COCHRANE: Departing Sarty has no regrets
Steve Sarty wanted time to deal with his thoughts after word broke earlier this month that he was to be let go as the Saint Mary’s athletic director, effective Aug. 31.
Now, for the first time, he’s willing to talk publicly about leaving the job he’s held since February 2009.
“Change is happening,” said the 41-year-old former Saint Mary’s football star, who now intends to return to his previous career in private sales and marketing.
“Change in leadership is what they (SMU administrators) are looking for.”
Beyond this desire for change, Sarty refuses to go into the reasons he was given for his firing.
In the early August news release announcing his dismissal, Keith Hotchkiss, the university’s student services director, praised Sarty’s accomplishments but added: “At the end of the day, it wasn’t the fit we were looking for.”
Naturally, there’s been plenty of speculation since then. Much of it has to do with the way several controversial issues were handled under Sarty’s watch.
Heading the negative side of the ledger has to be the firing of popular football coach Steve Sumarah, a move that didn’t sit well with many alumni. Axing the women’s hockey team, which was eventually saved through private funding, also created debate.
There were other controversies, too, some public and some that outsiders didn’t know about.
Sarty doesn’t duck his role in the two most controversial public moves.
“I would have loved to not have (been) part of that process,” Sarty said of the women’s hockey cost-cutting measure. “Sometimes you are put in a position where you have to make difficult decisions. But when you are told you have to do a certain thing, it has to be done. That was unfortunate.”
He also stands behind changing football coaches.
“There are probably a few of them (football program supporters) who think what we had to do with the football program wasn’t what they would have done. But they aren’t as intimately involved with what’s going on as I am, and as are a bunch of other people. Tough decisions had to be made.”
Sarty also enjoyed his share of positive moves as athletic director.
Taking a chance on troubled former NHL player Mike Danton, who had served time in prison before arriving at Saint Mary’s, was a gamble. Sarty backed hockey coach Trevor Stienburg’s push for Danton to get an opportunity. Not only did Danton become part of a CIS champion hockey club but he turned out to be an excellent student and positive role model.
Sarty also oversaw several successful coaching hirings, and according to the university, he played a key part in construction of the multimillion-dollar Homburg Centre for Health and Wellness.
And while it seems that Sarty was often the lightning rod for administrative athletic decisions that drew negative reactions, he explains that in many of those cases, he didn’t have the final say. That’s an important point about athletic directors that’s often overlooked.
“Any of the big decisions that anyone would have heard of outside the university are never the decision solely made by the athletic department,” he said. “It’s always OK’d, agreed upon, by the rest of the powers at the university.”
Sarty says he is satisfied, as he leaves Saint Mary’s, that he did his best for his students and his school.
“Honestly, I have zero regrets. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I did during the time I was there. I had 3 great years at Saint Mary’s University and I’m very happy to be there as long as I was. I’m not at all bitter.”
Chris Cochrane is a sports columnist with The Chronicle Herald and the author of Inside the Game.