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Former athletic director receives distinguished service award

Published: September 23, 2010
Section: Sports


Michael Coven could barely say anything at all.

That’s about all there is to say.

The Brandeis Men’s Soccer coach, rarely at a loss for words, found himself in the unfamiliar position of not knowing what to say. Or how to say it.

“It’s even hard to put into words. It’s very emotional. This is the only job I’ve ever had and he hired me,” Coven said.

The “he” in question is Nick Rodis, the man who served as Brandeis’ Athletic Director from 1967 to 1984.

Last week, Rodis was named a recipient of the 2010 James Lynah Distinguished Service Award. He will be recognized at an Honors Banquet, to be held at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s (ECAC) Fall Convention, Sept. 28 in Hyannis.

Jack Powers of Manhattan College, Russ Reilly of Middlebury College and Patricia Rogers of the University of Albany will accompany Rodis as ECAC honorees this year.

The award, first given in 1957, is bestowed upon an ECAC athletics administrator who has “achieved outstanding success and has made significant contributions in the interest of intercollegiate athletes,” according to an ECAC press release. It was named in honor of Lynah, the conference’s principal founder.

During the course of his 17 years at Brandeis, Rodis changed the face of the university’s Athletics program. It was under his direction that Brandeis won its only two NCAA Division III national championships–the 1976 men’s soccer and 1983 men’s cross country titles–and made 27 other trips to NCAA tournament play. He oversaw the creation of seven women’s intercollegiate sports teams and was responsible for the hiring of legendary Coaches Bob Brannum and Tom O’Connell. In 2000, Rodis joined Brannum and O’Connell in the Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame.

Rodis’ athletic vision is no less present now than it was during his tenure. In addition to Coven, Denise Dallamora, Bill Shipman, Pete Varney and Assistant Athletic Director Jim Zotz were all Rodis hires. They all remain at Brandeis today.

Once he found the right words, Coven, the coach of the 1976 title team, had nothing but strong praise for his former superior.

“I guess aside from my parents, he’s the most influential person in my life. He gave me the chance. What more can I say,” Coven said. “The gift that he gave me … is unbelievable.”

Coven’s sentiments were echoed by Varney, the 29th year baseball coach, “forever grateful for the opportunity Mr. Rodis provided” him.

Even after stepping down as Director of Athletics, Rodis played a key role in fundraising efforts to revive Brandeis’ athletic facilities which, at the time, were severely lacking.

“We had this old beat up gym. Our fields were just horrific … They were god-awful. Teams refused to play on my field, it was so bad” explained Coven. “We had no money for uniforms or travel. And with all that he created national championship teams.”

Rodis was able not only to create championship teams, but also to attract them. By way of his friendship with the Celtics’ then-General Manager Red Auerbach, Rodis was able to lure the NBA franchise to the newly constructed Gosman Athletic Center. Gosman, opened in 1991,

served as the Celtics’ official practice facility from its inaugural year through 1999.

Rodis’ reputation preceded his arrival at Brandeis. He had attended Harvard University, where he played football and baseball and befriended the Kennedy family.

After graduation, he coached basketball at Springfield’s American International College as well as the University of Connecticut before moving on to serve as vice president of the International University Sports Federation and president of the United States Collegiate Sports Council.

Next, he worked for five years under President John F. Kennedy as part of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs where he was responsible for developing athletic programs around the world. Then he came to Brandeis.

No pressure.

Despite his prior successes and famous connections, Rodis took to his new gig in Waltham like it was all that mattered.

And Brandeis is perhaps where he is remembered most, not only for what he did, but for who he was.

“Through the World University games, his own stellar athletic career and his friendship with the Kennedy family he knew many very important people.

But he was a friendly and down to earth guy with everyone,” explained Shipman, now in his 30th year as head coach of Brandeis’ award-winning fencing teams.

“Nick was a compassionate and caring boss,” agreed Dallamora, women’s soccer’s first and–to–date-only head coach. “A great athlete himself, he loved Brandeis.”

And what a show of love it was, as a program in want of help was transformed into one of the country’s premier Division III schools.

“He was the architect,” concluded Coven.

The point holds true both in a literal and figurative sense. From the soccer teams to the soccer fields, the coaching staffs to their Gosman offices, Rodis has built a legacy.

“He laid the groundwork for everything good that has happened to us athletically,” Coven said. “Really, there’s nothing more to say.”