Doug Zipps professional journey to becoming Shenandoah’s newest athletic director (AD) began with his experience as a dual athlete in basketball and golf and as a collegiate basketball official. He began his academic career in student life at the University of Rochester in New York, before moving to Kenyon (Ohio) College. After successfully running residence halls and overseeing campus discipline, he developed a strong reputation for bringing people together and bridging the gulf between coaches and faculty members. His deep understanding of how a campus works resulted in his being asked to spearhead the construction of a multipurpose athletic facility at Kenyon. This experience opened the door for Zipp to move into athletics administration. Now with six months under his belt at Shenandoah, Zipp shares his perspective on the future of the university’s intercollegiate athletics program and its role in helping to shape students for successful, professional careers.
Q: WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE AD POSITION HERE AT SHENANDOAH?
A: The university moving into the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) was a huge factor. Athletics are a big deal at Shenandoah, and the community supports it. Knowing we can win, and that there has been some success in many different programs over time, was a huge piece for me, too. [Shenandoah’s] focus on its intellectual collegiate environment was also a big draw. The academic programs offered, and the combination of the liberal arts and professional [studies], was also attractive. I think it allows Shenandoah to attract a variety of students, while giving them opportunities to get an education and play athletics at what will soon be a high-level [contender] in the ODAC.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?
A: I view my role as more of a collaborator. I keep an open-door policy, and my mantra to the coaches is that ‘we’re all in this together.’ Everything we do reflects all of us, all of the time. My approach is not dictatorial. We’re going to talk about it and get some input from different places—all that came from my student life experience. I think it’s a real asset for me, and it’s [an important part of ] what I bring to the table.
Q: HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A COLLEGIATE BASKETBALL OFFICIAL SHAPED YOUR LEADERSHIP PERSPECTIVE?
A: It helps me to make quick decisions, evaluate situations and come to a conclusion. It helps me to deal in high-pressured situations with people who are highly motivated, highly energized and very driven. Although I’ve never coached, I know what it’s like during the last 30 seconds of a game when [coaches] want to win, and they have to win because it could mean their jobs, and it could mean what’s going to happen if it doesn’t work out. So you develop a really thick skin, and you tune out a lot of the periphery. I think this has helped me relate to different people and situations. I can stay pretty focused on the task at hand.
Q: WHAT MAKES SHENANDOAH STAND OUT AS THE NEWEST SCHOOL IN THE ODAC?
A: The ODAC is a prestigious conference, and Shenandoah has a lot of great things to offer—in particular its combination of the liberal arts and professional education. Very few, if any, of the ODAC schools have that unique focus. When a student comes to Shenandoah, they’ll see that beyond offering strong [undergraduate] programs, we have graduate health professions. They’ll be able to go to the business school and get an MBA. They can do all kinds of things and gain the skills they’ll need to get a job in the marketplace. I think that’s a feather in our cap.
Q: DO YOU THINK THE ODAC OFFERS WHAT SHENANDOAH NEEDS TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT A NATIONAL LEVEL?
A: Yes, it does. The ODAC is one of the strongest conferences in a lot of sports. Seventy-five percent of the sports in this conference are nationally ranked at some level. That’s huge, as is its name recognition. Everyone knows about the conference. It’s really good for us.
Q: WHAT “PLEASANT SURPRISES” HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED DURING THE LAST SIX MONTHS?
A: The amount of support we get from the community is amazing to me. I thought it would be pretty strong, but I had no idea how important it is to the Winchester/ Frederick County community to be a part of Shenandoah athletics. The energy, enthusiasm and dedication of our coaches is also incredible. It’s a one-thought, one-vision direction we are moving in, and everyone is buying in.
Q: DURING YOUR TIME AS AD, YOU’VE REPLACED A WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COACH, A FOOTBALL COACH AND A FIELD HOCKEY COACH. DID YOU ENVISION HAVING TO MAKE THOSE KINDS OF MAJOR CHANGES SO QUICKLY?
A: No, not at all. Throughout the interview process, there was some talk that there would be a few changes that probably would need to be made over time, but I didn’t think it would happen during the first three months. It gave us an opportunity to take a look at our different programs and to push them in a different direction.
