|One day after being introduced as Furman's new athletic director,|
Jason Donnelly addressed the football team following its opening
practice of the season Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
So Donnelly really became a Paladin a couple of hours before he officially became one.
Furman President Elizabeth Davis introduced Donnelly to full crowd in the football team meeting room at the Pearce-Horton Complex. Along with the shout out to the Furman Sports Report's sponsor, Donnelly talked about the excitement he has for his new job.
"I can't begin to tell you how excited my family is to be a part of Furman," Donnelly said. "It's been a life-long dream to have an opportunity to be at an institution with this kind of class and dignity. This is what I've been working for my entire career. I'm so fired up to be here.
"I've come to understand that Furman is unique, not only because it upholds the right values and bounds between academics and athletics, but also because of the people who make up the community."
Donnelly, who will begin his duties at Furman on Aug. 12, had worked at Villanova since 2005. Back then, he served as a men's basketball assistant coach and director of basketball operations on Jay Wright's staff. He was later a special assistant to Wright and helped improve a program that captured NCAA championships in 2016 and 2018.
"Furman is getting a hard-working, loyal visionary as its athletics director," Wright said. "His fundraising, leadership and loyalty to all Villanovans has been vital to Villanova's athletics and academic success."
Donnelly was director of athletics development from 2013-15 before leading the Villanova Athletics Fund. In that capacity, he managed fundraising and external support for all 24 Wildcat athletic teams. Since 2015, he helped the school's athletic department raise more than $120 million. That includes three consecutive record-breaking fundraising years that represented a 330 percent increase in money raised.
Donnelly's arrival comes months after Furman's men's basketball team earned a thrilling overtime win at Villanova, which vaulted the Paladins into the top 25 polls for the first time ever. The women's cross country team also finished one spot ahead of Villanova at the 2018 national championship.
"I think he thought, 'well if you can't beat them, join them,' " Davis said with a smile. "It was important for me to find an AD who understands Furman. One who has a real commitment to the kind of student experience we want our students to have, and that's what I found in Jason Donnelly.
"He was a student-athlete, teacher, coach, administrator and fundraiser. He has all the skills that we need in our athletic director."
Davis said one of the things that stood out in the interview process was Donnelly's questions.
"I know that might sound strange, but questions show a real insight," Davis said. "They can let you know how deeply someone has thought about where they're going to be. They were deep, probing questions.
"It was clear that he had done his homework on Furman and was excited to be a part of the Furman family."
Donnelly praised the work put in by his predecessor, Mike Buddie, who left earlier this summer to become AD at Army. During his four years at Furman, the Paladins won 26 Southern Conference championships and finished 73rd out of 294 Division I schools in the latest Learfield Sports' Directors Cup competition. Buddie also secured several financial donations, signed a multi-year deal with Nike, balanced the athletic department's budget for the first time, and led a charge to bring the NCAA men's basketball tournament back to Greenville.
For Donnelly, a New Jersey native, the Furman job also provided an opportunity to make good on a promise to his family. Donnelly's wife Rachel is a native of Bakersville, N.C. The couple have three children ages three to nine.
"Rachel and I have been married for 15 years now. She's only had one goal in mind the entire time we've been married - to live in a community of faith, friendship and love, and to live in the South," Donnelly said. "For us, this is really important. As a husband, I've finally checked that box for her. I can't wait to be down here, where we're literally two hours door-to-door from family.
"We hope that we're a part of the Furman community for a long, long time. We're excited to be entrenched in a campus culture that embodies our values and everything that we're all about."