Fairfield Now - Fall 2009
The Pursuit of Excellence
Athletics Director Gene Doris led Fairfield to the 2008-09 MAAC Commissioner's Cup
By John Torsiello
Fairfield University Athletics Director Gene Doris sits in a room specially designed to allow coaches, recruits, and their families a bit of privacy amidst what is usually a swirl of activity in the campus' Athletics offices.
A tallish 60-year-old with a shock of white hair and a quick smile, Doris has overseen the Fairfield Athletics program for 15 years, helping build the Stags into one of the most competitive and respected programs in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
Emblematic of Fairfield's success was the winning of the league's highest honor this spring, the MAAC 2008-09 Commissioner's Cup. In addition to the overall championship, Fairfield also won the Conference's Women's Crown.
The Commissioner's Cup is awarded to a school for overall excellence in the 24 championship athletic events conducted within the MAAC. Each institution is scored in all areas that it fields a varsity team. Four Fairfield teams won MAAC championships and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09: men's soccer, women's soccer, women's lacrosse, and women's tennis.
The volleyball, women's lacrosse, softball, and men's tennis squads all won MAAC regular season titles during the campaign.
Taking home the Commissioner's Cup is a tangible demonstration that the University's five-year athletics strategic plan is on the right path and bearing fruit.
Two years ago, Fairfield embarked on a mission to provide greater funding for varsity and club sports, awarding additional grants-in-aid to student-athletes, and bringing athletic accomplishments in line with the high academic standards for which Fairfield is known.
All the while, the teams continue to reflect the Jesuit teachings aimed at developing fully integrated lives for students - lives that are refined and made real within the context of community.
Doris believes Fairfield's strategic plan for athletics and the Jesuit approach mesh to create a vibrant, relevant, and important aspect of life for many students.
|Left: Joe Michalisin, the 2009 MAAC Rookie and Player of the Year, helped Fairfield to an 18-2 overall record, a MAAC Regular Season Championship, and a spot in the MAAC Championship final. Right: Ahna Johnson, the MAAC Female Athlete of the Year, led the Stags to their second MAAC Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.|
"Certainly, the values that I believe in - the complete person and service to the community - are at the very center of the Jesuit teachings," he said, sitting back in a chair and looking for all the world like he could return to the basketball court and begin shouting directions like he did for 11 years at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y. "Winning the Commissioner's Cup is a credit to all the coaches, administrators, and student-athletes at Fairfield."
"Winning the Commissioner's Cup is a great indication that all of our teams were able to compete at a good to high level for which they are capable," said Mark Reed, vice president for administrative and student affairs. "Winning the Cup this year, coupled with a number of conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances, is a clear indication that we're moving in the right direction.
"Gene Doris has been a major factor in the successes of Fairfield Athletics throughout his tenure," Reed continued. "He does not seek - and in fact, deflects - credit, but he has made a number of very good coaching hiring decisions across our myriad varsity programs over the years and undertaken a number of initiatives that help distinguish us from our peers. Perhaps known to too few is that Gene is as committed to Fairfield's Jesuit and Catholic mission and the role that athletics plays in student development as anyone I know."
Prior to his arrival at Fairfield, Doris was athletic director at Marist College for five years and was associate athletics director at Fordham University, his alma mater, for five years before taking the athletic director's job at Marist.
He began coaching basketball as a graduate assistant at Fordham, learning the ropes from none other than the legendary Richard "Digger" Phelps, who went on to coach at the University of Notre Dame and is now a respected basketball analyst.
After a successful run as hoops coach at Archbishop Stepinac, the Queens native made the switch from the sidelines to the office. He says his career in coaching has made him suited to understand the challenges coaches face on a daily basis.
"I guess to a fault, especially in the beginning, I was sympathetic to the wants of my coaches and athletes. I've learned to be more of a businessman now because that is a big part of the job these days. We have to be results-based, while keeping to our Jesuit tradition and teachings. It's something you have to balance and sometimes there are hard decisions to be made about coaches. Perhaps the situation at Fairfield just isn't the right fit for them. It doesn't mean they can't be good coaches elsewhere."
One of Doris' goals is to make Fairfield the preeminent mid-major sports university in Connecticut.
"Let's face it, UConn is on another level. But we can be the best of the mid-majors in the state. You can reach that goal by having successful teams and drawing attention from the media, fans, and student-athletes.
"The one sport we really need to become consistently better at is basketball," he continued, "and that just hasn't happened here yet, much to my dismay as an old basketball coach.
"Basketball is the glamour college sport and gets the most attention in this region and nationally. Many schools build down from success at the glamour sport level. Here, we have sort of built upward, achieving great success in a number of sports but not yet attaining that level of continued success in basketball. The success of our basketball teams is a priority."
Doris views himself as an administrator who empowers his staff and coaches by delegating responsibility. Julie Brzezinski, the school's softball coach, has worked with Doris for 13 years.
"Gene instills a pride in what we are doing and is the person who gets and keeps us all going. It's not just the winning that he preaches, but building character and making better student-athletes. All the coaches view winning the Commissioner's Cup as extremely important."
At 60, Doris has no thought of retiring. He's very comfortable living in a quiet neighborhood of Fairfield, where he spends some of his free time walking his dogs several miles to the beach or to the center of town.
"Now that I'm 60, I'm looking forward to the next five-year span. I'll be 65 then and I'll reassess things. I still have the fire in the belly and as long as my health stands up I'll keep going. I know one thing, I'll never stop working."