“I’ve been [at Goucher] for 23 years and I think for 19 years that I’ve been here, the campus has been under construction,” Director of Athletics Geoffrey Miller said, remarking on his time at Goucher. One of Goucher’s most substantial reconstructions has not been residence halls or academic buildings, but of the Athletic Department.
Recent dramatic changes, like a new logo and the introduction of Rowdy, have become talking points on campus and online. Travis Holland ’02, wrote on the Goucher Athletics Facebook page, “I’ll never love Rowdy as much as I did for Mortimer…,” while current students shared similar discontent on Facebook. Miller understands the criticism and meets change with optimism. In October, he referred to the change as “turning the page on a new chapter” and “I knew it was going to be different… It’s been 20 years… I knew it was time to get a fresh look.” In April 2017, he remarked, “I like change. I don’t want to stay the same.”
In fact, Miller says that he joined Goucher from Washington College, back in 1994, because “that [Washington College] was an institution that was okay with the status quo. It wasn’t receptive to change… This institution [Goucher] wanted to be better. This institution is like a rising star.”
“It’s easy for people to get caught up in the visible, tangible changes – [that can be a new] logo, a new athletic deal, stuff like that – because it’s in front of everybody… It’s easy to react to those things, but [people often] don’t understand a lot of times the little things that go on behind the scenes of those things that are really and truly impacting things. Big changes are easy to see and people always have a reaction to them, but it’s the little things that are the most impactful,” says Assistant Athletic Director and Head men’s soccer coach, Bryan Laut.
One of the small changes within the Athletic Deparment Laut recognizes are the increased impact coaches have on students and student-athletes alike. “I think the best thing we ever did [in my 23-year career at Goucher,] is create the Graduate Assistant (GA) position for teams,” Miller reflects. The GA’s act as assistant coaches for the team and provide an opportunity for the head coach to focus on bigger picture things, like recruiting, game strategy, and player management.
One of the important tasks of being a Division III athletic coach, specifically at Goucher, is acting as a role model. One of the ways Laut demonstrates his compassionate commitment to his players is through frequent meetings with every member of the team to assess how their particular semester is going on and off the field. “You have to create a positive environment, as a coach, in that team and in that game setting so people are feeling… a part of that collected enterprise… [feeling] good… on the same page… respected… and challenged,” say Miller.
Additionally, the Athletic Department
has been attempting to reach out to non-athletes on campus. This has involved partnerships by offering food at games, giving away free t-shirts, and even a television at a Men’s Basketball game in December. Student outreach has been challenging for the Department: “It takes time to shift culture and that’s what we’re trying to do… You have to give it some time. It’s a difficult thing to do. It’s challenging,” bemoans Miller.
He concedes that a part of his trouble is understanding how a younger generation functions. To help Miller and his administration, Goucher hired Brandon Harrison to be the Director of Athletic Communications in December. With the help of Nathaniel Cain, class of 2016, and his collaboration with current Goucher students, Harrison created the Goucher Sports Network. Harrison expects the Network to upload a series of highlights from games, promotion of upcoming games, and eventually he wants to do a weekly sports show. “We just want to show that the Athletics program is something that we’re proud of,” summarizes Harrison.
Miller is a perfectionist when it comes to the appearance and behavior of Goucher sports. He knows how easy people make judgements based on first-impressions and often student-athletes need their coaches to enforce good behavior. “I think the coaches have a tremendous responsibility… we [the entire Athletic Department] are held accountable for [the student-athletes’] reputation.”
For better or for worse, student-athletes have a precarious reputation on campus. Because the school provides a connection to the school and an established group of friends from teammates, certain student-athletes experience a separation from the larger Goucher community. “I think we [student-athletes] are our own worst enemy… we glom together as athletes… and are all wearing our gear and… might even be loud, might even be boisterous… that’s intimidating to some people… We act in ways that marginalizes people,” reflects Miller.
He is optimistic for the future reputation of student-athletes. “It requires some effort on the part of students and the Department to break down some of those [issues of student-athlete alienation] … we can hit that sweet spot of what [a better relationship between students and student-athletes] looks like.” In order to have a closer Goucher community – a true gopher whole – student-athletes and the Department must continue to reach out to other members on campus.
“The foundation blocks, the principles of [who Goucher is] are not changing. The physical spaces may change. The mascot might change… but we still expect our students to be the best possible people, students, and teammates they can be,” Miller adds.