Q & A with Athletic Director Travis Feezell

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Athletic Director Travis Feezell sits down with a Mac weekly sports editor to discuss his experiences and decisions during his first year at Macalester.

Administrative changes have been consistently made across several departments this past year. Athletics was no different, as Travis Feezell, former director of athletics at Whitman College, took over as athletic director the departure of Irv Cross. Feezell, who is about to finish his first full year as overseer of the Macalester Athletic Department, reflects on the year’s experience and looks to the future with ambition, enthusiasm, and determination.

Mac Weekly: What was it that made you decide to come to Macalester, and the Midwest/Minnesota?

Travis Feezell: Professionally, I saw some great opportunities, being at Whitman prior to coming here, which is a similar school, Macalester too is a small, private, liberal arts, elite academics. Particularly, having the opportunity to shape an athletics program, both the direction of varsity sports and also hoping to grow some recreational programs, including club sports and intramural sports.

I have been able to engage in some capital projects, the new athletic facility as well as the turf project on the stadium that will go forward this summer and potentially another project involving the softball and baseball fields. Those are opportunities that just don’t come along very often. With the combination of both personal and professional, it really wasn’t too hard of a decision to say “yes.”

MW: So, being a native Midwesterner, you didn’t have any problems with the weather or community?

TF: No, not at all. In fact, I wish it had been a snowier and colder winter. But, I love the community. I intentionally bought a house about half a mile from campus, so we’re right here in St. Paul. The running joke in our family is that we’re 10 minutes from everything, and we like that. Overall, it’s a wonderful community and I’ve really enjoyed being here.

MW: Compared to other schools, such as Whitman where you were last, is Macalester comparable as far as the atmosphere?

TF: Yes, absolutely. I think there are clearly some distinctions between Macalester and Whitman, an urban versus rural setting and how that influences the college as well as personal and professional opportunities. At Whitman there was a strong core of an outdoor program that I would oversee and be a part of. Here [in the city] there are some other kinds of things athletically and academically, in terms of its international reputation, the students from across the country.

MW: Do you feel that fitting in has been easy, as far as the department and Mac community?

TF: I think so, I hope so. Clearly, there are some things I still need to learn and I will continue to grow with aspects that are unique to Macalester. Also I feel it important to learn names of students and being at events, as well as taking a next step to know more students at large. The nature of the athletic direction position, you are constantly engaging with faculty, staff across a multitude of departments, as well as students and members of the community, alumni, you name it…The last couple of months have propelled me to engage in many relationships.

MW: Looking back to this year, you’ve made some important decisions regarding coaching staff. How do you feel about your decisions? In retrospect would you change anything?

TF: No, I wouldn’t change any decisions. Probably, the biggest ones I’ve been involved in were the hiring, particularly women’s basketball and football, as for making reinvestments in those programs. I feel like we made some terrific hires. Although it has only been a few short months, you already begin to see the way in which these coaches are managing programs and the relationships they’ve built with students, and you see the kinds of recruiting energy they’re putting in all around campus. I really don’t have any doubts that they will do a fine job raising the competitive level of those programs.

Some things, and this would run under the radar screen, but one of the biggest decisions I’ve made was to take the year to make observations. Clearly, there were some decisions to be made right away, but one of those was to say “take the year to really observe, think about, grow and see if there are changes that need to be made, approach them the ensuing year.” And so, we’re coming to the close of the academic year and there are some things I want to look at strongly for next fall, including policy changes, questions of how to better integrate efforts with athletics and the rest of the campus, how can we reinforce the pillars of this institution in some creative programs.

MW: So this year was most of all about building a foundation to work off?

TF: I hope so. Really it was about taking observations, seeing what we do well, what we can do better and building on those kinds of options to strength the department.

Generally, the biggest impact has been a new set of eyes to look at the way we do things. It seems broad, but having been at a similar institution, bring in new ideas, and administratively looking that the department in a different way. At the center of every discussion is, “what is the best way we can enhance the student athlete experience.” That has been the tenet under which I’ve made my observations and decisions.

MW: So then, what is going to be the `Feezell’ legacy here for Macalester sports? If there was one big contribution you could make, what would it be?

TF: The legacy would be that this was the start of all of our varsity teams competing at the highest levels possible. We’ve had success in some programs and challenges in others, but I’d like to see consistency in all.

MW: Meaning, we’re all going to win conference championships..?

TF: I would love to see all teams winning conference. For me it wouldn’t be “Travis Feezell having his thumb on all the different buttons making it happen,” but that I was able to allow very talented coaches to coach at the highest level, to give them the resources they need and to allow athletes to have the best competitive experience possible.

MW: Not to put priorities on single sport, but do you have favorite?

TF: Well, I have to have a favorite sport, of course. I’m a baseball player at heart, and I was a baseball coach at the Division III level. I’d love to see them do well, but I do find myself enjoying being at other events. Everything from the cross country championships at Como Park, which was a great competition. I went to my first water polo match a couple weeks ago, and its really cool! It’s a great sport, absolutely great! And those are just two…It’s great being able to oversee a long list of sports I didn’t have before, both as an administrator but also as a fan.

MW: I know I’ve got an extensive collection, but do you find yourself wearing a lot more blue and orange?

TF: (Laughs) Yes! All of my Whitman clothing has been replaced with Macalester. I have a lot of bright orange shirts I didn’t think I’d wear, but it is surprising how well it matches with everything.

MW: So, with your wardrobe of blue and orange, do you plan on hanging around for a while?

TF: I’d certainly like to! If people think I’m doing a good job. This really is a special place, and I’m very fortunate to be able to do my job. I get to be around athletics all day, a great staff, and enthusiastic students…It’s a good gig. If they want to keep me around, I’ll stay.