After a stint playing professional basketball overseas, Susan Robinson Fruchtl returned to Pennsylvania State University – her alma mater – in 1993 to work as an assistant coach. Only a year removed from the end of her stellar college career, she began training the team’s post players. At Penn State, Robinson Fruchtl coached several young women who would go on to compete for the WNBA, and two who would represent their countries in international play – one for the United States, the other for Canada.
“Playing for your country was something I had dreamed of, and I was able to be good enough to do that,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “To help somebody else get there and realize those same dreams was amazing.”
Helping others reach their potential has defined Robinson Fruchtl’s career. Now director of athletics at Saint Francis University (Pennsylvania), she previously spent nine years – five at Saint Francis and four at Providence College – as a head coach. In that time, she impacted the women who played for her to such a degree that she still receives phone calls from them asking if she will serve as a reference for a job and invitations to their weddings. It’s a legacy she relishes.
“College is a time where you make a lot of decisions about your career and where you’re going to go next,” said Robinson Fruchtl. “My coaches and administrators had a great impact on me, and now I really feel a great responsibility of returning that and paying that forward.”
She accepted the athletics director position at Saint Francis earlier this year. And while the scale of her new role as an administrator is different – instead of worrying about one team’s budget and 15 women’s basketball players, she now makes decisions in the best interests of roughly 70 staff members, 600 student-athletes and 21 teams – she finds herself approaching the job as a coach would. Only now, she coaches the coaches – not the student-athletes.
Saint Francis won three conference championships this fall, including in football. The program had a 1-10 record in 2010 when the current coach was hired, and this year went to the NCAA championship playoffs for the first time in school history.
“I saw how the kids interacted and how they were so emotional about winning,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “That’s just one of the reminders for me. When I see people – whether coaches or student-athletes –overcome some long journey or adversity and, in the face of that, they still accomplish some great feats, that just reminds me that we’re doing good work.”