Changing a Culture: Dianne Murphy Takes Over
Interview by Phil Wallace ’04
After a protracted national search, Columbia has its new athletics
director. M. Dianne Murphy has been named as the successor to the
recently retired John Reeves; she assumes leadership of the athletics
department on November 8.
Murphy comes to Columbia with impressive credentials. For
the past six years, she has been athletics director at the University
of Denver, where she was instrumental in its growth into an NCAA
Division I school. Under Murphy, Denver won four national championships,
including one in ice hockey in 2003–04. For her work in expanding
Denver’s rapidly improving athletics department, Murphy was
named National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics
General Sports Turf West Region Athletic Director of the Year for
Murphy previously held athletic administration positions at
Cornell and Iowa, and she coached women’s basketball for 13
years at Eastern Kentucky, Shorter College and Florida State, where
she received her Ph.D.
Phil Wallace ’04, former associate
sports editor, columnist and investigative reporter for Spectator
and director of news and sports for WKCR, interviewed Murphy
to learn about her philosophy and vision for the future of Columbia
Dianne Murphy and Denver
hockey coach George Gwozdecky hold the 2004 NCAA championship
PHOTO: DU ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS
leaving a school, the University of Denver, where you’ve been
very successful competitively — winning four national championships,
including one this past year in the high profile sport of ice hockey.
And you’re coming to a school, Columbia, that
hasn’t won a conference football title since 1961, a basketball
championship since 1968 and has won fewer Ivy League titles historically
and in the last five years than any other school. Why would you
make this change?
look at this as a tremendous opportunity, quite frankly, given the
fact that Columbia University is a wonderful institution in terms
of its academics, its faculty and its alumni. Obviously, it’s
in the best city in the world. I think it’s a tremendous opportunity
to come in while there is a lot of interest right now with President
[Lee C.] Bollinger, his commitment and the trustees’ commitment
to athletics. It’s a wonderful institution in terms of the
academic side of the University, but I think the opportunity is
right to also complement that with a strong and wonderful athletics
program. I don’t think that athletics and academics are mutually
exclusive. We’ve proven that here at the University of Denver,
and other universities have done that as well: Princeton in the
Ivy League, Stanford, Duke, Michigan and many others. It’s
certainly going to be a huge challenge, but it’s something
I feel quite confident in.
the University of Denver, you were a big part of moving the school
up from the NCAA’s Division II to Division I school. Can you
talk about what that process is like in terms of really putting
sports on the map at a school where it might not have been in the
certain ingredients that make that happen. First and foremost, you
need a commitment from the senior leadership of the university.
Certainly, you need that support from your “CEO” and
that support from the trustees or your Board of Regents. We had
that at the University of Denver.
You have to have passionate leadership. You have to have people
who are committed to making it happen. You need visionary leadership
— that’s what I’m talking about. Another component
is that you certainly need to have excellent academics, where you
have strong programs and strong majors, to recruit student-athletes.
You need a really good faculty. Then, you’ve got to have competent
athletics administrators, coaches and support staff. Your staff
Of course, you need outstanding resources — your operating
budget, your staffing, your office space — and you’ve
got to have excellent athletic facilities in terms of your practice
venues and your competition sites.
Then, you really must have a solid infrastructure. What I mean
by that is a strong compliance program. You’ve got to have
a strong student-athlete support services program, from tutoring
to strength and conditioning to sports medicine and athletics training
and equipment. All these elements go into building a program. You’ve
got to have infrastructure in terms of policies and procedures,
and policies in terms of how you’re going to deal with disciplinary
actions. And then, of course, you need good, strong recruiting,
from admissions support to knowledgeable coaches who understand
how to promote and market and sell your university.
Then, I think you’ve got to have strong donor support from
your alumni, friends and fans. Your marketing support in terms of
your season ticket holders is tremendous.
people feel that many of those things aren’t in place at Columbia,
especially in terms of resources. Have you been given assurances
that there will be more resources available for athletics under
think of the question a little differently. Obviously, those are
the components that go into making a successful athletics program.
You can certainly hire the right athletics director, but if you
don’t support that person with the resources, then I don’t
think you will be successful.
But part of the job of the athletics director is to generate resources,
whether it’s more resources from within the university community,
from the corporate world, from ticket revenue or from alumni support
and your other donors. I think all those things are integral to
what we’re trying to do.
We’re certainly going to need more support from the University.
There’s no question about that. And I believe that will be
there. I think it’s also incumbent upon me as the athletics
director to look for new revenue sources. It cannot come from just
It’s interesting you mention that, because John Reeves told
me toward the end of his tenure that he never viewed his job as
a fundraiser. Can you talk about your fund-raising plan?
first of all, I haven’t started the job, so it’s difficult
to give you a plan today. [Editor’s note: This interview
took place in September, before Murphy took over at Columbia.]
