Before he became athletics director in 2005, Craig Coleman, M.D., split his time as coach of the Colonials softball team and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt. Under his leadership, RMU's athletics program and its 23 Division I teams have seen unparalleled growth and success on the field and in the classroom. And as the university's winningest coach, Coleman is still a dugout mastermind; he was named NEC Coach of the Year this spring – just as he was last spring.
So what's this I hear about you faking video broadcasts when you were at Penn?
I was the director of programming and manager of the university TV station. Our football team was horrible and almost always lost, so we'd re-edit the game video to make it look like they'd won. If we lost to Princeton 28-7 on Saturday, would re-edit the video to show us scoring our only touchdown four more times. Our slogan was, "Watch us lose on Saturday afternoon, watch us win on Monday night." We'd also do "man on the street" interviews and ask people what they thought about the Ayatollah Khomeini. Then we'd re-edit it to look like we were asking them about the university president
In your time as athletics director, RMU's teams have seen a lot of success and our athletes have excelled academically. Do you see a correlation between the two?
I think they feed off of each other. As our teams become more successful, it increases the name recognition of the university, which makes it easier for coaches to recruit those kinds of students. And there's a lot of competition between schools to recruit these types of scholar-athletes. When you have smarter athletes you win more games. When you win more games, it helps with name recognition, and so forth.
Can you share a story about a student you've encountered whose life was positively affected by coming to RMU?
There was this one student I recall who was somewhat introverted when he first came here. He ended up getting involved with the campus TV station, both behind the scenes and on air, and that involvement gave him greater self-confidence and communication skills. It's just another example of how RMU really does change lives.
How did you end up wooing the NCAA Frozen Four tournament to Pittsburgh?
First of all I have to give credit to Marty Galosi, our senior associate athletic director, whose dream it was to do this. The two of us spent a lot of time building a relationship with our partners – Visit Pittsburgh, the Consol Energy Center, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The selection committee was really impressed that such a competitive bid came from a university. Plus, we have this beautiful new arena, probably the greatest in the world for hockey, in a city with a thriving hockey community. Next year will be the first time Pittsburgh hosts an NCAA national championship in a major team sport.
What first got you interested in studying medicine and psychiatry in particular?
I became interested in becoming a psychiatrist sometime in high school. I'm not sure why. I guess I'm just fascinated with the human mind and human behavior in general.
How did you develop a passion for coaching softball?
When I was 17, my sister's team needed a coach, so my dad and I volunteered. Then, when I came to Pittsburgh for my residency, I coached a traveling team, which led me to getting the coaching job here.
What's the secret of the softball program's success?
When I first took the job, the program was in terrible shape, and it wasn't well funded. So I consulted other college coaches, and they gave me advice on how to steadily build the program over time.
How did you jump from a career in psychiatry to directing an athletics program?
Ed Nicholson, RMU's president at the time, had a son who was going to medical school, and he asked me to give him some advice on choosing a program. I mentioned to Dr. Nicholson that I had an interest in the athletics director position, and he encouraged me to apply.
Winning 500 games is quite an accomplishment. How'd you do it?
Longevity. But seriously, I have a passion for the sport and the competition. I've had some tremendous assistant coaches. The university commitment, particularly from President Dell'Omo. And you can't win without good players. We pride ourselves in encouraging our kids to have personality – we actually look for it. Those kinds of athletes play better, and it's much more interesting for the coaches.
What's something that most people wouldn't know about you? That I'm a C-SPAN junkie. I couldn't tell you a single network show that's on TV today, but I can identify most Congress members by their voice alone.