Penn hires its first woman athletic director

Grace Calhoun , former A.D. at Loyola in Chicago, at her introductory news conference. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff
Grace Calhoun , former A.D. at Loyola in Chicago, at her introductory news conference. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff
Posted: March 26, 2014

It stood to reason that Penn would hire an athletic director with Ivy League credentials and extensive administrative experience.

That's why the Quakers introduced Grace Calhoun as their new A.D. on Monday at the Palestra.

The 1992 Brown graduate had been the athletic director at Loyola University in Chicago. Calhoun also served in senior athletic administration posts at Indiana and Dartmouth, in addition to working as associate executive director of the Patriot League.

When Calhoun officially takes over for Steve Bilsky on July 1, she will become the first female athletic director at a Big Five school.

"It's certainly a much bigger job in every way - there are more sports," Calhoun said of the move from Loyola. "An Ivy League athletic director's job means you have to balance a lot of different constituent groups with a lot of different demands."

She has proved she is willing to make a splash. Last year, Calhoun hired basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes as Loyola's women's basketball coach. She also replaced the men's basketball coach as soon as she got the job. Loyola's men's basketball team struggled this season, finishing 10-22 and last in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Penn noted that Loyola had its best all-sports finish last year "in the modern era" as it transitioned into the Missouri Valley Conference.

Calhoun talked about assessing Penn's men's basketball team, which finished 8-20 this season under Jerome Allen.

"Looking at this historic building again, basketball has been by and large successful for most of this history," Calhoun said. "The greater Penn community is going to demand that sort of success, so it's my job to go in and figure out why that's not happening, but giving that a fair opportunity to see if we can do it with current leadership."

She reiterated any evaluation would be a "fair and full process." She then added, "I can see the records, as everyone does. I can read the blogs."

A magna cum laude graduate of Brown in electrical engineering, Calhoun earned an MBA from Lehigh and a Ph.D in higher education administration from Florida.

"We set out to find a star, and we did," Penn president Amy Gutmann said in a statement. "Dr. Calhoun brings to Penn an insurmountable treasure of experience that will help us build on the legacy of Steve Bilsky."

Asked about taking over a program with 33 sports, Calhoun said of competing in field events on the track and field team at Brown, "I never felt like I was a lesser student-athlete because I was in a non-revenue sport."

Calhoun was at Indiana from 2005-11 as an associate athletic director. In 2008, men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson resigned under pressure after a university investigation found Sampson and his staff reportedly made more than 100 impermissible calls while still under recruiting restrictions.

Indiana reported the violations and was put on three years' probation by the NCAA.

"Our coaches need to be mentors and educators and people of very high character," Calhoun said. "There were things that obviously went very wrong from the start of Kelvin's tenure and I think Indiana certainly learned those lessons in a very hard way."


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