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By Gary Brown
When SUNY New Paltz Athletics Director Stuart Robinson faced forks in the road during his career, he took them.
It’s just that he took them in directions other people might not have figured. Twenty years ago when Sports Illustrated was wooing the Williams College English major to be a research writer, Robinson opted to work in admissions at Vassar instead.
Position: Athletics director at SUNY New Paltz.
Previous positions: Assistant AD (1994-97) and associate AD (1997-2000) at SUNY New Paltz; head men’s soccer coach at SUNY New Paltz (1992-2006); adjunct professor of English at SUNY New Paltz (1996-2006); assistant director of admissions at Vassar (1985-90).
Education: 1983 graduate of Williams with a degree in English; M.A. in English from Middlebury in 1989.
What you didn’t know: Robinson’s favorite television show is M.A.S.H. “Hawkeye and Trapper knew they needed to have fun, but they could be serious when they had to,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I chose a path that would make people think I’m crazy,” he said.
In 1997, when Robinson was coaching soccer at SUNY New Paltz, his old mentor at Vassar who had gone to Stanford asked Stuart to be the academic advisor for student-athletes at the prestigious Palo Alto university. But after Robinson was offered the job, the president at SUNY New Paltz promoted him to associate AD and persuaded him to stay.
“It was probably the only time that New Paltz ever matched Stanford,” Robinson quipped.
But Robinson is not crazy, or impulsive or careless … or afraid of forks.
“As an AD, you have to be confident enough to take chances, and realistic enough to know that sometimes you’re going to fail,” said the current chair of the Division III Championships Committee. “That’s the only way you get better. And that’s something I try to impart on my students. Take some calculated risks, do the things you feel are right, and see where it goes. And in the end, try to have some fun.”
Robinson has had his share of fun (“I’m known for a ‘take no prisoners’ sense of humor,” he said), but he’s also been a contributor to the greater good over time. He’s a staunch advocate for educating young people, perhaps an attribute he picked up from his mother. When Robinson was growing up in Harlem, his mother was adamant about education and made sure he had access to private schools.
“She said, ‘Education is the one thing I can give you that no one else can take away,’ ” Robinson said. “She instilled the value of education in me by doing that.”
He makes sure to pass it on to others. Robinson was an English instructor for four years at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Before that, he was at Vassar for seven years (instead of SI) as a house associate, advisor to minority students and assistant director of admissions.
His first job out of Williams was teaching at the Hotchkiss School, a prep school in Connecticut at which he also wore several coaching hats. The coaching/teaching continued at Vassar, where he served as head men’s soccer coach from 1986 to 1990.
“As a coach, what I didn’t understand tactically I made up in knowing how to get people to do more than they thought they could, because that was how I was raised,” Robinson said.
The fork that led him to SUNY New Paltz occurred when Robinson was accepted to law school but couldn’t get the financial aid to make it happen. A former student told him about a men’s soccer vacancy at SUNY New Paltz.
So he became a $4,000-per-year head coach but kept his job at Dutchess (he taught there in the morning and coached in the afternoon). SUNY New Paltz soon changed ADs and the new guy asked Robinson to be his assistant. That was his first foray into athletics administration.
The best thing about being an AD?
“Recognizing that I have a responsibility beyond just the silo of a team,” Robinson said. “I have a responsibility to an entire department. My job is to fight to make sure that we are a viable, respectful part of the college as a whole, and to make our student-athletes feel that what they are doing is special and unique, but that they are not the institution – they are part of the institution, and what they do helps define the institution.”