An athletic director (commonly "athletics director" or "AD") is an administrator at many American colleges and universities, as well as in larger high schools and middle schools, who oversees the work of coaches and related staff involved in intercollegiate or interscholastic athletic programs. At some colleges, the athletic director may hold academic rank but this practice is on the wane. At most colleges, he/she is not a faculty member but a full-time administrator.
Position at institution
Modern athletic directors are often in a precarious position, especially at the larger institutions. Although technically in charge of all of the coaches, they are often far less well-compensated and also less famous, with few having their own television and radio programs as many coaches now do. In attempting to deal with misconduct by coaches, they often find their efforts trumped by a coach's powerful connections, particularly if he is an established figure with a long-term winning record. However, in the case of severe coaching misconduct being proven, often the athletic director will be terminated along with the offending coach.
Athletic directors as coaches
Formerly, especially at major football-playing institutions, particularly in the South, the head football coach was also the "AD". Among the coaches to hold simultaneously hold the AD position were Bear Bryant (Alabama), Frank Broyles (Arkansas), Shug Jordan (Auburn), Vince Dooley (Georgia), John Vaught (Ole Miss) and Darrell Royal (Texas). Broyles retired as Arkansas football coach in 1976, but remained as Razorbacks athletic director through 2007. LSU was one of the exceptions to the rule in the south.
This was usually done in a nominal sense, giving the coach additional prestige, additional pay, and the knowledge that the only supervision that he was under was that of the college president or chancellor and perhaps an athletics committee, and such supervision was often token. An associate athletics director actually performed the functions of athletic director on a daily basis in the name of the coach. At a few institutions where basketball was the predominant sport the head men's basketball coach was treated similarly. In recent decades, this system has been almost entirely abandoned; collegiate sports, especially in its compliance aspects, has become far too complicated an undertaking to be run on a part-time basis. The last football coach to hold both positions at a major university was Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech; before leaving to become head coach at Tennessee after the 2009 season.
Paul Dietzel (LSU) and Tom Osborne (Nebraska) coached the football teams at their respective schools to national championships and later came back as athletic director after working elsewhere. Dietzel left LSU following the 1961 football season and coached at Army and South Carolina before returning to LSU as AD in 1978. Osborne served three terms in the United States House of Representatives after coaching the Cornhuskers from 1973 through 1997; he returned to Nebraska as AD in 2007.
Additionally, most of the old-line coaches who demanded such total control as a condition of employment have since either retired (or in Dooley's case, forced out) or died (Bryant died four weeks after coaching his final football game at Alabama), leaving in place a new generation who are not desirious of such an arrangement, if it were to be made available, and additionally have developed other sources of income, such as shoe contracts and radio and television appearance fees and endorsement contracts, that make the income which might come from the additional duty of athletic director unnecessary.
Increasingly, college athletic directors are less likely to be retired or active coaches with physical education or sports administration degrees and more likely to be persons who majored in business administration or a related field. The budget for a major athletic department of a large American university is now routinely at the level of tens of millions of dollars; such enterprises demand professional management. Athletic directors have their own professional organization in the U.S., the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.
Other individuals may be referred to as athletic directors. As mentioned above, many U.S. high schools have someone who performs this duty at least on a part-time basis, usually in conjunction with another coaching position; some school districts have a full-time director of athletics. Additionally, corporations which sponsor recreational or competitive sports may employ an athletic director.
- C. Jensen & S. Overman. Administration and Management of Physical Education and Athletic Programs. 4th edition. Waveland Press, 2003 (Chapter 15, "The School Athletics Program").