“Peter Gooding has done an unbelievable job in 28 years, and he will be missed,” said the head coach of the football team E.J. Mills. “But there are many capable people who have taken his leadership model and run with it. We are in good shape.”
When Gooding vacated the position in late May, the College decided to appoint Hixon and Everden as co-interim athletic directors rather than try to perform a search for full-time candidates by the start of the 2005-06 year. Once Hixon and Everden were appointed, senior members of the athletic department met to decide how the athletic director duties would be split up. Together they decided that Hixon, also the men’s basketball coach, would take care of programs and personnel, as well as his usual duties of compliance. Meanwhile, Everden has been charged with scheduling and budget in addition to her usual positions as head of the physical education department, volleyball coach and administrative softball coach.
While it may seem like the new heads of the athletic department will be bogged down with work, the load seems lighter when you consider that Hixon and Everden are leading an experienced team of coaches and staff. “The key is we have a very mature department,” said Hixon. “Although it looks young, there are lots of senior members. They know what they need to do.”
“Being a coach and athletic director is a considerable and sizable task,” said Everden. “However, I feel like I have the greatest job in America.”
The extra responsibility is nothing new for Everden and Hixon, both veteran coaches and administrators. Hixon came to Amherst as a student in 1971 and never left. He became assistant athletic director early on in his career and held the position of associate athletic director before this new appointment. Everden earned her undergraduate degree from Slippery Rock University and is in her 19th year at Amherst since teaching and coaching at Springfield College, Clarkson University and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Everden has also served as assistant athletic director as well as senior women’s administrator at Amherst.
“Both David and Sue have a lot of experience in our department,” said women’s tennis and squash coach Jackie Bagwell. “Each one has always taken on more responsibility than asked. They always try to make the department better so the student-athletes at Amherst have the best experience possible. I have really appreciated the work they have done thus far; they are really willing to work with you.”
The tandem seems to be working well together to keep the department on track. However, if there are particularly difficult problems help is not too far away. Gooding has stayed on with the athletic department as the men’s soccer coach, where he began his Amherst career in 1968. “We have Peter around, which is great,” said Hixon. “It is not too often that the former athletic director stays and is available. On the other hand, he is trying his best to stay out of it. He wants us to be able to do our job.”
Hixon and Everden’s main jobs will be to keep the athletics department running as smoothly as it has in the past until a new athletic director is hired. Though both Hixon and Everden have expressed interest in taking on the job full-time, the College will perform a national search for candidates. “It is definitely one of the best jobs in the nation for a person who likes that kind of thing,” said Bagwell.
It is possible, though, that the next athletic director will be from the College. Mills cited the appointment of Amherst’s Dean of Faculty Greg Call as an example of Amherst choosing someone already on its faculty after looking outside the College for candidates. “Amherst is a special place,” Mills said. “Sometimes it’s hard for an outsider to get a sense of this place.”
While the search goes on, however, the Jeffs are lucky to have Hixon and Everden leading the way. “I am extremely honored and privileged to have the opportunity to lead the department,” said Everden, “but more so to really serve the student body.”
“Sue and David are both passionate about Amherst, and they have had tremendous success as coaches,” added Assistant Athletic Director Don Faulstick. “They have both been here a long time and they really understand the role of the student-athlete and the role of athletics at Amherst.”
Both Everden and Hixon have helped to build the tradition of success in the athletics department, as both the volleyball and men’s basketball teams have racked up one winning season after another. Regardless of whether either eventually takes up the post of permanent athletic director, they will both do their best not only to maintain Amherst’s postition among the best programs in the NESCAC but to try to put the College in a position to compete for the mantle of the best program in the nation.