Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Don Cook to Retire as Sacred Heart's Long Time Athletic Director

It's not often when I blog about something that isn't tied directly to Pioneer basketball, yet today's news regarding Sacred Heart certainly warrants some kind of mention here.

Today, Bill Paxton of the Connecticut Post broke the news on Twitter that Don Cook, the long time SHU athletic director, will retire on July 1, 2013 after serving in that role for 20 years. Cook was instrumental in advancing the scope of SHU athletics, mainly by leading the Pioneers' transition into Division I sports in 1999. Before that, he helped expand SHU's athletic program from 12 to 31 varsity sports and also initiated the construction of the William H. Pitt Center, which in the present day still holds up 15 years later as a very good athletic facility. Also under his guidance, SHU captured five consecutive NEC Commissioner Cups, a fantastic accomplishment that illustrates SHU's excellence in athletics.

In addition to all of his accolades, Cook was widely respected throughout the SHU community. Ron Ratner, the Associate Commissioner of the NEC, said it best when he wrote the following today on Twitter, "They don't come any better than SHU AD Don Cook. A gentle, humble man and tireless worker. I'm privileged to have worked with him for so many years."

I didn't personally know Cook, but as a student-athlete, he was always a prominent and active figure within SHU athletics. To me, he never displayed favoritism toward the "marquee" sports and always showed a genuine willingness to be involved with every sports program under his watch. He consistently made appearances over the years to several fundraising banquets for our tennis team, even though our sport wasn't a revenue generator for the athletics department.

Tying this big news to the basketball program, Cook was always a staunch supporter of Dave Bike. Even in the rough seasons after the Division I transition, Cook never wavered in his support of Bike. The two men have always been tied to the hip, so at the very least, Cook's retirement does raise some serious questions regarding the direction of the men's basketball program. In particular, I found the final sentence of the SHU's announcement post very interesting. It read: "There will be a national search conducted for his replacement."

Cook's retirement aside, Bike may decide to call it quits after this season anyway. He told me in our end-of-season interview last March that he was taking his job on a year to year basis. With Cook's departure, however, the end may be near for the 35-year head coach, especially if the new athletic director is indeed hired on the outside.

This really isn't breaking news nor would it be surprising if Bike hangs up the clipboard in March. But the more interesting angle is what the future events mean to SHU assistant coach Anthony Latina. It's widely assumed that Latina is the probable heir apparent once Bike steps down, but if a new athletic director with no previous ties to the program is hired, then Latina's future with the Pioneers certainly becomes more murky. Personally, I'd love to see the energetic and hard working Latina given a chance to guide this program, but that decision may be in an outsider's hands next year.

In the short term, Cook's retirement means nothing regarding the current basketball season, but it surely requires monitoring in the near future. It could mean we're watching the swan song of Dave Bike's lengthy career. It will make next offseason fascinating to watch.

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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