The Knox Student: After being a three-sport athlete and coaching a bit here at Knox, you left for coaching opportunities at other schools. What drew you back to Knox after years of coaching in programs elsewhere?
Chad Eisele: That was easy for me. Being able to be the Athletic Director at my alma mater was something I was always interested in, but I never knew if it could ever happen. It was just sort of the right place, right time, and here I am 11 years later. I’m from Peoria, my wife is from the Monmouth area. We have been able to give our three kids a hometown and be near family so that was also a factor from a personal aspect.
TKS: Since you’ve been a part of several different sports programs on the college level, what do you think sets Knox sports apart?
CE: We have 1400 students from 49 different states and more than 40 countries, somewhere around there, and we are here in Galesburg, Ill. There has to be a reason people want to come here, and I just think the diversity of our students and the experiences that they bring into this community from all parts of the world makes Knox very unique. I was at Wayne State, a school with over 30,000 students mostly from Michigan. And Lake Forest is sort of like us but they just are not the same, we just have more diversity here. Minnesota State — Moorhead, you are either from Minnesota or North Dakota. When I came here as a kid from Peoria, the diversity here really helped me become who I am through experiencing different opinions and ideas. I do think that is uniquely Knox.
TKS: At what point did you know that you wanted to be a coach?
CE: I actually came here to be a lawyer, I even took the LSATs, and worked at a law firm the summer before my senior year and just really hated it. My dad is a retired high school teacher and coach, and many of the men and women I look up to in my life were my coaches. It just really came down to the fact that this is what I wanted to do. I thought I would follow in my dad’s footsteps and coach high school, but I really fell in love with the recruiting aspect and watching young men and women come in and see the transformation they have undergone by the time they graduate. I’ve been in higher education ever since and certainly love being a part of this process.
TKS: Has it been hard to give up the hands-on aspect of coaching a team in your transition to Athletic Director?
CE: It is a process, just like any major change. For me, I had to find a knack of how to get to know kids and know that I wouldn’t have
the same personal relationship with all the kids, but I enjoy all 20 of the teams we have here. I try to talk and help any students that I can. For instance, I just drove to Cedar Rapids to watch the women’s soccer team play against Coe, and just hearing the girls come up to me afterwards and thank me for coming out, that fills some of the gap of not being out there with them. Also just being able to build the programs and staffs up, that has been very gratifying. I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. If I ever left, and I’m not planning to at the moment, you would not see me leave for the same position at another college.
TKS: You mentioned building up the sports programs here at Knox. How do you go about the process of building winning programs from the bottom up?
CE: We still have a lot of work to do, but it was really important to have full time coaches dedicated to their sports. When I first came here, half the coaches were part time or coaching other sports as well. It has taken a process of fundraising and a bigger commitment by Knox to be able to get us to that point. This is the first year in my 11 years here where all of our head coaches returned, giving us stability in the programs and the recruiting process. It is really hard to build a team and success when there is such frequent change. We certainly are not there yet with all of our sports, but I think you have started to see this effect take place with our bigger rosters and also more success over the past couple of years.
TKS: Is there a program that you would point to as a model of what your goal is for rebuilding a program?
CE: Men’s and women’s soccer are great examples. When I first got here, both had part-time coaches. We have been able to keep strong coaches on for those programs. Our women’s soccer team had the most wins this season in their history, and won five conference wins. You have to add up the last seven years before that to find five conference wins. Our men’s program was 1-17 when our coach fully took over, and we have played in three conference championships, including winning one, since then. Those are certainly good models. I think it will be easier for some sports than others, but those are definitely good examples of what we want out of our programs.
TKS: How exactly does the recruiting process work as a Division III program?
CE: Well there are no athletic scholarships given to students for being good athletes. They are here just like everyone else, trying to get a great education. Everyone has things that enhance their experience here at Knox, and for them the sports teams do that. It is just going out and finding kids that fit the type of students Knox looks for, and that they take their athletics seriously. It doesn’t have to be their top priority but it certainly is expected to be in the top two.
TKS: There’s been a lot of attention in the NFL and other sports on athlete’s decision to kneel or otherwise respectfully protest during the national anthem before games. What would the response be if a student-athlete here decided to do something similar?
CE: We’ve talked about that as a staff, and we just ask that they don’t interfere with the running of the game. If during the national anthem a student decides to take a knee, that’s up to them.
TKS: What is your vision for the sports program beyond building winning programs?
CE: Well I would definitely say building more school spirit. We now have a mascot, and it is really just to help us bring more awareness and people to athletic events. It is not for the alums or anything. So having more support for the student-athletes and all the hard work they put in, we really want to get more people to come out and support their peers. We would love to have more people recognize what their peers are doing and all the work they are putting into their sports, and I think that would help the programs.