THE INTERVIEW: Nathan McFadden

THE INTERVIEW February 2016

SONY DSC

Without a doubt, the Fanshawe Falcons varsity athletics program is now in better hands than ever before under manager of athletics Nathan McFadden. Despite the fact the Falcons are often forgotten in a city ruled by the Western Mustangs, it’s no longer a David versus Goliath scenario. In fact, the Falcons are holding their own with perhaps the most successful community college athletics department in the country – a title often associated with the Mustangs at the university level. In November 2012, when McFadden was announced as successor to Mike Lindsay, who headed Fanshawe’s sports department for 41 years, he quipped, “I don’t anticipate being here for 41 years.” Of course, if McFadden did match Lindsay’s incredible journey, that would make him 80 years old and still guiding the Falcons as they compete in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association. One thing is for certain, though: Fanshawe hired the right guy for the job. Anyone who has had the privilege to sit down with the 42-year-old native of Fredericton, New Brunswick in his college office quickly recognizes how humble he is – despite his lofty sports pedigree – and more importantly how proud he is to be a Falcon. Amongst his myriad of accomplishments, McFadden spent six years as the American Hockey League’s manager of operations, and four years as manager of hockey and team operations with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. An all-around athlete with a passion for hockey, McFadden was also sports information officer for two years at his alma mater University of New Brunswick, and before taking the Falcons job a scout with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, and Manitoba Moose. Under the Lindsay regime, growth had become stagnant. The college had become complacent in terms of competing for titles. But as the student population and recruitment program both grew, so, too, did campus facilities. The Falcons now have state-of-the-art facilities, including Glenn Johnston Athletic Centre, which help attract athletes to campus. But most importantly, there’s a new winning attitude on campus, much of which stems directly from the hiring of McFadden. Sitting in his office, surrounded by hockey pucks, assorted sports memorabilia and numerous, familiar red and white Falcons logos, McFadden spoke candidly about how change was necessary when he took over for Lindsay. He also spoke boldly about the Fanshawe versus Western Mustangs rivalry. And he tackled head on the 2012 St. Patrick’s Day riot outside the college’s gates, which left a black mark on the entire Fanshawe community, and how that incident affects Falcons recruiting today. McFadden is enjoying living in London with his wife, Gabrielle, and their 10-year-old son, Bailey. Here’s the interview.

Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com: Nathan, let’s first talk about your childhood in Federicton. You were an all-around athlete – grew up playing tennis, basketball, golf, baseball and hockey. Was there one sport that really stood out for you? With your hockey background, I’m going to guess that’s it.

Nathan McFadden, Manager of Athletics, Fanshawe College: Yes, hockey was always my favourite sport. But I really enjoyed all the sports that I played, and I was very thankful my parents put me in a lot of sports. I was exposed to all sports. It wasn’t just hockey and hockey schools. It was basketball camps, tennis and racquetball – pretty much every sport under the sun. I had an opportunity to try them all, and I always loved sports. To this day I love watching all sports. And my sports background has given a good understanding of the basics of each sport. You can learn a lot more about the technical side from the coaches. But as a kid, it was fun to play all of those sports.

Reed: Did you excel at any one sport? Did you aspire to perhaps play at an elite level?

McFadden: No, I didn’t. I was always pretty realistic with where I was at. Certainly, I was best in hockey amongst all of those sports. But I wasn’t great to any degree. There were always better players than me. But I was at the same level as them – one of the top players. But they were better.

Reed: You obviously enjoyed a well-rounded childhood. We see so many kids today want to excel in and focus on one main sport, whether it’s hockey or golf. I’ve spoken with Mike Weir about his childhood, and how he enjoyed putting the sticks away for the winter, and playing hockey. Even in the summer he played baseball. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

SONY DSCMcFadden: Absolutely. Wayne Gretzky is another athlete who is a big believer in that philosophy – that it’s really important to play different sports. There’s certainly a big burnout factor with some of these kids that are just predominantly doing the same sport, and not having exposure to others. And it does have a wear and tear effect – including a physical effect as you get older.

