By Mike McMahon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — While Merrimack College studied Jeremy Gibson during its search for a new director of athletics, Gibson was studying Merrimack.
Earlier this month, both decided it was the perfect match.
After a nationwide search, the Merrimack brass went into its own backyard — Gibson lives in Andover just minutes from Merrimack’s campus.
“Living close to the campus I’ve been able to see the growth that has taken place and how much of a role Merrimack is playing in the community,” said Gibson, who has been at Harvard since 1996, minus two years working in pro baseball. “I knew the job was going to be open and I was interested.
“I took my sons to a few hockey games last year and what really stood out to me wasn’t just the support from the alumni and the students, but how many people from the community I saw. There were people I knew from Little League and other people who were part of the community with no prior ties to Merrimack. That made an impression on me.
“Then learning more and more about the college and where it’s headed, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Merrimack’s athletic department is in an interesting growth stage. The college is investigating a move towards Division 1 for all of its programs.
Gibson, who has been a senior associate AD at Harvard, will be the catalyst if such a move is to take place. In fact, when he officially begins his duties on July 1, the process figures to be one of his top priorities.
Moving up a division isn’t as simple as finding a conference — the Northeast Conference (NEC) might be looking for members — it also requires expanded budgets and upgrades to certain facilities.
Interim AD Dean O’Keefe has led the college’s efforts towards a Division 1 move to this point, with significant groundwork and research while he was at the helm over the past year. Gibson hopes O’Keefe, who was the top assistant under former AD Glenn Hofmann, will remain a part of the department.
“He did a tremendous job,” Gibson said. “He’s already been a huge asset and we’ve had a lot of conversations.
“It’s too early for me to go into any detail on Division 1, but one of the first things we’ll do is review the progress that has been made and see what else we would need to do.”
Gibson said the possible move was a major topic during the interviews.
“It was expressed as a serious ambition,” he said.
No matter whether a Division 1 move is on the horizon or not, fundraising is a big part of an AD’s role, and Gibson is no stranger. At Harvard, capital planning was one of his primary responsibilities.
Even though the challenges at Harvard ($32 billion endowment in 2011) and Merrimack ($37 million in 2011) may be different, they still exist.
“Today, when it comes to raising funds, there are challenges no matter where you are,” Gibson said. “They might be different at different places, but they exist no matter where you go.
Gibson says Merrimack won’t lose that sense of community that made the college so attractive to him.
“It’s important we keep that,” he said. “That’s what makes Merrimack special. We have so many good people involved from the administration to the coaches and the alumni and fans. We want to grow, but we can’t lose that community and we won’t.”