By Matt Noonan
In April of 2012, Wheaton College named John Sutyak the Director of Athletics, Recreation & Intramurals.
Sutyak, who was named the interim prior to the 2011-12 school year, spent the past five years as the assistant to director of athletics, as well as the associate director of athletics, too.
Here is our conversation with Sutyak – talking about the position, his outlook, as well as the various Wheaton Lyons teams.
What did you know going into this past year? Also, what have you learned?
“I think what I knew was I knew Wheaton, and I knew the challenges that laid ahead in terms of hiring new people, and trying to get everyone on the same page and working together as a team, I knew that. [However] I think what you can never prepare for is [any circumstance or challenge]. Whether it’s being a coach or working in any industry, when you go from being the assistant to the head, things change, and your relationships change a little bit, your [co-workers] change, and it’s by default because you’re working with different people, and to me the biggest challenge was the pace. Knowing that you can be prepared and know that every decision you make will be scrutinized and that arrows will fly at you a little more when you’re making the final decision, but until you actually have to do that I don’t think you can really prepare for it, and then when it happens – I’m a kind of person that likes to make decisions, think about it first, you don’t always have that luxury, you’ve got to make decisions, you make it from the gut, and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t, but you hope that you get it right more than you don’t, but I think probably when the school year started, basically the entire fall was really just trying to catch your breath, you never really felt like you had that opportunity. [Although], you become in peace with it, and can work better and you’re use to it, but yeah, the pace that’s what got me, and I think I’ve done a little better [through my position], managing that and understanding what’s going on and what to expect, and you do the best you can.”
Can you describe the feeling of hearing the news about becoming the college’s second Director of Athletics in the coeducation era?
“I think the weird thing was just knowing that [the search process] was over, and knowing that I was going to be here long term. Obviously, I was excited, ecstatic, and very happy. My parents, my family were thrilled – my sister and my brother-in-law are both Wheaton alums – my sister ran track here, and my brother-in-law was also on the baseball team, so it’s kind of a family affair and I think just knowing that I was settled and I’ll be here for the foreseeable future because going into it, [I knew] that if it didn’t work out, I was OK with that and it’s a business and Wheaton was going to do its best for Wheaton, and I hope that I would be the best for Wheaton, and it looks like that was the case. I appreciate that, and that humbles me, but it now knows that the foreseeable future I’ll be here. Of course the downside of that was that for the last [few] months, I’ve been putting stuff off for the new person, and now I am, ‘the new person’ and have a pile of stuff from the past 10 months that I have to deal with, but that’s good not [because] that’s better than not having to deal with it in my opinion.”
What made this past year so special from your perspective? Wheaton’s teams excelled quite well this year, but again, what was so spectacular about this particular school year?
“For me, there were seven new people in this department this year, and that’s almost a third of [our current staff, which features 24 people], so not only seven new people, but you also had myself, and Scott Dietz in new roles, so that could have been bad, it could have ended disastrous. If everyone came in and they didn’t mesh, and personalities clashed that could have been disastrous for us. But that didn’t happen [because] I saw veteran staff taking the new staff under their wing, helping them in understanding recruiting, helping them understanding Wheaton and how to sell Wheaton, and working together and doing that. Some of our teams didn’t do as well as I think they wanted to, but I am encouraged by the future, and I think that when you look at our coaching staff, not just the new coaches, but the ones that have been here awhile, the moral in this department this year has been tremendous, and people are rejuvenated, so you’re not going to see that in a press release, you’re not going to see that on the [athletic] website, but what I think you’ll see is it down the road in the few years when you’re seeing this all do well. [Also], we were able to put in a varsity weight room this past year, [which was] tremendous for our student athletes, tremendous for our student athletes to see that in this building. I think some of our spring teams, especially who really got to utilize it, really benefited in their strength and conditioning, and things of that nature, and [President Ronald Crutcher] announcing that we’re moving forward in fundraising for a turf field. Obviously that impacts three of our programs, varsity programs, (lacrosse and field hockey) and it also significantly impacts our club sports programs and intramurals, so just the moral, and the vibe is tremendous and I’m most proud about that.”
Looking ahead to next year, what’re your goals and objectives?
“It’s to continue to recruit, and retain the optimum student athlete. [We’re looking for] that student that achieves at a high level in the classroom, wants to be involved on campus, and it takes an exceptional athlete and the hard part is those kind of students are all out there, but there’s over a thousand colleges and universities looking for them, and so it’ll always be a challenge and it’s what I’ve challenged our coaching staff to do, and we’re looking to make sure we’re recruiting a large number for our teams, and succeeding. We always want to finish in the top half in our conference, [NEWMAC] and compete for conference championship. That’ll always be a goal, but for the next year it’s really solidifying our rosters, our numbers have dipped a little bit, and so I was encouraged and excited about our staff this year, getting out there and recruiting high level scholar athletes, and we’ll be asking them to do that again [because] that’ll never change. When you do that and when do it well, the wins and losses come, but it’s really getting them here, mentoring them and making them better people than when they got here. I always say, I had a tremendous experience as a student athlete, but I want every one of our student athletes specifically to have the same experience that I did, and walk away here feeling good about being apart of Wheaton, and then wanting to be apart of Wheaton continuously. [Finally], trying to reconnect our alums, and I think we have a large number of alums that do feel that way, but I think that we can do better and really try to engage them and get them excited about Wheaton in general.”