On February 19, 2018, Sherryta Freeman began her tenure as Lafayette College’s director of athletics. Freeman has hit the ground running since taking over for Bruce McCutcheon who retired after more than a decade at Lafayette. Dan Gale recently had the opportunity to sit down with Sherryta Freeman and discuss her first 90 days in office. Freeman shared what drew her to Easton and Lafayette College, how she prepared to for the job as well as what’s up next for the Leopards.
Dan Gale: So first and foremost Sherryta tell us about your first 90 days and what has been your focus at Lafayette?
Sherryta Freeman: My first 90 days were focused on getting to know the staff, the culture and the policies and procedures at the College. Whenever you come into a new place, the first 90 days, or certainly the first 30 days, are focused on learning and digesting all the information that will be key to the future of the program that you’re leading. The thing that I didn’t want to do was come in and utilize all of my experience and skill sets to just start making changes or, formulate opinions without the full information. I was also very diligent in the first 30 days to meet with as many people on campus as I could. I met with vice presidents, leaders of different departments and also visited with folks in my own staff, not forgetting about the head coaches, the senior staff numbers. All of this was done to establish an understanding of what had been going on in the department.
The other thing that I focused on in the first 90 days was getting buy-in to my vision for the direction of the department. So, at the same time as I was learning, I was also talking about my vision and working with my direct supervisor, the Vice President for Campus Life.
There was an athletics review that was happening at the college which really dove into the status of Lafayette athletics and what resources were needed to be great. The review had happened over the prior 18 months before my arrival. Being able to digest that information and understanding where some of the potential areas of growth would be for the college and for athletics were certainly important for me in my first 90 days.
In summary, the first 90 days was about learning, understanding and then being able to articulate my vision in a way that was related directly to what the college had discovered through the athletics review process and my individual meetings with people across campus.
DG: You had an interesting situation where you were announced as the Athletic Director, but still had almost two months before you started. How did you juggle being at Penn, finishing out your role with a lot of responsibilities, but also wanting to jump in and start at Lafayette?
SF: I was announced on December 22nd right before Christmas and I didn’t officially start at Lafayette until February 19th. But I had many occasions to engage with in my role long before I officially started. On December 29th I was here at a basketball game and at a dinner at the President’s house. I was on campus in early January for a press conference and other meetings and throughout the month of January and early February, whether it was an executive committee meeting or just a meet and greet with staff. I was really transitioning at the moment that I was announced and it was important to me to do that. It was really important for me to have a presence as early as possible. But it also gave me a head start.
At the same time, I was also handling my responsibilities at Penn – going into work every single day trying to make sure that I was finishing up all major projects and handing over any assignments so that they would be in a good place as well.
I spent a lot of times on weekends focusing on Lafayette and my new role. I was also doing conference calls with the Deputy AD and the outgoing athletic director, Bruce, who was great. I was doing early morning phone calls with them before I started my day at Penn to be able to get the ball rolling prior to my official start date.
Essentially, it was taking time outside of my work hours to do some transitional things focused on Lafayette. It was definitely a challenge balancing the two, but something that I certainly felt like I needed to do.
DG: What advice do you have for other ADs that are in that position where they’re announced and then don’t start for 60 days? What advice would you offer them to make it a successful transition for both their current and future employer?
SF: The first thing I will say is that Grace Calhoun (Athletic Director at Penn) was tremendous with her leadership in terms of helping me with that transition and I have to give a lot of credit to her. She was very encouraging, allowing me to make sure I did what I needed to do in the transition and offered to help as she had first-hand experience in these kinds of transitions. She would also give me the option to not be in attendance at certain weekend events at Penn if I felt it may be more productive to be at Lafayette.
I think the first advice bit of advice that I would give is to make sure you have a conversation with your current athletic director to ensure that you are on the same page as to what’s acceptable and what isn’t. You don’t want to leave a place in a bad spot because you directed your focus elsewhere.
The other thing I would say is to have a plan. I utilized some of the people that I know in the business, but then also talked to consultants about this transition and what I needed to be focused on. Have a direct plan as to what you’re actually going to do when you first step foot on campus. Be organized and have a list of things that you need to accomplish in the transition. Whether it’s from a professional standpoint, or even a personal standpoint – there’s a move, there’s the closing out all the things in your personal life and transitioning them to your new place. Being able to just be organized and strategic about all of that is very important.
Starting with conversations with your current employer about what makes sense and also with your future employer about what their expectations are in that transitional period are essential. Make sure they know what you can and can’t do by setting expectations for both sides!
DG: What made Lafayette College so appealing for you to go after this job?
SF: I certainly knew a lot about the College before I became interested in the position. Lafayette’s an elite academic institution in the Patriot League and very similar in a lot of ways to the institutions within the Ivy League. That’s certainly what attracted me to this opportunity. When I’ve looked at positions over the last couple of years, knowing that I was on track to potentially become an athletic director one day, I started to think about what kind of place I want to work at. Geographically, where would I like to be, what’s the size of the institution that I would like to lead; and Lafayette fit the equation on all of those fronts.
I was at Penn really enjoying my time there, really learning and developing in ways that would be helpful for my next role. I was an SWA and Senior Associate Athletic Director and really fulfilled in my role at Penn. So I was not going to leave for just any opportunity.
Lafayette was the perfect opportunity because it checked all the boxes that were important to me. Now that I’m here, all of those things are feeling true – in terms of the kind of place that it is and having a culture that is very, very family oriented. That culture is fantastic because you are surrounded by people who care and are there for each other and really want this place to be great. I feel at home In terms of being able to inject energy and enthusiasm and feeling welcomed by everyone at the College.
DG: So now you’ve gotten through your first 90 days, you’ve built some great relationships, what’s on the horizon for the next 90 days and beyond?
SF: We are completing an exercise to develop a strategic plan that we hope to roll out by the end of the summer. It’s important to be able to take the vision and put it into action items and have a true strategy to be able to move forward. So developing the strategic plan to guide the department for the next five years is on the horizon.
We’ve got to move out of this transitional period and focus on making a difference and implementing changes.
The next 90 days or the next few months will also be a little bit of the strategy from the first 90 days. I’m still trying to understand how things work and how we can tweak some things to make them better. Fundraising is always important so I have shifted my focus there as well. We have also contracted with a consultant to help us go through an external revenue review to be able to think about how we can start to be more creative and utilize our assets more effectively. Those are the types of things we need to be doing on this campus. Understanding our external revenue structure and future potential to generate financial resources are going to be essential for the growth of Lafayette athletics.