Lananna sets sights on success for next year
Last year, it was already apparent to anyone watching Oberlin athletics that change was underway. In the late 1990s, College President Nancy Dye and Athletic Director Michael Muska reemphasized their commitment to the department, which had seen years of neglect and mediocrity under previous administrations. By 2003, years of aggressive recruitment and increased funding finally seemed to pay off with the most success for many of Oberlin’s teams in decades.
Still, few could have predicted the arrival of someone like Vin Lananna. Lananna came to occupy the office of Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education after 11 years of coaching Stanford’s track program.
While at Stanford, he led the men’s cross-country team to six Pacific-10 championships, seven NCAA West Region titles and three national championships, and the women’s team to nine Pac-10 titles, seven NCAA West championships and one NCAA championship. Lananna will coach the United States Middle Distance Track Team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Even with Dye’s commitment to improving athletics, Lananna seemed an odd fit for a school better known for string quartets and IMF protests than touchdowns and three -pointers.
Still, after one year the new boss claims that the job is not that different at all.
“Even though I was at a Division I program with a very expansive emphasis on athletics, I think that my philosophy has always been consistent,” he said. “The experience of the athletes was always more important to me than winning games.”
Dye also emphasized that Lananna’s style was consistent with Oberlin’s institutional values.
“I think that Vin Lananna likes to win sporting events,” Dye said. “By the same token Vin Lananna understands the philosophy of Division III athletics. He does not seek to make Oberlin into some sort of athletic juggernaut.”
Among Lananna’s first actions as AD was to draft a new mission statement for the department. The statement emphasized not only improving the quality of Oberlin’s athletic program but also creating a program, which will benefit the Oberlin community as a whole.
“I am convinced that having a poor athletic program has hurt this institution,” Dye said. “It hurt us in terms of getting students who chose not to come to Oberlin because they like to play sports. It also hurt us in terms of building a community. Going to games and rooting for a team can be just as much a part of the college experience as going to concerts and parties and this has been a missing element.”
According to Lananna, his main priorities at the beginning of the year were recruiting and reaching out to alumni to facilitate fundraising. He feels that progress has been made in both areas.
“During fundraising we’ve talked to a lot of former Oberlin athletes,” he said. “They’ve shared a lot of both positive and negative experiences with us.”
He also said that alumni from the ‘60s and earlier tended to have better impressions of Oberlin sports than those from the ‘70s on, generally considered the dark ages of Oberlin sports.
He did not disclose any specific numbers about the increase in fundraising that has resulted from these conversations.
As for admissions, Lananna characterizes the relationship between the department and the admissions office as “wonderful.”
While he claims that no formal changes were made in the relationship between the two campus bodies and athletic admissions figures have not changed specifically, he said that coaches had been urged to begin the recruitment process much earlier.
While most of Lananna’s efforts have been concentrated on institutional improvements within the department, the culture of sports within the Oberlin community presents several complex issues as well.
He feels that the supposed separation between athletes and non-athletes on Oberlin’s campus was not as much of a problem as some have claimed.
“There’s always going to be that divide, just as there is a divide between people in the Con and the College and people with different political beliefs. All of this serves to create a very exciting place.”
Dye hoped that an improvement in the qualitiy of the program would ameliorate whatever tension exists.
“We don’t have a great number of athletes and athletes have felt self-conscious because there has been a great deal of criticism of athletics at Oberlin. So by taking athletics seriously and integrating fully we can help that.”
Lananna also has strong feelings about the way that Oberlin athletes represent the department both on and off the field.
“Our watchword is integrity,” Lananna said. “Our expectation is that all student athletes exercise the highest level of integrity at all times. I expect our coaches to emphasize that.”
As for next year, Lananna hopes that the actions taken by the department this year will continue to pay off in successes for Oberlin’s teams.
“My goal is that every student should feel they have an opportunity to succeed,” he said. “We don’t want to have any teams that have no chance of succeeding. We’re not going to have any more of those.”