Coaching, admin changes highlight athletics’ summer

by Chris Eyer / Beacon Staff • September 8, 2011

Following the departure of three head coaches representing five teams over the course of last year, Athletic Director Kristen Parnell made several new hires while classes were out of session.

Last year saw the departure of longtime men’s basketball coach Hank Smith in the middle of the season.

Smith’s sudden departure sparked controversy last year after an investigation by the Beacon revealing in William Gilligan, vice president of information technology, made the decision to no longer have Smith as the head coach.

[caption id="attachment_810" align="alignright" width="292" caption="Ben Read gives the women's volleyball team instructions during practice in a pre season training session.             Barbara Platts/Beacon Staff"][/caption]

Also leaving were volleyball coach Craig Letourneau and tennis coach Mason Astley. Astley and Letourneau handled both the men’s and women’s teams.

Of the new staff members, men’s head basketball coach Jim O’Brien has coached at the highest level. O’Brien previously coached Division 1 programs at Boston College and Ohio State.

Benjamin Read will take over for Letourneau as coach for both the men’s and women’s volleyball teams. Read left Wheaton College’s volleyball program after serving as the head coach for five years. Letourneau took on Read’s old job, leaving an opening for Read to eventually join the Lions’ program.

“What I love about this position is that I get to spend a lot more time coaching, which is what I love to do,” Read said. “Spending time with the women and men — how many people get paid to make a living doing what they love?”

Wheaton only had a women’s program, leaving Read to manage Wheaton home games during the spring semester for other sports.

Former Mount Ida tennis coach John Nestel will fill Astley’s role as head tennis coach, leading both teams. At Mount Ida, Nestel was the women’s head coach, leading the team to its first-ever GNAC playoff appearance. Astley will be working as an assistant coach for the MIT women’s tennis team as well.

Parnell said she believes the new coaches will help Emerson to continue to improve in the athletic arena and to strive for NCAA berths in every sport.

“Coach Read is a young coach that’s already seen immense success, [and] Coach O’Brien has had success follow him in every level of the game and brings in decades of experience,” Parnell said in an email interview. “We really were aggressive in bettering our athletic department and we see things only getting better in all sports and facets.”

Besides the new coaches, Parnell also brought aboard Kerry Howe to serve as the Media Relations Director. Howe previously worked as the Assistant Media Relations Director at Arizona State University and was charged with the task of revamping Emerson’s athletics website.

“Emerson gave me the kind of creative freedom to start everything anew after scrapping the old website,” said Howe, who is originally from Lowell, Massachusetts. “I can oversee the website, add in feature stories, and give the Boston community a different side of Emerson, which was not the kind of freedom I had at Arizona State as an assistant director.”

Parnell said Howe and the new website will help bring Emerson’s media relations up to speed with other colleges.

“Our main focus with the new hire for media relations was not just bring up our image, but to at the very least compete, if not supersede, what every other athletic department is doing in terms of media relations from conference opponents to [Division 1] schools,” Parnell said. “We want to be seen as an elite athletic department that intertwines with our elite academics.”

The website went live on August 26, while new coaching staff was put to the test September 3, with Nestel’s women’s team visiting Wellesley College, and Read’s women’s team going to Wheaton College. Nestel was unsuccesful as his team lost, while Read’s team split two games in a tournament.

Read believes there will be a period of adjustment for the new coaches when they begin.

“Just getting to know the school itself and the programs, there’s a learning curve for that,” Read said. “And also, getting to know the players.”

But while the new coaches may not know all the ins and outs of Emerson right off the bat, Read said he had a clear objective from the get-go

“Our main goal for the women is to get back to the GNAC  Championship like we did in 2009. From there, who knows where we can go in the NCAA tournament.”

Eyer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @prymetymechris.