Reed: And here you are today, heading the entire athletic department at one of Canada’s top community colleges – some would say the best athletic department in Canada. So I’m guessing your exposure to so many sports has helped you along the way.

McFadden: In my mid-teens, I realized I wasn’t going to have a career as a hockey player. That’s what really made me think how I was going to be able to stay involved in that sport, and ultimately make a career of it in another way. So I got into coaching, and took a lot of coaching courses when I was in high school. That was my path from player to other areas of sports.

Reed: Now that you’re living in London, you’re involved in coaching at the grassroots level, with North London Nationals hockey.

McFadden: (Smiling) yes.

Reed: I’ve done my homework!

McFadden: You have!

Reed: Your entry level into sports management and administration saw you as director of sports information for two years at your alma mater, the University of New Brunswick. You won a CIS hockey championship during your stint with the Varsity Reds. So with that post alone, you brought a lot to the table when you applied for the job as manager of athletics with the Falcons.

McFadden: Certainly we take great pride at Fanshawe in how our program is run at a professional level. I think that’s something that I brought here, with my background in professional sports, too, before coming here. But when I first started out, I did have a couple of years at UNB on the administrative side in our athletic department. At Fanshawe, we have a really good staff who are terrific to work with, and have been great in helping implement all the changes made since I’ve been here. We have tremendous coaches that have really bought into how we want our program run – in a professional manner. And the strength of our teams has increased. There were some strong teams when I arrived. But when I came here, probably half of our programs were struggling. I identified that actually even in my interview process. Since then, we’ve taken those programs to new levels of success.

Reed: What sports programs were struggling the most?

McFadden: The biggest one was our men’s volleyball program.

“Certainly we take great pride at Fanshawe in how our program is run at a professional level. I think that’s something that I brought here …”. – McFadden

Reed: And here they are, currently ranked No. 2 in Canada.

SONY DSCMcFadden: Yes. But when I arrived they were struggling – under-achieving. We hired a new head coach for that program – Patrick Johnston – and he has just done a tremendous job with that program and with that group of individuals. We’ve had tremendous players over the last three years, and it continues to increase as far as the skill level of our team. Two years ago, we won our first medal in that sport in a number of years. And this year we’ve been consistently ranked No. 2 in the country. We clinched first place in our division heading into provincials. So we have very high expectations for that program going into provincials. We’ve only won one provincial championship in our history of men’s volleyball here at Fanshawe – way back in 1971. It’s been 45 years since that program has won a provincial championship! And we’re knocking on the door very loudly this year.

Reed: You’ve certainly brought a winning attitude – a winning mentality – to this college.

McFadden: We want national championships. That’s what we have our eyes on with every single program.

Reed: As a student reporter here in the early-1980s, calling play-by-play of the Falcons men’s and women’s basketball teams, men’s coach Glenn Johnston would tell me each year, “We’re going to win it all. Why bother playing if you don’t think you’re going to win it?” You obviously live by that creed, too.

McFadden:  That’s our goal. Not the provincial championships. The national championships. So that’s our focus with the men’s volleyball team, and they put themselves in a very good position heading into playoffs to hopefully achieve both of those goals.

Reed: Many would argue, because of the large student body here at Fanshawe, the attractive career programs, as well as the large geographical area from which you draw, the Falcons should compete for provincial championships as a minimum every years. Do you agree?

McFadden: I think certainly our geography plays a part, and I wouldn’t argue with any of those people who say we should be competing for those types of things. Certainly that was not a standard that existed prior to my arrival, as far as the national championships were concerned. But like I said, we have spent a lot of time focusing on how we can be the best in everything that we do. And realistically, you’re obviously not going to achieve that every year, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop trying to do that. You certainly need very strong coaches, and we now have them. In my time here, we’ve turned over about two-thirds of our coaching staff. So we’ve certainly increased our level of coaching, and our commitment of our coaches in regards to our programs. This had made a significant difference here. I mean, ultimately they’re the ones that are working with your student athletes on a daily basis, and recruiting them. But yes, geography plays a part in that.

