Suffolk Athletic Director Jim Nelson to Retire After 46 Years

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After 46 years working within Suffolk University, longtime athletic director Jim Nelson will retire at the end of the 2013 spring semester. Nelson announced the news on April 10 at the Student Government Awards upon receiving the lifetime achievement award.

“I’ve given serious consideration the last several years and made the decision back in September. President McCarthy came [last year] and…I felt it was not appropriate to leave until I knew him and shared the uniqueness of the program and told him I would stay at least a year longevity,” said Nelson regarding the decision.

The Boston College graduate came began his time at Suffolk in 1966 when he was named assistant director of athletics and assistant basketball coach.

“When I first got to Suffolk, it was just one building and was largely a commuter school. We only had the Archer building and the Donahue building opened up my first year,” Nelson said.

After nine years at the university, the former college basketball player was named athletic director and head men’s basketball coach in 1975. Nelson served as head coach and athletic director simultaneously until 1995, when he hung up his coaching whistle and focused solely on his other role with Suffolk.

“As a coach, you are first and foremost a teacher. That was the aspect I enjoyed most during coaching. Each day in practice I would be teaching the fundamentals of the game but also civility, discipline and commitment, loyalty and sacrifice. To be successful, you will need to sacrifice a great deal to time commitment,” he said.

Considering Nelson’s many contributions to the university, it’s safe to say there are few better to teach the value of sacrificing time for a greater cause than him.

Up until 1991, Suffolk athletics were played largely at the Cambridge YMCA where Nelson spent plenty of time during his first decade-and-a-half as head coach and athletic director. The Cambridge native recalls many days spent at his hometown YMCA where he “was fortunate to have student athletes who had a similar commitment and love of sport and respected quality,” as he saw during his time as a player for the Boston College Eagles.

Thanks to the help of former university President Daniel Pearlman, Nelson and others, Suffolk opened the doors to its first ever athletic facility, the Ridgeway Gym, in 1991. Nelson remembers encouraging the former president and other Suffolk administrators for years about how a gym would be a help for his department and the school as a whole.

“It’s something that has given us enormous benefits. It’s allowed the basketball and volleyball teams facilities to play games and practice and students to come and cheer those teams that are made of their friends, classmates or roommates. It doesn’t take many to have a sellout at Ridgeway and our teams have been able to play in front of big crowds. Ridgeway also gave me my first and last office!”

With the Ridgeway building as a whole currently on the market, Nelson explained that the goal for Suffolk is to have another athletic facility with enhanced resources sometime in the future.

In addition to his work bringing the school its first ever athletic facility, Nelson helped Suffolk sports become a full-time member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference during the 1999-2000 school year. Since becoming members of the GNAC, the university has won a combined 11 conference championships and qualified for eight NCAA tournaments.

Nelson helped shape Suffolk athletics into what it is today but he didn’t accomplish these goals by locking his office doors and diving into paperwork.

“Coach Nelson is the Mayor of Suffolk,” said baseball coach Cary McConnell in a press release given to the Journal. “He knows everyone’s name and when he stops and talks with you, he really cares about what’s going on in your life.”

Suffolk athletic trainer Jim Stone was given his current title with the school from Nelson in 2005. Stone explained that Nelson remembered him from his days in the 1970s as a trainer for high schools and colleges, taping up his players at away games.

“Guys like him are hard to find. He has a cache of trust and a solid reputation. He’s legendary, Suffolk’s version of New Hampshire’s ‘Old Man in the Mountain’…he’s universally admired,” said Stone.

Nelson has seen and been an interregnal part in Suffolk’s growth from a small, largely male-populated commuter school into a university with three dorm rooms, a gymnasium and a sprawled-out campus dominating the northeast side of Beacon Hill.

“I’m immensely proud of my association with Suffolk. I’ve always said I had a great four years at Boston College but I’ve had a lifetime at Suffolk. Three of my five children hold degrees from here and that speaks to the level of education here. Suffolk has allowed me to travel extensively to represent its interests on both a national and international scale and I am truly grateful,” said Nelson.

“Since I’ve made my decision, every day has been a closing event for me and there’s been great nostalgia in each of those. I will miss it 100 percent…I was struck by the comment Tom Menino said in his retirement speech when he said ‘I’m leaving the job that I love,’ because I’m leaving the job that I love. Health-wise, I am thankful for the good health I have been blessed with and I could go for 50 years but this is the time. With a new president and my years of service and the fact I’ve been collecting social security the last few years, I realize I am now a senior citizen,” Nelson said with a chuckle.

As for who will fill his shoes as the university’s third-ever athletic director, Nelson hopes it’s someone who is a visionary.

“I hope they will bring their own experiences but will also capitalize on the goodwill that we’ve accomplished with Boston, sister institutions and surrounding cities and towns that have allowed us to present a competitive athletic program.”

Should that new athletic director want to get to know the person who paved the way for them however, Nelson hopes to not be too removed from the Suffolk campus in the years to come.

“I hope to continue teaching my history of sports in the Olympic Games course and will be active in alumni activities,” said Nelson.

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