If you weren’t aware that Peter Casey
became the university’s new director of intercollegiate athletics this fall, that was almost by design.
Casey, who was elevated from his role as deputy director of athletics following the retirement of longtime athletic director Dana Skinner
in September, eschewed an introductory press conference. He also didn’t require any moving boxes, electing to keep his office at Costello Gym rather than assume Skinner’s former space at the Tsongas Center.
“The goal is business as usual,” says Casey, who first joined the university in 2002 as associate athletic director of external affairs. “I’m very familiar with everyone on the staff — I know them, they know me — so from that perspective, a lot of things won’t change. The priority, as always, is our student-athletes.”
Besides continuity, the 47-year-old Casey brings what Chancellor Jacquie Moloney once called a “smorgasbord” of experience to the job: Assistant football coach at Allegheny College and Springfield College, where he earned a master’s degree in athletic administration and sports marketing. Sports marketing manager in Philadelphia, where he worked with the NBA’s Sixers, the NHL’s Flyers and the Atlantic 10 basketball tournament. Regional marketing director for the Harlem Globetrotters in Phoenix, Ariz. Director of football operations for Division I Rutgers University. He was even director of athletics and wellness for the Nashua public schools in New Hampshire.
‘Athletics isn’t the most important thing we do as a university, but sometimes it’s the most visible.’ -AD Peter Casey
“I never set out to be a college athletic director, but looking back, it all fell into place,” says Casey, who was born in Salem, Mass., but grew up with 13 different addresses up and down the East Coast (“from Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to Key West, Florida”) thanks to his father’s service in the Marines and Coast Guard.
Through all the moves, Casey found an anchor by playing sports, especially football.
“Sports played a crucial role for me growing up. They opened up a lot of opportunities,” says Casey, who played running back and linebacker at Hull High School. At Bowdoin College, where he majored in sociology, Casey was a four-year starting linebacker and captain of the football team.
At UMass Lowell, Casey’s fingerprints are all over some of the university’s most visible improvements over the past 15 years. As deputy AD, he helped Skinner spearhead the university’s transition to Div. I. As director of athletic business enterprises, he managed the $5 million renovation of the Tsongas Center (which he still oversees). As executive director of venue and events enterprises, he ran the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center after it was acquired by the university in 2009. He also managed the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Cushing Field Complex on North Campus.
“Athletics isn’t the most important thing we do as a university, but sometimes it’s the most visible,” says Casey, who notes the move to Div. I has only increased that visibility. “We’ve widened our footprint from a recruiting perspective, which has enhanced the makeup of our campus in general. We’re exposing people from different parts of the country, and even around the world, to UMass Lowell.
“It also creates an excitement on campus that you normally wouldn’t get anywhere else. We’ve always said that about hockey: There’s no other platform where you have that excitement of 6,000 people in a venue, that buzz. When people feel that and see that, it gives you a really good feeling about the university. The goal is to take a few pages out of the hockey playbook and tailor them to all the other sports.”
When speaking with alumni, Casey says his goal is to enhance engagement — and to reach out to those who haven’t been involved with the university.
“We have a lot of great things happening, not just in athletics, but across the entire campus. We want to create a sense of pride, or invigorate a pride that they may not have had before,” he says, adding that the successful D-I transition is a “tribute to all of our prior student-athletes, coaches and staff that built the foundation. We want them to help us grow their legacy here on campus.”
As a former football player, one of the questions Casey frequently gets from alumni is whether the university will bring back its football program, which was cut in 2003.
“Football was a big part of our success here, but at this level, it’s really difficult financially to sustain,” says Casey, who points out cutting the program helped enable the success of other sports at the university, which in turn led the River Hawks to being invited to join America East. “You have to look for the greater good. It wasn’t a popular decision at the time, but it was really the only decision.
“One of my many goals from an alumni engagement perspective is to reach out to our former football players, and to be completely transparent in saying, ‘Look, we have no intention of bringing football back. However, we want to bring you back to campus so you can see what we’ve done. How can we make you and your family and friends proud of what you’ve been part of?’
In 2007, Casey left the university to pursue the opportunity at Rutgers. A year later, he returned to New England and took the job in Nashua. When Moloney, then the executive vice chancellor, contacted Casey in 2009 to gauge his interest in returning to UML as director of athletics business enterprises, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I missed the people and the collaborative approach of everyone across campus,” says Casey, who lives in Hooksett, N.H., with his wife, Cindy, and their two children, Declan and Teaghan. “My experience at Rutgers made me realize that I had it great here. I don’t regret leaving and coming back. Without that decision, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”