Photo and story courtesy of Princeton Athletic Communications
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Gary Walters, who for two decades has been the guiding force of an athletic department known under his leadership for its overwhelming on-field success combined with an unending commitment to the educational value of intercollegiate athletics, has announced that he will be stepping down as the Princeton University Ford Family Director of Athletics at the conclusion of the 2013-14 academic year.
Walters will complete his 20-year tenure with a legacy of having been a tireless advocate for Princeton and the coaches and athletes of its 38 varsity teams, a leader in intercollegiate athletics on the national level, a mentor to the legion of young head coaches he brought to Princeton and an unflinching believer in the lifelong benefits the athletes derive from participating in a character-based athletic program during their college years, a belief that became the cornerstone of his philosophy of “Education Through Athletics.”
"Gary Walters has made Princeton's athletic program a model for the nation," Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said. "His leadership has produced not only sustained competitive excellence but also, more importantly, a program that cares first and foremost about the education and character of the students who participate in it. At a time when many colleges have cynically abandoned the ideal of the scholar-athlete, Gary has upheld it with unstinting passion and energy."
As an undergraduate, Walters ‘67 had a distinguished basketball career. He was the starting point guard on Princeton’s 1965 NCAA Final Four men’s basketball team featuring Bill Bradley ’65; and he then led the 1967 team to a 25-3 record, the best in school history at that time, and a national ranking in the top five. He was also featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with center Chris Thomforde ’69.
Walters returned to his alma mater as Director of Athletics in June 1994 after having been a coach, television commentator and financial executive.
In his first 19 years as athletic director, Walters has overseen a program that has won 214 Ivy League championships, a figure 82 higher than the next-highest total by any other school in the league during that time. Princeton has also won 48 national championships since his arrival, including four this past academic year.
Princeton has won the Ivy League¹s unofficial all-sports points championship each of his years, and his athletic program has been the highest Ivy finisher in the Directors’ Cup standings, which measure overall athletic success through NCAA championship participation, in 16 of his 19 years. There has also been at least one team or individual national champion in each of his 19 years as AD.
Beyond just the winning, Princeton Athletics under Walters’ guidance has been committed to providing the best possible experience for its athletes while also holding its coaches, staff and athletes to the highest ethical standards.
“I did my best to ensure that our coaches, players and administrators did things right and did the right thing,” Walters says. “I am most proud of the integrity associated with our department’s commitment to 'Education Through Athletics' as we have pursued excellence with a heart and with a soul.”
Walters has guided Princeton through a nearly complete overhaul of its athletic facilities, including the demolition of Palmer Stadium and the construction of its replacement, Princeton Stadium.
He also started the Princeton Academic Athletic Fellows program, which links academic, athletic and social pursuits by identifying faculty members and administrators to serve in support roles for each team. Walters also created the Princeton Varsity Club, a unique support group geared toward providing broad-based assistance for the Tigers’ 38 intercollegiate teams while stressing the ideals of performance, values and community. The PVC’s Board of Directors is comprised of some of the most respected names in the Princeton athletic family, and among its other endeavors has been a speaker series that began with an address at Princeton by then-NCAA president Myles Brand.
He has also seen seven members of his administrative staff become Directors of Athletics or Division I conference commissioners, most recently Erin McDermott at the University of Chicago in August 2013.
Walters has twice served as the chairman of the Ivy Committee on Administration and is an ethics fellow for the Institute of International Sport. He was named to the advisory board for the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern, an organization that in September 2007 named him as one of the "100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America."
In addition to his work at Princeton, Walters has also been involved nationally on many significant initiatives and issues. Most notably he spent a five-year term on the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee, serving as the chair in 2006-07.
Walters is the fourth person to hold the title of Director of Athletics at Princeton, along with Kenneth Fairman ‘34, Royce Flippin ‘56 and Bob Myslik ‘61, and his tenure will be the second-longest behind only Fairman’s. Walters will remain involved in intercollegiate athletics both at Princeton and nationally after he steps down.
A national search for his successor will be held.
What They Say About Gary Walters
"Beyond the numerous national championships, Ivy League titles, coaching accolades, student-athlete awards, and new facilities that flourished under his leadership, Gary’s most enduring legacy will be his commitment, both on campus and off, to 'Education through Athletics.' That philosophy aims for both academic and athletic achievement for each student athlete and emphasizes character-based coaching." – Cynthia Cherrey, Vice President of Campus Life
“I really do like his commitment to 'Education Through Athletics.' I hope whoever comes in continues that. As a Trustee, a real highlight for me was the chance to get to know Gary. I love the fact that he always stands up for what he thinks is right. He’s not one to play political games. The athletic program’s success during Gary’s tenure speaks for itself. Any successful organization starts at the top, and he set the tone for coaches and athletes. It’s remarkable to have this level of athletic prominence and educational excellence at the same time. Give Gary the lion's share for that.” – Bill Ford ’79, Princeton Varsity Club Board of Directors
“There is no doubt that the dominant success of the Princeton University athletic department is directly correlated to the leadership, vision and passion of Gary Walters. I, like many of my colleagues, came into my position with little or no head coaching experience. Gary has been an ideal mentor; he tells people what they need to hear, lends perspective, offers wisdom and is unapologetic about his love for Princeton. Gary has demanded that his coaches innovate and strive for excellence within the boundaries of the educational mission of the University, albeit at a time when it is increasingly more challenging to decipher where the student ends and the athlete begins. In his unwavering commitment to performance, Gary has bred a culture of winners and positioned Princeton athletics in a realm of its own.” – Kristen Holmes-Winn, head field hockey coach (2012 NCAA champion)
“The results Gary received are obviously extremely impressive, but I will always be more impressed by how he led with values rather than with the great number of championships that were built upon those values. His compass never wavered from what is right, and that philosophy taught lessons that were greatly beneficial to success in competition and for success as a leader. Sincerest congratulations to Mr. Walters on achieving great success while maintaining the greatest of values.” – Guy Gadowsky, former men’s hockey coach.
“I’ve watched him grow from the time he was a skinny 10th grade basketball player and noticing then how smart he was and how clever and hard-working he was. I had him in class - Problems of American Democracy. We made a lot of long trips for games, and we always got back at 1 in the morning or so. He never missed an assignment. He’s one of best point guards this school ever had. Bill Bradley always says how much he enjoyed playing with him. Probably the biggest things you point to about what he did for this University as athletic director are what he did for women’s sports and that he tried to integrate education and athletics. He pointed out that you could be good in both. There are so many learning experiences in athletics that are useful that it’s hard to deny the importance. That became 'Education Through Athletics.' He put in a days work as athletic director just like he did in high school. It’ll be a sad day when he leaves here.” – Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Carril