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Learning To Lead

AD has taken opportunities as they’ve come — even coaching a sport he didn’t know

Brad Duckworth, in his coaching days, was a man for many seasons at Alverno. ALAN HERZBERG PHOTO

Brad Duckworth, the director of athletics at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, is in his first year running the Pointers program. But the multifaceted roles of an athletics director are nothing new to him: He spent nine years juggling duties as women’s basketball coach, women’s golf coach and director of athletics at Alverno.

A graduate of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Duckworth has spent nearly two decades as a coach. And now that AD duties are his full-time job — one he complements by serving as the chair of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee — he plans to pull from his coaching experience to lead his department.

“Having coached has helped me tremendously as a leader,” Duckworth says. “I can speak with my younger coaches when they are going through adversity. You can never say you’ve experienced everything, but I’ve experienced a lot in the last 20 years. I’ve had to deal with all kinds of problems with my student-athletes. I’ve had problem parents; I’ve had problems with players who struggled in the classroom; and I’ve lived through the best player quitting the team.”

A change of plans

Duckworth showed up on the Wisconsin-La Crosse campus planning to compete on the basketball team and major in elementary education. His plans for the future included coaching.

But he was sidelined by a series of injuries. And in 1997, when an assistant women’s basketball coach at the school — Keri Carollo, now the women’s basketball coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater — asked if he would like to help coach the Wisconsin-La Crosse women’s team, Duckworth’s career was unexpectedly underway.

“That’s how my coaching career started in my senior year of college,” he says.

Twice as nice

He stayed in that first role for three seasons. In 2002, Stuart Robinson, the athletics director at SUNY New Paltz, offered Duckworth his first opportunity to be a head coach — of not just women’s basketball, but softball, too.

“I wasn’t familiar with softball,” he says, “but the experience taught me things about coaching. Basketball and softball are completely different. But there are similarities as to how you handle players, motivate players and make sure you put players on a path to be successful while they are in school and when they are ready to move on in life.”

Ready to lead

When Mary Meehan, the former president at Alverno, hired Duckworth to be the athletics director and women’s basketball coach in 2007, she also had bigger ideas in mind for him. First, she urged Duckworth to pursue a Master of Business Administration. “I don’t have time for that,” he told her. “You’ll never have time for it,” he recalls the president saying, “so go get it.”

Once his Alverno MBA was in hand, Meehan urged Duckworth to get involved with NCAA committees. He joined the Women’s Basketball Rules Committee in 2014. “I was sitting in the room when we changed the rules for women’s basketball to go from playing the games in halves to four quarters,” he says. “What a major day that was. I’ve learned a lot about the rules-making process and how it helps develop the greatest game in the world.”

A full-time AD

Duckworth arrived at Wisconsin-Stevens Point in July, bringing with him all the mentoring and leadership skills he had gained throughout his career. Each step taught him something new — including his stint as women’s golf coach at Alverno, where he learned about the challenges of coaching an individual sport. “That helps me relate to my current coaches on the staff who coach those sports,” he says.

And now, he hopes, he is ready to be an athletics director who understands the coaches’ perspective. “I’m not coming here to count beans or be a lawyer,” Duckworth says. “I’m coming here to be the AD. I want to be the kind of athletics director I would want if I was on the other side of the table.”

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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