Q: WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A SUCCESSFUL COACH?
A: They need to have experienced winning somewhere in their careers. More importantly, they must understand the Division III philosophy that academics comes first and that Shenandoah athletes are students first, athletes second.
Q: HOW DOES A NEW ATHLETICS CENTER FIT INTO YOUR VISION FOR THE UNIVERSITY?
A: I think it’s absolutely paramount that we build a new athletics facility over the next several years. As consumers, prospective students are selecting colleges and universities based on several factors. First, they’ll determine where they want to go based on the academic program of study. Next, it’s facilities. When they walk in the front door, they’ll see other students playing, recreating, doing things and being active. They’ll see the fantastic weight room and the athletic training room. They’ll see study places, and they’ll get energized and excited. You want them to walk in the door and think, “Wow, this is the place for me, and I feel really comfortable here.” It’s a consumer’s market, so we have to put our best foot forward and give our student-athletes resources and facilities that give them the best opportunities to succeed on the floor.
Q: WHAT DOES THIS PROCESS LOOK LIKE, AND HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE TO BUILD?
A We’ve got to build a facility that will last for the next 50–75 years. These facilities are very expensive because they are big box items, and big spaces cost money. As far as accommodating different types of sports and different types of interests, we will never hit it exactly perfect. But if we take a look at multipurpose spaces, a building structure that has the potential and the possibility for future renovations, that will really pay off in the long run. I think we’re looking at a four- to five-year process. Planning is the most important thing we do. It means we’ll take the time to decide what we need and what we want. Then we’ll talk to a lot of different people who will use the facility—students, staff, faculty, trustees, alumni, community members and a variety of outside groups. We’ll gather their ideas, and we’ll include them in the process. This helps with buy-in, energy, support and enthusiasm.
Q: WHAT WILL A NEW ATHLETICS FACILITY DO FOR THIS COMMUNITY?
A: It will make campus life a lot more exciting and vibrant. It will give us a student-first facility and will create ownership amongst our student body, our faculty and our staff. There would be nothing better than to walk into this facility and see faculty members and students working out together—whether they are taking a fitness class, lifting in the weight room, playing pickup basketball or competing in intramurals. If they start coming to games, the feeling becomes contagious. It creates school spirit, as it will when the ‘Buzzin Dozen’ (pep band) walks across campus or plays before a game and their music reverberates throughout the entire facility. That’s exciting stuff. As our teams continue to win and momentum builds, that’s what becomes contagious. This will absolutely transform the campus and make it an even more attractive gem in Virginia and the ODAC. I think we have the opportunity in the future to really build something special and make it a wonderful destination on campus. It’s about community. It’s about pride, spirit, energy and excitement. These are the things we want to see, and a facility can pull it all together. That’s what Shenandoah is all about.
Q: WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF SHENANDOAH ATHLETICS?
A: I see us winning the majority of games, sitting at the top half of the conference in every sport, winning ODAC championships—not every year—but in an ideal world, giving every student the opportunity to make a good run at a conference championship every four years. I see 25 percent of our teams making the NCAA Tournament. The great thing about the ODAC is that if you make a regular season conference title or a conference season championship in a tournament, you get an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. We want to be there. In five years, I want us to host first-round games in all of the ODAC tournaments at the end of every season. I think we need to have a national presence, and by doing that, we have to make the NCAA Tournament in a lot of different sports, not just one or two. So we’ve got to be pretty even across the board with what we are doing.
The biggest area where I think we’ll have challenges will be in recruiting students. We have to get our coaches out there, and we need to get Shenandoah visible at all kinds of tournaments and clinics at high schools throughout the Northeast and throughout the East Coast.
Really stressing academics is the most important thing. I constantly talk to the department about retention, about GPAs, and everybody gets it. We are moving in the direction where our number one goal is to have 100 percent retention and to graduate our student-athletes in four to five years at the most.
As far as numbers of sports, I think 20 is a good number right now. If we get much bigger than that, we would start changing the complexion of the university, our department and our resources. So, I think we are at a good number right now. If a couple more sports emerge as a priority at other ODAC schools down the road—say, women’s golf or swimming—I’m sure we would take a very thoughtful look at that.