Jon Palumbo: My Path To Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

I wasn’t an English Literature major, but the words of poet John Dunne resonate on this day: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These words epitomize how I view my role as the next Director of Athletics at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. While my name may sit atop the org chart, my role is to provide and allocate resources such that our people can achieve at a high level. Together, we will build an inclusive culture that values input from various constituencies and puts our department in lockstep with the university’s strategic plan.

Dunne’s sentiment is also particularly apropos for our relationship to the greater Corpus Christi community. The campus is situated less than ten miles from the city center, on a peninsula dubbed Ward Island. Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s branding as the Island University is a phenomenal selling point on a brochure, but that is where our island mindset must remain. Insularity on our little plot of land is not an option. Engagement with our municipal neighbors to determine how our department can best ingratiate itself to its welcoming, diverse home community is not just a priority, it is a necessity.

I certainly did not recognize it at the time, but the formative years of my life had a profound impact on the pull I ultimately felt toward athletics administration. While I was growing up, my  father was a blue collar, small business owner and a part-time baseball coach at Bowie State University who led them to a conference championship in 1996. I have three younger brothers who, like me, went on to play collegiate baseball. Athletics was the primary vehicle through which we learned work ethic, sense of team and a will to compete, characteristics which I hold dear to this day. Despite having been gone from Bowie State for three years when the school decided to drop the baseball program, my father could not hide his profound disappointment for the student-athletes still wearing the uniform. My compass, the true north of which is pointed toward always considering what is best for our student-athletes is, in part, modeled after the concern he showed for those young men.

As a walk-on student-athlete at La Salle University, the value of that experience is ingrained within me and is a huge part of my identity. It is where I had the opportunity to develop relationships with athletic department staff and learn the appeal of leading a unit toward a common goal. Even though I was merely pushing paper in my post-playing career graduate assistant role, I was drawn to the positive impact that an administrator could have on coaches and student-athletes.

In particular, I have learned so much from mentors such as Ed McLaughlin and Randy Eaton and Keith Gill. Ed, reinforces that treating people the right way is the only way and that leaders should be themselves. While our styles may be different, we have shown that individuals with different personalities can successfully compliment each other if they share the same values. Randy’s interpersonal skills, his ability to be genuine and straightforward, have helped shape how I interact with my staff. Keith demonstrated the value of maintaining an even keel and steady demeanor.

No matter the personalities of our staff at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I expect each individual to have a positive attitude and high level of energy, and hold oneself and one’s peers to a high level of account. There is no doubt that we are running a business, but our culture will be such that we will not lose sight of the fact that it is okay to have fun. We spend our time around young people and sports, which should be reflected in our enjoyment of our work. We are going to establish these and more expectations and not shy away from setting bold, aggressive goals.

Dynamic President Kelly Quintanilla and her team are hungry to build a winner and were very clear during the interview process about their desire to have athletics help raise the profile of the institution. Our department is poised to not only follow, but also help shape, the trajectory of a university that is on its way to becoming an emerging research institution, has seen almost $350 million in construction over the past decade and boosted undergraduate enrollment 29 percent since 2012.

Entering her second year in the position, but having been at the school for nearly a quarter century, Dr. Quintanilla is emphatic in her desire for Texas A&M Corpus Christi to become a mid-major breakthrough athletics program, with the place I have mostly recently called home for nearly six years serving as a model. From my time at Virginia Commonwealth, I bring a blueprint for how to foster and sustain success, grow a brand and generate revenue to promote the best possible student-athlete experience. Strategic planning, fiscal stewardship and capital project management were central to my experience at VCU and will serve as drivers for a Texas A&M Corpus Christi athletic department that has the potential to mirror VCU’s accomplishments.

Sustained success across multiple sports, most notably men’s basketball, propelled the VCU Rams to become the city of Richmond’s team. Indicative of that support, VCU men’s basketball has a current sellout streak of 117 games. With no major pro sports franchise in town outside of a Double-A baseball club, Islander Athletics is positioned to become a point of pride and interest for residents of the Sparkling City by the Sea. With renewed investment from administration, a campus community rallying behind the president’s vision, and core groups of supporters that has room for tremendous growth, the stage is set for an impactful town-and-gown marriage.

We are Islanders, but we will not be an island; we will be a part of the main.

This article was originally posted on AthleticDirectorU.