“We want national championships. That’s what we have our eyes on with every single program.” – McFadden

Reed: What about support from the London community? Because it seems to me that the entire community has embraced the Falcons like never before. You’ve only been here a few years, but is this visible to you as you get out into the community yourself?

McFadden:  Yes, I do think that the London and area sports associations have a done a good job overall in developing athletes, which ultimately acts as a feeder system for us. So we want to make sure that we’re in those associations, too, and many of our coaches are involved, in addition to coaching our varsity teams. They’re coaching within the minor associations around the city. That’s a key element to your recruiting process.

Reed: Let’s put this issue to rest. The 2012 St. Patrick’s Day riot on Fleming Drive, in the shadow of Fanshawe College, left a black mark on the entire Fanshawe community. Videos of the riots went viral – and continue to do so through social media. Many measures have since been put in place to help prevent such occurrences. But still, does the fallout from the riot affect the Falcons recruiting program in any way? And if so, how do you answer your critics?

SONY DSC

McFadden: No.  First of all, it happened before my time here, before my tenure. And secondly, it didn’t involve any varsity student athletes.

Reed: That may be true, but it still gave the college unwanted global attention.

McFadden: It’s not something that ever comes up. It’s not even mentioned. I don’t think most people now even know about it, other than people that probably live within the city of London, or were going to Fanshawe at that time. It’s not an issue. The college has certainly done a tremendous job around that date in terms of having awareness campaigns, and having other activities for our students to participate in on (St. Patrick’s Day).

Reed: Nathan, let’s talk a bit about your predecessor, Mike Lindsay. The man was here for 41 years! He has left a pretty big shadow on campus. When the transition was made to bring you into his shoes, did you have an opportunity to pick his brain?

McFadden: Not really, but I’ve had many conversations with Mike about things that happened over the course of time. Mike’s very supportive of our program and still comes out and loves to watch the games. I know he’s looking forward to the (CCAA) curling championships (March 23-26 at Highland Country Club). But no, I didn’t really need to go over anything with Mike. I had experience at UNB’s athletic department. There are a lot of change here that has happened under my leadership. So those are things that we wanted to move forward with. But Mike is very well revered here, and it’s always great to have him around our teams and our programs.

Reed: You’ve been here for a few years now. Are things as you had expected, or were there any surprises?

McFadden: The biggest change for me, coming from the professional side, (is having) part-time head coaches, and not having your head coach 10 feet down the hall in an office that you could always talk back and forth with. But certainly it’s not a negative in any way.  It’s just different.

I didn’t really need to go over anything with Mike (Lindsay). I had experience at UNB’s athletic department. There are a lot of change here that has happened under my leadership.” – McFadden

FF Varsity 1 Original.jpegReed: What’s it like heading an athletic department which itself is acknowledged to be one of, if not the, best college sports program in Canada, yet live in the shadow of the Big Purple Machine: the Western Mustangs? Because, let’s be frank, in this day and age when my colleagues and I are hindered by budget cutbacks, it becomes even tougher to grab headlines. Are the Falcons ignored to a large degree in their own backyard?

McFadden: I don’t think we’re in the shadow of Western. I think that we’re our own entity. Certainly Western has a tremendous athletics program. And we work jointly with them on a number of initiatives, and they’re awesome to work with. Thérèse (Quigley, director of sports and recreation services at Western) does an outstanding job, and I know that they’re very proud of their program, and I would certainly echo that. They have every right to be, and I hold them in extremely high esteem. I think they’re the best athletics program in the country, to be quite honest with you. When it comes to things like volleyball, basketball and curling, and some of these other sports that we both have, we’re right on par with them.

Reed: As you’ve stated, you have helped implement many changes in your short time here. And you have instilled a winning attitude. That must make you feel very proud.

McFadden: It’s absolutely a team effort. It takes an entire staff of coaches and administrators to put all these things together. We’re very fortunate to have a staff that is very committed to what our goals are, and helping to see those goals achieved. The year’s not done yet, so the story’s a little bit unwritten at this point, but another month and a half and we’ll see where we come out. But we’re in the midst of our best season ever.

30

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!