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Jack Hayes departs Brown, leaving behind a changed athletics department and complicated legacy

Opinions, experiences of athletics director’s tenure at Brown vary widely

It had been a “trying year,” a student-athlete explained to The Herald. That spring, a committee proposed cutting varsity sports teams to improve the athletics program’s competitiveness. A column in The Herald, he added, had suggested that athletics had “no part at Brown.” 

The year in question was not 2020: it was 2011, and the University was in flux. The cuts never came to fruition, but in winter 2012, then-athletics director Michael Goldberger announced his retirement, and a search committee soon announced their pick for the next athletics director: Jack Hayes. 

At an introductory press conference, the leader of the search committee touted Hayes’ “leadership, experience and commitment,” preparing him for a job addressing fundraising goals, facility improvements and the student-athlete experience. Hayes, at the same press conference, promised to prioritize that experience.

On Jan. 29, 2021, the University announced that Hayes would step down. The athletics department, in many ways, looks different today — but the questions facing the department in 2021, which is grappling with a decision to cut numerous varsity teams and with the student-athlete experience amid COVID-19, look remarkably similar to those posed in 2011.

Some athletes were quick to praise Hayes’ tenure as athletic director; others saw his time at Brown as a series of missteps. A few athletes count him as a friend and a mentor; others found him an elusive figure who failed to engage key stakeholders. Many athletes had no opinion at all, perhaps not a surprise in a department that at one point included more than 900 students in total. 

Leaving Brown, nine years later

College Hill was Hayes’ latest stop in a career best described as a list of collegiate athletics departments: Providence College — as a lacrosse player — then in administration at Brown, Fairfield, St. John’s, Fordham, UConn, Hofstra and finally, at Brown again. His next job, as a senior advisor at the sports venture capital firm Bruin Sports Capital, where he has “known the people for a long time,” will be his first off-campus job.

“Jack is an exceptional leader who understands how to run a high-performing, values driven organization,” wrote George Pyne ’89, the CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, in an email to The Herald. “Those are precisely the types of companies we invest in at Bruin, so we will look to tap into his decades of experience and perspective.”

The aftermath of the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, Hayes said, played a part in his decision to leave, along with the “unique opportunity” at Bruin Sports Capital.

“When you go through something as challenging as last spring was, though they made the right decisions, there’s a time when new leadership and a fresh perspective is probably a good thing for an athletics department,” Hayes said. 

“It’s fair to say it’s mutual,” he said of the decision.

Hayes’ impact on athletics

Hayes said he appreciated working with student athletes, coaches and alumni throughout his tenure. He pointed to a Final Four run for the men’s lacrosse team in 2016, the women’s soccer team’s Ivy League championship in 2019 and periods of success for both swimming teams, volleyball, men’s basketball and women’s crew as highlights of his tenure. As athletics director, Hayes oversaw the introduction of digital platforms to watch athletics events and “$50 million worth of facilities projects,” including the construction of new stadiums and rehabilitation facilities.

“How these players develop has been immensely enhanced” by Hayes’ work, said Head Football Coach James Perry ’01. “I was an assistant here in ’07 to ’09 — it’s a much better place to physically, mentally develop players.”

The athletics department also consistently provided sufficient funding for recruitment and improving their teams’ standings, said Perry and women’s soccer Head Coach Kia McNeill.  

“2019 wasn’t something we built overnight,” McNeill said, referring to the team’s run to the NCAA tournament and Ivy League championship. Aside from recruiting, McNeill said the department played a key role in sending the team to watch the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France and paying for the team to play Texas A&M in 2019.

The win against Texas A&M put the team on the national radar, according to captain Sydney Cummings ’21. 

“Jack’s impact is all over the athletic department and the University,” Pyne said. “His legacy will go on well beyond his tenure.”

Differing opinions on Hayes

But some athletes described a different experience, characterized by a seeming lack of interest from Hayes as he prioritized certain teams over others. According to Zyana Thomas ’22, a women’s rugby player, a congratulatory visit from Hayes after the team went through a period of success “didn’t feel like a sincere congratulations.” 

“It felt like he didn’t really care, like we were just another chore on his list,” she said. Hayes didn’t spend “more than five minutes” with the team, she added. And when she earned numerous accolades in women’s rugby, including “making all-American,” Hayes sent her a letter, she said, with “nothing spelled correctly,” her name included. 

“It seemed to me (Hayes) was obsessed with lacrosse,” Thomas said. “He put so much time and effort into lacrosse when there were definitely other teams that deserved time and effort.”

Luke McCaleb ’21, a lacrosse player and a former president of the Student-Athletics Advisory Committee, said that Hayes was “always there” for the lacrosse team — even attending team dinners on occasion.

McCaleb said that Hayes always attended home games, even showing up in his own jersey. “He was a friend to the lacrosse program as much as he was in charge of us.”

Both McCaleb and Tamenang Choh ’21, a men’s basketball player, described seeing Hayes consistently at their games, forging personal relationships with Hayes’ family, playing sports with his kids and in Choh’s case, even visiting his house for dinner.

For Maddie McCarthy ’23, a former member of the ski team who now runs for women’s track and cross country, Hayes’ absence at ski team events — and seeming lack of attentiveness — proved more noticeable.

She added that the ski team’s gear never seemed to show up on time. “We waited until November, December to get our team gear, and it was noticed that every other men’s team on this campus had their gear first.” 

