Daniella Irle is a veteran of athletic administration on the Division I level and is excited to bring her experience to Knox College. Last week, it was announced that Irle would be joining the Knox Athletic Department very soon to fill the empty position.
Irle began her career in athletics as a college athlete, swimming at Lamar University in southeast Texas. Irle spent 10 years as the swimming and diving coach at Fresno State, where she was named Western Athletics Conference Coach of the Year in 1993 and 1995. She then moved to Tulane University where she coached a swimming and diving program that had been inactive for 13 years.
While at Tulane, Hurricane Katrina hit. Most of the university was destroyed and each athletic team was assigned to various universities. Tulane was shut down for six months and didn’t reopen until January. This afforded Irle the opportunity to move into administration.
“It’s always been a plan for me, I’d always wanted to move into administration but, you know, how? When? After Katrina, Tulane had laid off, athletically, probably two thirds of their employees. After the hurricane, the athletic director offered me the opportunity to stay on as an assistant athletic director,” Irle said.
This “life-altering experience,” as described by Irle, helped her take part in rebuilding the town and the entire school. Her team was transferred to Texas A&M and she continued coaching there for a couple months while contemplating the position as assistant athletic director.
“It afforded me the opportunity to help rebuild a department, literally, from the ground up,” Irle said.
Irle reflected on her Katrina experience, which she went through with her entire family.
“It was a feel-good experience to help, to be in the city. Feeling like a part, however small, to be helping that city rebound a little bit. Something bigger than yourself. For me, that was a really good and life-changing experience,” Irle said.
After Tulane, Irle was offered a position at University of North Dakota, home to a hockey team ranked seventh in the nation in Division I athletics. UND Hockey won a national championship under Irle’s administration a year ago.
This brings Irle to Knox. She is excited to come to a Division III institution and feels as if it’s a “perfect fit.”
“I believe more in the holistic approach to the student-athlete experience but I also love what athletics can do for a campus and vice versa, what a campus can do for athletics. […] People are so committed and so proud here. Rich history academically, rich history athletically. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be part of that?” Irle said.
Irle was also named Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2004-05 and again from 2005-06. She is also a part of the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving committee until August of 2020.
Irle believes in a slower approach. During the first two months she is on board, Irle plans to listen and learn. To understand the culture, get to know the people and create a vision. She made it clear that the president’s vision will be her vision, but over the first few months Irle will create her own vision as well. She hopes to listen to donors, alumni, and most importantly the student athletes. Irle thinks it’s “very important” not to go into the position with a vision already in her head.
“The vision can’t be concrete because what if I’m wrong? What if the culture is different? What if I took something out of context?” Irle said.
Irle is focused on making the vision of the community, the campus, and the president come to life.
“I want to take my time, get to know people, get to know the students and the student-athletes. Get to know the campus, the community and also work to promote the president’s image and kind of what the community and the alumni and students want to do,” Irle said.
Irle also believes it’s not about change, it’s about improvement.
“The key thing is not about changing, it’s about enhancing. There’s nothing here that needs to be changed, everything is about enhancing the experience for the student athletes, the staff and the campus,” Irle said.
She plans to formulate her vision over time and execute once she knows for sure what the campus values.
As a retired student athlete, Irle knows the importance of experiencing college athletics. Irle attended a larger school than Knox, with 10,000 students.
“I really thrived there as I moved through my professional career. I very much want that experience that I had, for all [the student athletes] to have memories like I do, the good stuff and the craziness with your teammates. Meeting people on campus and being part of things bigger than yourself,” Irle said.
Irle was attracted to Knox initially because of Teresa Amott’s vision.
“I want to be somewhere where athletics is valued but also where it’s part of the fabric of the institution and I really think that’s what she believes. I think there’s some good synergy there,” Irle said.
Irle’s goal is to bring something from her previous experiences to her new position. It was never about ‘climbing the ladder’ for Irle. It was about what she could learn and bring to her new experiences. Irle wants to begin by getting to know the campus, the community and the athletes.
“I’m well aware of what I’m walking into and all the great things that are going on,” Irle said.
Irle was looking for a place where her family could feel safe and happy and for her, Galesburg is the perfect place. She will work to formulate and execute her vision over the next couple months and hopes to make Knox a hub for athletics and enhance the vision of the campus and president.
“It’s a process, it’s a journey,” Irle said.