Updated: April 16, 2018 at 11:55 a.m.
Before the athletic department merged its men’s and women’s staffs in 1988, it was just one of a few in the nation that had yet to make the change.
About 30 years later, GW is on the other side of history, becoming one of fewer than 50 Division I universities to have a woman leading athletics. University President Thomas LeBlanc announced last week that Tanya Vogel, who has been serving as the interim head since January, will serve as the University’s next athletic director.
When she is officially promoted July 1, Vogel will take over a department that was disrupted when former athletic director Patrick Nero – just one of three men to lead GW sports over the past 35 years – resigned mid-year. At her introductory press conference Thursday, Vogel said she plans to focus on increasing her accessibility to athletes and coaches, while aiming to “move the needle” forward for women’s involvement in collegiate sports.
“I understand that, and I’ve received several notes from a lot of my female staff that I’m a role model,” Vogel said. “As a woman in this business you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. So I’ll continue to be prepared, and I’ll continue to lead this program to the best of my ability.”
Vogel – who said she plans on remaining athletic director for a “long time” – is unlikely to make drastic changes to the department over the next few months. She said she plans to focus on current student-athletes while beginning to develop her plans for the department’s future.
As a member of the Atlantic 10, a conference filled with basketball-first schools, GW’s highest-funded team on campus is the men’s basketball program. That fact will go unchanged under Vogel. She said the department will rely on the revenue generated by men’s basketball, but the spread of wealth and focus on different Colonials teams is what will set GW apart.
Nero – who twice hired Vogel to his administrative staff – said he expects her to bring GW athletics to a higher level than he was able to because of her willingness to take on challenges and her experience gained from her time on his senior staff.
“All jobs, universities and athletic programs have unique challenges. GW Athletics is no different,” Nero said in an email. “Tanya’s length of service in the department and the variety of roles she has occupied provide her with a strong background to lead the department through challenges.”
History as a Colonial
When she was just 18 years old, Vogel first became a member of GW’s athletic department as a player on the women’s soccer team. She stayed for all four years, earning a degree in exercise and sports science and winning 39 games on the field.
She was later hired as head coach of the same program in 2000 and served at the helm for 11 years before moving to the administrative ranks. After a three-year stint at Northern Arizona, Vogel returned to Foggy Bottom, where she served as a senior staffer and deputy Title IX coordinator until taking the helm as interim.
Vogel said her experiences as a player, coach and administrator will help in her decision-making as director.
LeBlanc, who has sat courtside alongside Vogel at several games, said one of his main reasons for selecting her as athletic director stems from her experience as a Colonial over the past 26 years.
“I could search the world over, but I wasn’t going to find someone more deserving,” LeBlanc said at the press conference. “I wasn’t going to find someone with the experience as both the student athlete and an administrator with a deep knowledge and the values of this institution.”
In the release that announced Vogel’s promotion, the department’s reporting structure was altered – making Vogel report directly to LeBlanc instead of the Office of the Provost. The change will align the University with the majority of other departments that use the structure to adhere to the NCAA’s Division I legislation.
Under previous leadership
When Vogel assumed the interim office January 1, it marked the end of Nero’s tenure – a nearly seven-year stretch that was marked by growth with GW’s five-year athletic strategic plan launched in 2012.
“There was not an important decision the department made in the last several years that Tanya did not influence,” Nero said. “I relied on her expertise and values every day we worked together.”
Though she said the next strategic planning process has begun, Vogel has not announced when an official plan will be released.
During Nero’s time, he faced scrutiny for investigations into the department, including the firing and eventual settlement of former men’s basketball coach Mike Lonergan and an ongoing lawsuit by the Equal Opportunity Commission alleging pay discrimination in the athletic department.
At the time of his departure, Nero – who signed a contract extension through 2021 in 2015 – did not elaborate on his reasons for leaving, but said his time off has provided him a much-needed break.
Both Vogel and Nero said challenges are difficult to avoid completely, but many can be mitigated by thoughtful leadership. Vogel said she plans to hire and retain the right people who can help educate the department on how to avoid future issues.
“We are going to be more active in the community, more active in the on-campus community, so that people get to know us,” Vogel said. “The doors at the Smith Center are locked. So when we talk about breaking down silos, we’ve got to figure out a way to open our doors.”
Following the announcement of Vogel’s promotion, players and coaches said they are confident in the direction she appears to be taking the department, although they were not surprised by the selection.
Baseball players and coaches said they have developed a positive relationship with Vogel during her time as interim. They said her passion for her job is clear in the interactions they have with her.
“She’s done a great job since I’ve been here last year and this year,” sophomore outfielder Steven Barmakian said. “It’s no surprise she got the job. She deserves it, and I think she will do a great job.”
Other coaches said they have been encouraged by her interest in their programs. Sailing head coach Billy Martin said Vogel has “revitalized” the department since taking over the interim role in January.
Lacrosse head coach Tracy Coyne – who began leading teams in 1988 – said after working in athletics for many years, she is proud that the department named a female to take the reigns.
“I am so psyched,” Coyne said. “To have the opportunity to work for a woman AD is really inspiring, and it gives me so much confidence in our new president and that he has confidence in Tanya.”
This post is updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the number of wins Vogel recorded as a student-athlete. It is now updated. We regret this error.