Joel Nielsen begins a new legacy

Cody Erbacher

A little over 16 years has passed since the athletic department welcomed Laing Kennedy into the organization as the director of athletics. As Kent State athletics enters the 2010 season, Joel Nielsen will head the department.

Nielsen, 47, who is under a five-year contract, has a stacked resume with more than 20 years of experience, was welcomed to Kent State with open arms — and a room in Van Campen Hall.

Now that the 11th Kent State director of athletics is beginning his first year, assistant sports editor Cody Erbacher sat down with Nielsen to talk about his time at the university.

So to start off, how has your transition to Kent been going?

It’s been great. Our family arrived June 9. I was here a little over a month without the family, and I was working 24/7 at that time, and it hasn’t slowed down a lot since the family’s been here. But it’s been a lot more comfortable to have them here. We really enjoy the city of Kent … the place has been extremely hospitable.

When you first got here you were placed in Van Campen Hall. How did that go for you?

Living on campus was great. I got to meet a lot of students.

Are you upset you weren’t in a nicer dorm such as Centennial?

At that time I didn’t know. I thought I was moving into one of the nicer dorms. To the students living in Van, I still feel it’s one of the nicer dorms.

How was campus food?

I actually did not eat on campus. Rockne’s was the restaurant of choice. I think I know their whole menu.

I saw you have three daughters, how are they taking the move to Kent?

Actually, all three are taking it very well. All three play competitive golf, so the golf really helped them transition. Their first day of school was yesterday (Aug. 23). It sounds like things went pretty well. At least they went back for day two.

Is having three daughters tough with this job?

We had three girls in about 19 months. About four years of my life I have no memory, and that was their first four years.

You’ve only been here a few months, so how has the beginnings of the relationships with the coaching staff been going?

With coaches and the staff I put together a survey, then I met each individually. The transition has been quite positive.

What about the student athletes?

I take an hour each week and meet with different student athletes. Often times I just think of different questions to ask the young men and women. You get a good sense of what’s good and what isn’t and what needs to be changed.

The previous director of athletics, Laing Kennedy, was here for 16 years. How do you plan on filling that void?

You don’t fill a 16-year run in year one. You need to earn respect. A lot of the programs that have been administered for the last 16 years are strong. For the most part, you don’t want to come in here and change everything because it’s been working so well. We were finding areas that we think need addressing in the short term, and obviously we jumped into the football thing.

A lot of your focus has been placed on the football team. How do you plan on getting attention placed on the smaller sports such as field hockey, volleyball and soccer?

I think it’s this connection with the student body. As we talk about how we connect with the student body, it’s with the athletic department because our student athletes in all sports are great representatives. They’re good students, and they’re good socially. We want to represent the department as a whole. I was out at soccer the other day and there was a student group there with their flags, and they were yelling the whole time and chanting, so I think there are groups out there that are supporting sports other than football and basketball.

You must have to work all year with 16 Division 1 teams, how are your stress levels in dealing with that?

You hear about it all the time from athletes: The only stress I have is the stress I put upon myself.

What other areas are you planning on focusing on this year?

We will have some facility challenges in the future, there’s no question about that. That takes a lot of work behind the scenes. We’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time with a fundraising plan in our first months. I’d say the fundraising piece is as critical as any other of the pieces we’ve talked about.

Your contract is up in five years. Where do you see Kent State athletics by then?

Five years, is that it? I see us continuing to develop the championships. What I call the championship experience. It’s gaining the all sport trophies on the men and women’s side.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Cody Erbacher at [email protected]