Former Williams College Athletic Director Harry Sheehy ’75 finished an unparalleled career as an Eph when he accepted an offer to become Dartmouth College’s new athletic director in August. After visiting Williams throughout the 50s and 60s with his father, an alumnus, Sheehy came to Williams in 1971 to begin representing the Ephs – first as a basketball player, then as basketball coach and ultimately as athletic director.
“I literally worked with Harry Sheehy since day one, as he interviewed me when I applied for the women’s head soccer coaching position in 1985,” said Associate Director of Athletics Lisa Melendy. “Harry was a pleasure to work with, both because he provided a good and well-grounded philosophical framework within which to work and also because he made work so much fun.”
Sheehy’s time as a basketball player for the College was an unmitigated success. From 1971 to 1975, Sheehy was a two-time All-American at Williams and left the College as its all-time leading scorer with 1449 points. The mark is made all the more impressive by the fact that first-years were not yet allowed to compete in varsity competition in the early 70s. Sheehy now stands sixth on the Ephs’ all-time scoring list.
After graduating, Sheehy played semi-professionally with Athletes in Action, a group that played internationally and sought to build on spirituality through sport. Sheehy left Athletes in Action in 1984 to in order to return to Williamstown and become the College’s head basketball coach.
Sheehy spent 17 years as the Ephs’ head coach, during which he led his teams to an overall record of 324-104. His success and talent as a coach were uncontested: Sheehy’s teams went all the way to the NCAA tournament in 12 straight seasons – from 1989 to 2000 – and went to the Final Four in both 1997 and 1998, twice finishing third. Sheehy was selected as Northeast Coach of the Year in both 1997 and 1998, Eastern Basketball Coach of the Year in ’98 and NESCAC Coach of the Year in 2000. During his tenure, Sheehy coached 15 All-New England players, eight All-Americans and one National Player of the Year.
Sheehy was named the College’s athletic director following the 1999-2000 basketball season. His impressive results on the bench quickly translated to success behind the desk. The College won 10 consecutive Director’s Cups for overall excellence in Div. III athletics during his tenure. Sheehy’s legacy of excellence extended past the NESCAC, as the College beat out the 320 ECAC Div. I, II and III institutions to claim the ECAC Jostens Trophy for excellence in academics and athletics four times during Sheehy’s tenure as AD. The College has won six trophies overall; no other ECAC institution has won more than two. The Ephs also won 17 of the College’s 23 overall NCAA titles while Sheehy was athletic director. Finally, Sports Illustrated named the College the best college for female athletes and the best Div. III athletics institution during Sheehy’s tenure.
“Harry is someone who loved his work and had a true passion for Williams and Williams athletics that permeated all he did,” Melendy said when asked about Sheehy’s presence in the department. “[He] helped lead one of the strongest athletic departments in Div. III because he had a clear vision and commitment to athletics as a co-curricular activity which supported the student athlete in his or her pursuit of excellence both in the classroom and in the competitive environment.”
In addition to the long list of accomplishments of the College’s athletic program in the 10 years Sheehy was athletic director, he also helped to oversee the raising of the academic requirements for tipped athletes during the middle of the decade. The changing of admissions standards for athletes created controversy stemming from concerns that such changes could and did make certain teams less competitive. Despite the changes, however, the College has continued to dominate in most intercollegiate competition and the NESCAC raised the admissions standards for all institutions last year.
Sheehy has a very different job ahead of him at Dartmouth than he had in leading Williams athletics. While Sheehy stepped into a successful program at the College and led the program to unparalleled success at the Div. III level, Dartmouth’s program finished No. 128 out of 283 Div. I teams last season. Dartmouth won only one league championship last season – by comparison, Williams claimed 12 NESCAC titles and two NCAA championships.
Melendy, like so many others on the Williams campus, is sad to see Sheehy go. “On a personal note, I will truly miss working with him,” she said when asked about his departure. Many members of the community are similarily saddened by Sheehy’s move, as he has been a longstanding presence on campus.
“Harry Sheehy spent nearly 50 years on the Williams campus and was one of the best basketball players and coaches ever at Williams,” said Dick Quinn, director of Sports Information. “His tenure as AD was perfect – 10 Directors’ Cups in a row – making it nearly impossible for his replacement to top him.”