Hayes painted the department’s priorities as success-based — not a “men’s versus women’s” issue.

“When teams start winning and having success, there are things you start to do for them to promote and make their success visible, throughout the campus (and) beyond the campus boundaries,” he said, citing the publicity the department created for women’s crew and soccer. 

Cummings, who got to know Hayes personally over her time at Brown and at times gathered professional advice from him, said, “I don’t think Jack was perfect, I think it’s hard for an athletic administrator to be there every time.”

“Inevitably, you have your favorite sports, you’re just a biased human,” she added. “At the same time, he was there for us.”

The Herald reached out to 11 athletes, including multiple that declined to speak in an interview on the basis of having no opinion of Hayes’ tenure.

“To this day I still don’t really have an association with him,” said a female athlete who requested anonymity due to fears of repercussions from her coach and the athletics department more widely. “I should.” 

Excellence in Athletics

Last May, Hayes came into the spotlight with the Excellence in Athletics Initiative, which initially aimed to reclassify eleven varsity teams as club teams. Almost immediately, students and parents responded with campaigns and legal actions to save their teams. 

“I wouldn’t do it differently if we had to do it over again,” Hayes said. The initiative brought “difficult decisions, but they were made in the best interest of long-term success of Brown athletics,” he added.

Critics of Hayes — and even some supporters — said that they were caught off guard by the decision itself and the University’s announcement, which came in a series of emails and Zoom calls that offered athletes little time to react or advocate for themselves. 

The initiative “came as a shock to me. It was a shock to most coaches,” said McNeill, who described herself as “loyal” to Hayes after he “took a chance on her” by hiring her as a head coach and helped guide her through leading a program for the first time.

“The communication was super sudden, super untimely,” Cummings said. “I don’t think they read the room, I don’t think it was the right time.”

The decision itself, McCarthy said, was less problematic than the “atrocious” way the University went about making it and disseminating the news. Some of her coaches and athletics department staffers didn’t know about the cuts until she told them.

“The harm to the University and the legal proceedings, a lot of that was induced because (Hayes) was sloppy and he blatantly showed he didn’t care about how he did it, how he was making people feel,” McCarthy said.

Hayes defended the rollout of the announcement, noting that the only way to inform students earlier would have been to alert them before any final decision was made.

“You try and do it the right way … knowing that, in many times through the process, the people that you are communicating with are disappointed and frustrated,” Hayes said. “I wanted to make sure that they heard that information from me and that we carried out whatever was necessary to execute the decisions that we made going forward.”

Despite the initial impacts of the initiative, Hayes proved receptive to some advocacy: Lauren Reischer ’21, a member of the equestrian team, met with Hayes weekly last summer to advocate for the equestrian team after pointing out that cutting it eliminated her slot as the University’s only athlete with a disability. While a legal settlement ultimately restored the team’s varsity status, it “really felt that we would not have been reinstated without Jack Hayes’ involvement over the summer,” Reischer said, going as far to describe him as an “ally.”

The initial elimination of the men’s track and field and cross country teams — whose rosters have consisted of a greater proportion of racial representation and socio-economic diversity than the Brown student body as a whole and other teams — also struck a nerve amid the Black Lives Matter protests that took place last summer before the teams were reinstated.

“It felt really anti-Black,” Thomas, the women’s rugby player, said. “It didn’t make sense why you would cut a very successful team like that. At that point, I (thought), ‘I don’t care about you, I could care less about your policies, I already know they aren’t going to benefit me or my squad or any person of color.’”

Hayes was ultimately one of many individuals involved in the decision — a group that included Corporation members, President Christina Paxson P’19 and outside advisors. Still, he was one of the more public-facing individuals.

“I do not think (Hayes) had the final end-all say,” McCarthy said. “The actual decision is not a decision that can be made by one person alone.”

Still, she said, “if you’re going to point the finger at someone, it has to be at him.”

Looking ahead

The process of picking a new athletics director has no set timeline, according to University spokesperson Brian Clark. Hayes’ selection took roughly two months in 2012.

“The timeline will be driven by the search process and the candidate pool it generates — the most important goal is to bring aboard the right leader for Brown Athletics,” Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Efforts to find the next athletics director have already begun, Clark added. In the meantime, Colin Sullivan, deputy director of athletics, has taken the reins as the interim athletic director.

The next director will face numerous challenges: an outstanding lawsuit filed by the squash teams, the lingering effects of the pandemic, remaining fallout from the Excellence Initiative and, following the Ivy League’s decision to cancel the spring season, renewed discussions on special treatment athletes might receive if allowed to interact with players outside of the University.

Athletes expressed varying hopes for the next director: McCaleb said that he hoped the next director would be “similar to Jack Hayes” as a “leader” who knows athletes on a “personal level.” 

Reischer said she prioritized a “responsive” director with the “vision” to make the Excellence Initiative successful. 

Thomas expressed hopes that the University would hire a woman of color or an LGBTQ+ woman for the job who would prioritize investing in growing teams without donor bases and long histories. 

Cummings, the women’s soccer captain, echoed Thomas in her hopes that a woman of color who could “fix up the communications” and improve “transparency” would take the reins.

“I wish my successor the best of luck,” Hayes said. “I will be rooting for Brown athletics going forward — I hope my successor sees a lot of good things have been put in place, and I know that my successor will have an opportunity to work with great coaches and a great staff.”

Will Kubzansky

Will Kubzansky is a University News editor from Washington, D.C. who oversees the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.


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