PEMBROKE — Jeff Frederick remembers the energy and the prep work before the early morning phone interview that Dick Christy had as a part of the athletic director search for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“In the phone interview, we did it early in the morning, which is somewhat unusual for higher education, but he was in it and he was in it for the first moment. He did his homework and was prepared,” said Frederick, who in 2013 was the faculty athletics representative on a seven-person committee looking for the ninth UNCP director of athletics to replace Dan Kenney.
The young associate athletics director for external relations at N.C. State had the committee’s attention from that moment, and went through several other phases of the selection process.
“We did a large number of phone interviews, but he was on message about what he had learned about UNCP and was able to respond to questions,” Frederick said. “We knew we needed somebody who could fit together and could be a problem-solver, a good communicator and a great collaborator. Those skills really came to the front really early.”
Five years later, those attributes have survived the ups and downs that Christy has faced as the head of the UNCP athletics department with its 16 men’s and women’s teams — and are driving it forward.
In the time that Christy has been the head man for the Braves, there have been the visible high points such as championships and on-the-field success, and the moments that were the toughest of Christy’s career, eliminating three athletic programs due to financial pressure.
Through it all, the 38-year-old has kept the same demeanor and approach.
“One of my values is to keep my head down and try to keep working, and it’s really flown by which really is a blessing because I have been surrounded by good people,” Christy said. “We’ve not gotten here without some tough times and some tough decisions, but the thing that strikes me the most is how quickly it’s gone.”
From Day One, “championship experience” has echoed from Christy. While the Braves have claimed seven conference titles, Christy says his mantra means more.
“What we’re going through now with seven championships and counting in two years, that’s not what I was referencing when I said championship experience,” Christy said. “This is one of those eras that you have to step back and everyone needs to appreciate. This shows teamwork and how much the coaches and athletes are doing.
“When I said championship experience, what I was referring to was everything, trying to do it first class. Like the relationship the coaches have with the athletes and how they mentor them to be good adults and contributing members of society.”
Frederick, who is now the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, saw it as a former representative in the department, and now as head of a large piece of the university. He said that Christy is available for him, and many others on campus, at all times.
That’s reality at a Division II school.
“You see him around around campus. You’re as likely to see him at a non-athletic event in many ways as you are at an athletic event,” Frederick said. “That’s the testament to who he is. He’s in all of the life of the university. He’s made sure that athletics works together with all the things we are trying to accomplish.”
At his introductory press conference, Christy called athletics “the front porch of the university.” He also has seen the interdependence of his department with the rest of the university. The same vigor and skills that he uses in athletics is evident around campus and in the local community, where he, and wife Windy, are active.
“Athletics at a Division II school wouldn’t survive without the support of campus. We have to be a good campus partner and a good steward to help out in the community when we can, not only is it the right thing to do, but we have to do it,” he said. “Everybody has to pick each other up to share resources.”
Recent successes include the men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s and track and field and cross country, wrestling and women’s golf programs earning Peach Belt Conference titles.
In 2015 and 2017, Christy was faced with budget deficits, and needed a way to help the department in the long haul. The result was the termination of the men’s golf and the women’s tennis programs in 2015, and men’s soccer in January 2017.
It was painful.
“Making transitions with our sports with the goal in mind to serve the other 400 student-athletes, but to have to face those student-athletes that we were letting know that we couldn’t continue to sponsor a sport, is the worst thing I’ve had to do in my career,” he said.
Much like Christy’s involvement in the university, making tough decisions based on a small margin of error financially is another part of Division II athletics. Frederick said that Christy’s ability to roll with the good and the bad of his job has helped stabilize the department.
“He’s been a great teammate and that’s what you ask is somebody who can stand and take it but who also is willing to deflect it and bring other people in some credit it,” Frederick said.
“That’s life in the Division II medium-sized regional university. There are great days when everything is great. You celebrate them and then there are days when you’ve got to make tough decision. He’s been great with both of those.”
Christy is quick to bring the behind-the-scene workers to the spotlight for whatever has been done. From fundraising, to athletic communications to athletic training, Christy eagely points out who did the heavy lifting when positive things occur.
Fundraising was a major focus when he was hired.
“I think our sponsorship has been the biggest bright spot. We’ve had unbelievable support coming from the corporate community,” Christy said.
“Being able to take that program and make it sustainable and a big chunk of our budget has been huge starting with (former Associate Athletics Director for Marketing Partnerships) Scott Warner and now with (the current position holder) Grace Moore’s leadership. In fundraising with (Executive Director of the Braves Club) Adam Hardin, we have basically doubled our donors who give annually to the Braves Club. Those trends have to continue if we want to get to where we want to get to.”
For almost all of his tenure, Christy has had his predecessor on campus.
“He left a good situation, which made it a good situation to come to Pembroke. He’s always been available,” Christy said. “As I would bounce ideas off of him, Dan was never defensive or negative. If I had a crazy idea, he would tell me the pros and cons, but never would he tell me, ‘you might not want to do that.’ It was always supportive and looking forward.”
Frederick said that Christy’s ability to collaborate eased the transition.
“It’s hard to replace a legend. But when you do, can you marry your ideas and your new plans with what has been successful in the past, and work together and collaborate?” he said. “We knew he could work together with all the different sides of the university in order to pull together some of the results we have been seeing.”
As one of two members still at the university from the selection committee that hired Christy, Frederick has seen the results match the vision.
“It’s been a home run,” Frederick said “This is what you want, someone with passion; with work ethic; who will do the research; who will roll with the punches; who will be with you during the good days and the bad days and who will pitch in and doesn’t live in a silo where the only focus is what is in my job description. And look at the results.”
The Braves finished a program record third in the Peach Belt Conference commissioner’s list last year, but Christy sees that not as something to celebrate, but to build on.
“You can’t let that supplant hard work. I think we’ve done a good job of keeping our head down and there is no finish line, success is not a destination, it’s a journey,” he said. “We’ve got a lot left to do, and the way our strategic plan is laid out with a lot of tasks that you have to do each year, you never get that opportunity to be content or complacent. We’re just going to keep chopping wood. We know we will have setbacks, but hopefully the successes will outweigh the setbacks.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.