LOWELL -- When Peter Casey graduated from Bowdoin College in 1993, he saw many of his friends and football teammates move on to careers at companies like Fidelity and Goldman Sachs.
But the finance/business world wasn't appealing to Casey. He grew up in a service family, with his father spending 10 years in the Marines and another 15 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Casey moved 13 times during his adolescence, living as far north as Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and as far south as Key West, Fla. He was born in Salem and went to Hull High School as a sophomore, junior and senior and considers that the closest thing to home during his upbringing.
Throughout all that change, sports remained the one constant for Casey. He was a four-year starter and captain for the Bowdoin football team while earning his degree in sociology, and then went on to Springfield College and earned his Masters of Physical Education in athletic administration with a minor in sports marketing.
This week, Casey officially took over as UMass Lowell's Director of Athletics, replacing Dana Skinner, who held the post for the last 23 years.
"This was always the hope for me, personally," said the 47-year-old Casey, who resides in Hooksett, N.H., with his wife Cindy and their two children.
"I came back to UMass Lowell as a deputy (Director of Athletics) to help out with the transition to Division 1, knowing that at some point soon thereafter Dana was going to retire.
For me it was an opportunity to have a shot at being the athletic director and I knew if I did what I needed to do throughout that transition, the hope was that everything was going to fall into place. There were no promises whatsoever, nor did I expect there to be. It's great to be able to work in an environment where that shared vision of your leadership is part of the greater good.
"It's been a pleasure to work with Dana for all these years, and help develop this program. For him providing me with that opportunity, I'm forever indebted. The hope is to continue that pursuit of excellence. The great thing that Dana was able to do is adapt and do with what we've got."
Casey helped Skinner bring on 23 new hires to fill positions required for the Division 1 transition that began in 2013. He also served as the chief operating officer for the athletic department, overseeing daily operations of all varsity sports. He had previous stints with UML as Assistant Athletic Director for External Affairs, Executive Director of Venue and Events Enterprise, and Director, Athletic Business Enterprises.
The River Hawks were ineligible for postseason play during a mandatory four-year transition period to Division 1, but that was completed in the spring of 2017. UMass Lowell teams are now full-fledged members of Division 1. Last year, UMass Lowell finished fourth among nine teams in the America East Conference in the Commissioner's Cup (a scoring system that rewards success in the regular season and championship competition), the school's best finish yet.
Casey says the next step in the development of UMass Lowell's athletic program will involve an increased focus on fundraising.
"That seems to be an important item moving forward, without a doubt," said Casey. "The fundraising initiative will be a priority. When we started this Division 1 transition, the challenge for the coaches was to establish a program from a recruiting perspective. Over the last five years we think we've established that foundation.
"During the transition, we created a financial plan that was a really solid plan from a staffing and resource perspective. It wasn't the best budget, but it wasn't the worst -- it was really competitive. Where we think we need to make that difference to get from good to great is fundraising, and getting out and educating people on where we're at."
UMass Lowell is in the midst of a fundraising campaign throughout the entire campus and within that campaign athletics is launching a capital appeal for renovating Costello Athletic Center.
Alums play key role
Casey said alumni will be a key foundational piece to fundraising. He said the university will proactively reach out to alums, a complicated process considering UMass Lowell's history of mergers and mascot changes.
"We're looking to build upon the legacy that all our former student-athletes and coaches have helped build," said Casey. "We're looking to re-engage, and possibly engage, alum for the first time in a long time and invite them back to campus to see what we've done."
Family and friends, longtime supporters and corporate sponsors will also ideally play a large role in UML's fundraising plans.
Of course, the best way to build the brand in the world of college athletics is success. Lumps were expected during the transitional phase, but winning certainly matters long term.
"We always say that athletics isn't the most important thing that happens on a campus, but more often than not it's the most visible thing," said Casey. "You often hear about being the front porch of a university. We take that role in athletics seriously. We want to be competitive, we want to have a chance to compete every single year.
"Moving forward, we're going to be spending a lot of our time making sure that we have the resources modeled in the right way and our strategic plan is guiding us in the right direction, so we can be on the right path toward success."
Casey said he encourages coaches to be on the lookout during road trips for ideas or concepts at other universities that might help at UMass Lowell.
Speaking of other universities, Casey pointed to UMBC's monumental upset of Virginia in last March's NCAA men's basketball tournament as an event that can do wonders for a university's athletic standing. UMBC is an America East member.
"That's exciting. For all of our sports knowing that at the beginning of the year we have a shot to win a championship and get that automatic bid to get to the NCAAs," Casey said.