But suffice to say, first and foremost, I think it is the job of
the director of athletics to engage in fund raising and cultivating
and developing relationships, particularly with athletics alumni
and other alumni. In this day and age, as a director of athletics
at a Division I program, a large portion of what we do is generate
revenue. Our job is to provide the resources for our staff, our
coaches and our student-athletes. So I think it’s incumbent
as part of our plan ... it will be simply what we did here at the
University of Denver: to reconnect and connect with our most obvious
people — our alumni who have participated in our athletics
program — and to do some fund raising and bring those people
back into the program.
It also will be getting them engaged as friends of our program,
as friends of the University, and then to cultivate relationships
with them. And then, ultimately, they’re going to want to
participate, they’re going to want to give back to the athletics
A second part of the plan will be getting our student-athletes engaged
in paying forward to their program. One of the programs that we
have here [at Denver] is that our student-athletes and our coaches
give to their program in terms of paying forward. That develops
a habit of giving [that will be in place] when they graduate. It’s
a program that has worked very well for us, and it is something
that we will talk about at Columbia. And that’s part of why
the Ivies have been so successful with their fund raising in general.
Our plan is not going to be rocket science. It’s all about
identifying people who already have a connection, who already have
an investment in Columbia University. We need to get those people
President Lee C. Bollinger
shares a word with Murphy at this fall's Homecoming game.
PHOTO: EILEEN BARROSO
is very much at a premium at Columbia. Where do you see space being
used for athletic facilities? A lot of talk has centered around
Manhattanville, and lot of those decisions are being made now, without
you here. Where do you see Columbia and athletic facilities?
think there’s a short-term answer and a long-term answer.
We have to take the existing facilities — because we’re
not going to build tomorrow — and we have to enhance those.
And I assume, not having been there, that there has been a lot of
discussion about putting some athletic facilities up at Manhattanville,
and I think that sounds like a logical answer. But that’s
long-term. That’s not tomorrow. That’s not five years
from now. So we’ve got to look at what can we do in the next
five years to help our coaches to and to help our student-athletes.
a new athletics director will come in and hire a number of new coaches
and other personnel. At Columbia, approximately 11 coaches have
been hired in the past two years. Many programs are operating with
new coaches. There are a lot of people who are nervous about you
making changes right after a number of changes already have been
made. What do you think about that?
time there is a change in leadership, people are going to be nervous.
It’s just human nature. I have not hired any of the coaches
at Columbia. I wasn’t there as the athletics director. Coming
in, I have to have to have faith and trust that the people making
those decisions made the right decisions. I’m not planning
on coming in the first few months and making wholesale changes.
I need to understand our staff, I’ve got to figure out what
they can and cannot do, what they’re good at, what do they
want to do.
I don’t care about the past
I only care about the future.
are your expectations from a coach, in terms of his or her relationship
with the athletics department and in terms of wins and losses?
is so much more than wins and losses, which are probably a small
percentage of what we’re talking about. First and foremost,
we’re going to have very high expectations of our staff. I
don’t care where they report to or who they are, I can assure
you that the level of expectation is going to be significantly ratcheted
up. And I’m talking about everything from how we look when
we come to work to how we answer our mail to how we answer our voicemail.
In anything and everything that we do, the expectations are going
to be significantly enhanced.
This is all about changing a culture to excellence and quality.
That’s what we’re all about [at Denver]. That’s
what I’m all about. You’re going to hear me talk a lot
about that as long as I’m at Columbia. We’re going to
do everything we can with integrity, excellence and quality. Those
are the three words everyone needs to pay attention to: integrity,
excellence and quality.
In terms of our coaches, I expect them to be positive role models
and mentors. I expect them to be outstanding recruiters. I expect
them to be excellent teachers. I expect them to be good friend raisers
and fan raisers and fund raisers. I expect them to be concerned
about their student-athletes graduating, and having a good experience.
It’s not just about winning. If you do all the right things
in terms of recruiting the right people, supporting them the right
way in terms of mentoring and coaching, being concerned about their
academics, being concerned about them as whole persons, making sure
that they have a good experience, teaching well … If you do
all those things, you’re going to be successful competitively.
And if you don’t do those things, you’re not going to
be successful competitively. So the process is just as important,
and maybe more important, than the outcome. If you don’t do
the process, you’re not going to have the outcome.
Murphy meets some of
PHOTO: EILEEN BARROSO
do you feel about people who believe Columbia can never overcome
its losing past?
will work as hard as we can to turn things around. I don’t
care about what the past. I only care about the future. I feel very
supported by everyone, or else I would not have taken the job. Why
would I have left a great job like this [at Denver] if I didn’t
feel like we were going to have the support that we need? And I
think too many people focus on the past and not on where they need
to be going in the future. My primary focus is looking down the
road and trying to get this program where it should be and deserves
to be in the Ivy League and nationally.
Phil Wallace ’04 is an international
strategy analyst for NYC2012 — New York’s bid for the