When four sport experts met with Post University’s sport management students at a recent forum, the message was fairly simple. A career in the sports industry must be fueled by passion, strong character, a tireless work ethic and the understanding that no job is too trivial. But, the rewards are substantial.
“The odds are you won’t be rich, but if you’re lucky, you’ll never work a day in your life,” said Dan Mara, a retired college basketball coach and current commissioner of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.
“This is not a 9 to 5 job. It’s 24/7. You have to be passionate about it. If you have passion about it, you will excel,” added Kevin T. McGinniss, who is the current Eastern College Athletic Conference Commissioner.
Even if you manage to make it big in the sport industry, there will be plenty of time when the job will be quite humbling. Bill Dowling is proof of that.
Dowling, who met New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner when he worked in the New York district attorney’s office, was hired to serve as the Yankees general counsel in the late 1980s.
Despite attaining such a prestigious position with one of America’s most well-known sports teams, Dowling was not immune from paying his dues. He sometimes found himself getting into a pick-up truck during Yankees games and personally removing the carcasses of dogs that had been struck by cars on the highly-traveled and dangerous Major Deegan Highway. Steinbrenner often grew irate at seeing the dogs and demanded they be removed. He assigned the task to Dowling, and that was that.
Dowling, who now is the president and CEO of the New Britain Rock Catswasn’t the only sports expert present at the forum expected to perform tasks far outside the scope of their job descriptions.
While serving as a head basketball coach, Mara mopped floors before games. McGinniss, who coached basketball, had to mop up pigeon droppings.
“Never say that isn’t in your job description,” Mara advised students. “Nothing should be beneath you. Getting the job done is your job. You’re not going to work for the Yankees on Day 1. You need to pay your dues first.”
And as Dowling can attest, even if you end up working for the Yankees, it’s not going to be all sunshine and roses.
When Dowling, Mara, McGinnis and Joe Meade, who is an associate faculty member at Post and scout for the Utah Jazz, went to college there were no sport management programs, and there were significantly fewer jobs available in the industry.
While all four men have excelled in the industry they love, they each recited their humble beginnings and the hard work that was required to get ahead. Case in point:
Dowling began as a district attorney and then worked in the New York attorney general’s office before landing a job at the Yankees and taking a $30,000 pay cut for the privilege. In 2005, he raised $6.5 million to purchase the Rock Cats minor league franchise and in 2011 he sold that for three times the amount, but remains team president.
Mara delivered liquor in New London, CT. He became a head coach in baseball and softball. He served as Post University’s athletic director for 11 years in the 1990s and helped Post move up to Division II status.
McGinniss began as the head basketball coach at Bethel High School and he moved on to Southern Connecticut State University as an assistant basketball coach.
Meade is a former New York City transit police officer who retired due to a disability. He became an athletic director at a New York City high school and is now a Utah Jazz scout. He also teaches at Post.
As for other advice offered up by these seasoned veterans, it’s all about character.
“Character is most important. You need to be an honest person and admit mistakes,” McGinniss said.
“In Utah, we are constantly judging character and body language,” Meade said. “We’re putting character first. We don’t take chances with knuckleheads.”
Dowling echoed Meade, saying the Minnesota Twins baseball executives ask him for an opinion on a minor league player before he is called up to the major leagues. “If you have any kind of problem, they don’t want you,” Dowling said.
McGinniss said he would never hire someone off of a resume. He would contact a prospective hire’s professors and coaches.
Meade also preached about loyalty to your employer.
“You may not always agree with them but people admire loyalty especially in a time of adversity,” Meade said.
Other tips for landing a job in this coveted field?
Dowling said he wants someone who can talk about more than just sports. Prospective hires need to be able to write and communicate effectively.
Students should take classes that require them to speak in front of others, Mara said. McGinniss added that oral communication is vital to a successful career in sports.
What trait do you feel is most important in securing a career in the sports industry?