Sports » News
Gary Walters ’67, the Ford Family Director of Athletics since 1994, announced Wednesday that he will step down after the 2013-14 academic year. Walters, who started as point guard on some of the most successful teams in the history of the men’s basketball program, led Princeton athletics to 48 national championships and 214 Ivy League championships so far during his tenure.
“I could not have been any luckier than to be the athletic director at Princeton for 20 years,” he said. “It’s a great job.”
Walters will leave Princeton having made significant marks on its athletic programs, including the creation of the Princeton Varsity Club and the Princeton Academic-Athletic Fellows program, which links athletes with faculty advisers.
“When I was hired at Princeton by President Shapiro, I was asked to strengthen the ties between the academic side of the house and the athletic side of the house,” Walters said. “And that really actually fit right into my vision of education through athletics and the cognitive role, candidly, that I think athletics plays in the development of individuals.”
“I think it’s actually probably been the hallmark [of my time here],” he said of the Academic-Athletic fellows program. “We have a fabulous relationship with the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. We have so many faculty members serving as Academic-Athletic fellows.”
At least one Tiger team or individual has won a national championship during each of Walters’ 19 years, and Princeton has finished highest in the Ivy League in the Director’s Cup 16 of those years.
Walters’ tenure has seen not only on-field success but also drastic changes to the facilities themselves. Bedford Field, Sherrerd Field, the Cordish Family Pavilion and Lenz Tennis Center, Finney and Campbell multi-purpose fields and Princeton Stadium were all built under Walters, and other facilities including Hobey Baker Rink and Jadwin Gymnasium were renovated. Walters said that this overhaul of the facilities was part of the larger goal of integrating athletics and academics.
“The symmetry of our buildings and the synergy and the role that that plays in achieving this integration … between academics and athletics is actually enhanced by the location of athletic facilities so close to the center of campus,” he said.
Walters started on the 1965 men’s basketball team that made it to the Final Four and was an instrumental part of the 1967 squad that went 25-3 — then the best record in program history. He continued to turn heads after graduating, becoming the youngest men’s basketball head coach in NCAA history when Middlebury College hired him in 1970. After a stint at Union College, he returned to Princeton in 1973 as an assistant coach and later coached at Dartmouth and Providence College as well as at the 1980 U.S. Olympic trials. After a hiatus of a little over a decade from college athletics, he took his current post.
“He was a mentor to us, as coaches,” football head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “He’s just someone who’s been involved in athletics in so many different roles.”
Surace added that the “Education Through Athletics” philosophy, which became the slogan of the athletic department under Walters, was “the most attractive” thing to him when he took the job four years ago.
An 11-person search committee chaired by Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey and including men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 and field hockey head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn will pick Walters’ successor.
Walters said that his successor will need to expand and renovate Dillon Gymnasium for recreational use and address the relatively small size of his department’s staff and office space. He credited his staff at every turn.
“I’m just grateful for everybody that’s enabled me to do my job and serve the student-athletes and the coaches here at Princeton,” he said. “It’s truly been an honor.”