaching and athletic administration.
Beckett’s tenure at Yale predates by only six of Yale’s head coaches: Talbott, fencing coach Henry Harutunian, gymnastics coach Barbara Tonry, lightweight crew coach Andy Card, men’s tennis coach Alex Dorato and baseball head coach John Stuper.
Talbott said Beckett was instrumental in securing the $10 million needed in 1996 to renovate the squash courts and create the Brady Squash Center, which the coach called “the best squash facility in the world.”
“Tom [Beckett] changed the face of athletics at Yale,” Talbott said. “I’ve seen him sell Yale [to donors] in the most sincere, genuine and passionate way … He’s been as passionate about this university as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
The final project to be completed in Beckett’s tenure broke ground last week, as construction began on the Carol Roberts Field House. The new facility — expected to be completed this spring — is the University’s first building dedicated solely to women’s athletics. It will house locker rooms, a training room and coaches’ offices for the field hockey and softball teams and will sit in close proximity to both teams’ fields.
Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun will lead an advisory committee to search for Beckett’s successor. Salovey said in an email to the Yale community that a search firm will assist the advisory committee and that the University will search nationally for candidates. The University previously decided that it will name the director of athletics position in Beckett’s honor
Chun told the News that the advisory committee has not set up a timetable for meeting. The 12-member committee includes volleyball coach Erin Appleman and a yet-to-be-named student athlete.
If the two most recent searches for athletic directors at Ivy League schools are any indication, Yale’s external candidates will include individuals from high-powered athletic conferences.
Penn hired M. Grace Calhoun, former director of athletics at Loyola University Chicago, in March 2014. The following year, Columbia brought in Peter Pilling, who previously ran sports marketing giant IMG College, and was the senior associate athletic director at Brigham Young University and the associate athletic director at Villanova.
This post has been updated to reflect the version that ran in print on Sept. 1.
Sebastian Kupchaunis | firstname.lastname@example.org | @skupchaunis
Matthew Mister | email@example.com | @matthewmister19