Major Changes in the Athletic Department after Post-Quarantine Turnover

by Jilleen Barrett & Karen Flores, A&E Editor & Staff Writer

The Athletic Department at Manhattan has experienced major changes between July and the end of October, with 18 members of its staff leaving for various reasons. Marianne Reilly, the director of intercollegiate athletics at the college, believes COVID and other issues in national athletics pushed people to pursue new opportunities.

One of these people was Douglas Straley, the associate athletic director for sports medicine and athletic performance. Straley spent 19 years at Manhattan before taking a similar position at Columbia University earlier this year. According to Reilly, Straley was offered the position and took it because of the opportunities he would have at the ivy league school; Straley declined to comment.

Marianne Reilly, director of athletics, says she and the rest of the department “use our special gifts to be able to create leaders for tomorrow and to be great alumni going forward.”

Straley has been replaced by Thomas O’Brien, the new assistant athletic director for sports medicine and head athletic trainer. O’Brien previously served as the head athletic trainer at Fordham University and was working with the USA men’s basketball team when he was referred to his position for the Jaspers. O’Brien said the biggest difference between his roles at Fordham and Manhattan is the number of students he works with.

“My responsibilities in this role is to oversee the healthcare of about 350 student-athletes across all my teams … That’s probably where the biggest jump for me is right now, is going from just overseeing my team and a couple of managers to overseeing my staff plus keeping tabs on every team, injuries and recoveries from possible surgeries, injuries, etc.,” O’Brien said. “[I am overseeing] 350 student-athletes rather than the 25 I was overseeing at Fordham … but it’s something that you’re doing the same and you understand that you’re just overseeing and trusting your staff to do what they got to do.”

As far as guidance from the previous staff on how to build this trust, O’Brien declined to comment any further, but he is looking forward to building relationships with the hundreds of athletes he is overseeing. 

“I’m looking forward to building more relationships with student-athletes,” O’Brien said. “Of course, as people are getting to know me and having conversations, you got to build a bond with them and [meet] new people every day.”.

Two other members of the athletic department left to work at Columbia University. In addition, Kathryn Mirance, Kevin Ross, Tony Vecchione and Andrew Santos left Manhattan to pursue other opportunities as well, Mirance being the only one to comment on her departure. Mirance told the Quad her decision to leave was due to a need to work closer to where she is raising her children. She is now working in the athletics department at Army West Point.

Reilly mentioned heated debates in the NCAA over topics such as whether or not student-athletes should be paid caused major changes at the national level of athletics. She sees these issues trickling down to smaller schools like Manhattan and pointed out that this may have made athletic staff across the country leave their jobs, especially if they were eligible for retirement.

“I really think people felt after COVID, it was a moment of reflection and in the world of athletics, there were so many people that retired,” Reilly said. “Not just because of COVID but because of the platform athletics is working off of with the NCAA now and the new council coming through, you know, Division I may not look like Division I five years from now, we don’t know what that’s gonna look like … so there’s so many changing things.”

Cat Clifford, the interim head coach for the softball team, acknowledges these problems but feels they are able to work through them.

“I think that there’s been a lot of stuff going on, a lot of changes when there haven’t been people in positions when we’re in the interim with those,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit clunky, but I think everyone’s done a good job of stepping into positions that are maybe outside of their comfort zone just to make sure we get stuff done. So as a staff together I think we’ve been really good at keeping things cohesive and being able to continue on even if we’re between positions.”

Cat Clifford was recently promoted to interim head coach of the softball team after they won the MAAC last spring. 

Reilly and Clifford gave similar comments to The Quadrangle regarding what they feel is the most important issue at hand: the health and well-being of the student-athletes.

“We’re here because of them,” Clifford said. “Me and my staff are here for our kids. That’s what we’re here for. We love being with them.”

“We are all advocates up here … we look to each other, it’s kind of like that ‘[it] takes the village’ approach. It takes a village to help all of our student-athletes we have over you know, we have 350 student-athletes. No one person can do it by themselves,” Reilly said.

While the new and promoted faculty members work towards finding a steady pace to work with, student-athletes hope to be able to feel heard as well as be able to get help and aid when adapting and transitioning into new routines and new coaching styles.

Christina Katsamouri, a communications major with a concentration in journalism and member of the women’s basketball team at Manhattan shares her experience in regards to the vast changes within this time period. She talked about how she felt there was a lot of confusion and unpredictability in terms of schedules with her trainers when the changes began to occur.

“At the beginning it was hard, we were in a scrambling situation where we were just trying to figure out who was going to be our trainer, where we should go for treatment, who we should call. It was like that for about one and a half months,” Katsamouri said. 

She stated that there was a point where there was only a single trainer for the entire athletic department when there is usually one trainer for each team. This was something that the athletes had to endure for about two months. 

Katsamouri also told the Quadrangle that having only a single trainer for all of the athletic teams was the biggest struggle as it made it a more difficult and time-consuming process of communicating between departments. Athletes who needed treatment had to talk to their coaches beforehand to make sure there were time slots for treatment scheduling, adding a middle man to the situation.

Katsamouri said that during this time period, despite all that was occuring, she felt that she was being heard when she needed clarification or some guidance from the administration. She said that as long as they communicated with them, the administration would always try to bring a solution to the problem. 

“But then, thankfully, they brought in new people and now we kind of like starting over again,” Katsamouri said. “We do have our own trainer again, and it’s more organized, it just took them a while until they figured out the situation.” 

Katsamouri feels that the turmoil that occurred during the changes is now over as she begins to regain her balance with the help of her new trainor and the rest of the faculty. 

“[The Athletic Department] was trying to find the best people possible for the positions,” Katsamouri said.