Q&A With Princeton AD Gary Walters

Gary Walters seemed elated Friday as he introduced Guy Gadowsky as the new head coach of the Princeton men’s ice hockey team, believing he found a special personality to lead the embattled program.

The Princeton athletic director spent two months searching for someone to replace Len Quesnelle, someone who had been a player, assistant and head coach at Princeton for 20 straight seasons. His search was interrupted, in part, by needing to find a new coach for the storied men’s basketball program, though that search took just one day between the departure of John Thompson Jr. to Georgetown and the hiring of alumnus Joe Scott from Air Force. In the interim, with both assistants having been let go as well, Princeton lost two top-quality recruits to ECAC rivals.

Walters, a former baskteball player at Princeton in the Bill Bradley era, and later a college basketball coach, is wrapping up his 10th year as AD at Princeton.

Q: Some people have criticized you for how long it took to hire a new coach. Is that fair?

Walters: We have a process at Princeton. The Joe Scott hiring happened — that was an anomoly and a very unique situation where we have a philosophy and style of play that Princeton is famous for, and we were going to stay inside the Princeton family and, in addition to that, hire an alumnus who’s well schooled in it. So it was clear from the beginning that the favorite was Joe.

In this particular case, our normal process is we advertise for a month. … At the same time we’re doing that, we were conducting one other major search, and then we had the basketball thing hit which basically set us back a week in this process. So I don’t think the process took long at all. The more important thing is, the integrity of the process determines the integrity of the result. We had an outstanding pool of highly qualified candidates, a number of whom the public doesn’t even know. And obviously in this case they had no idea Guy was even one of them.

Q: Yeah. A lot of people were surprised.

Walters: It was only a curveball in that people didn’t know Guy, not in relation to the quality of the choice. So we feel gratified that someone with Guy’s background and, specifically, as he noted, somebody who comes from an educational philosophy that’s very similar to ours in the Ivy League, and a guy who is very articulate, got an incredible amount of energy. So this is really an exciting day for us.

Q: Is it difficult for someone without an Ivy League background to succeed here?

Walters: We’re looking for coaches who understand that our playing fields, in this case our hockey arena, is an extension of the classroom and are committed to the educational mission of the university. So people can talk about all the elements that go into a successful program, but the most important thing for me is the educational development of our student athletes, and the development of a culture that fosters that kind of character development. And so I think those kinds of people come from all schools and all backgrounds. We don’t pigeon hole anybody into any one particular area, except we’re looking for people who share our particular values.

Q: Since you are not a hockey guy, so to speak, did you have anyone to lean on in this process?

Walters: That’s another misnomer. I think that team sports, whether they be basketball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse — if you come out of those kinds of programs and you coached and you played, all those elements are the same. You need people that can see the field, and pass the puck, and pass the ball, can hit open people, play with grit and determination, and all that sort of stuff. So this notion of a hockey coach or former hockey player being able to pick a basketball coach, or a basketball player being able to pick a hockey coach — when I go to a hockey game, I’m looking for the same things there that I look for in a basketball game — what are the one-on-one competitions, are we winning one-on-one battles, are we playing as a team, are we hitting the open man, are we playing good, hard, solid defense, are we checking our guy — those are all common elements.

But as it relates to this process, I have a number of people whom I hold in enormous regard. People who in fact I talked to — a number of people in the Princeton family, some outside. Don Cahoon is a good very close friend — I have three people in the hockey world who are very close friends of mine: [former Harvard coach and AD] Bill Cleary, [former Providence coach and AD, and current New Jersey Devils general manager] Lou Lamoriello and [former Princeton, and current Massachusetts, coach] Don Cahoon. So I talked to those three gentlemen, sort of testing my own ideas, and testing theirs and they were very helpful in this process.

Q: On another note, the recent change in the ECAC hierarchy — were you down in Naples [Florida, at the coaches convention] where the ECAC ADs were making that change?

Walters: I was purposely not in Naples, because I didn’t want to make our [Princeton coaching] search a circus. It’s bad enough the rumors were involved in terms of who’s involved and who’s not involved, and the last thing I wanted to do was contribute to that.

Q: But I assume you were involved in the process somehow, and made your feelings known regarding the change in the ECAC structure.

Walters: I have enormous respect for the people that were involved. I had discussions with some of the people prior to those meetings, so I’m comfortable with where we are. … I think at this point, I think the hockey executive committee has done a good job, and I don’t think it’s necessary to stir those waters any further.