The New Top Dog

Hear from new athletic director Jim Madigan about his history with Northeastern and what he hopes to accomplish with the athletic department.

By Michael Ruberto

When Jim Madigan put on the Northeastern jersey for his first collegiate hockey game in 1981, nobody could have known that 40 years later, he would still be such an active part of the campus community. Following four years as a player, a variety of administrative positions, and 10 years as the head coach of the men’s hockey team, he’s shown no signs of changing that any time soon. With the departure of former athletics director Jeff Konya over the summer, Madigan was named as Northeastern’s 11th Director of Athletics and Recreation.

“[After Konya’s departure] I was notified by some of the senior leadership of the university, just to gauge my interest in the role,” Madigan recounted. “I had been involved in athletics in many different ways here at the university, not just as a head coach … I think members of the university leadership thought that I had some of the skill set that was needed for the position.”

Under Madigan, the men’s hockey team enjoyed unprecedented successes. With a career record of 174-132-39, he led the team to two Hockey East Championship titles, three appearances in the NCAA tournament, and, of course, a Beanpot three-peat. Despite all that, Madigan was still eager to take on this new challenge.

“The hockey program always meant an awful lot to me, and it still does, but I always had a strong following of support for all the programs as a student-athlete. So for me, it wasn’t so much that I was done with hockey. This is an opportunity for me to make a difference, not just in one sport but in multiple sports, from our athletic varsity teams to our club and recreational programs.”

The vacancy Madigan left behind the bench was filled internally by longtime associate head coach Jerry Keefe, a move which gave Madigan the confidence to pursue his new role.

“Jerry Keefe, who had been with me for 10 years, was more than ready to take this next step in his career and development as a hockey coach,” Madigan said. “The hockey program was going to be in great hands with Coach Keefe.”

This move was a long time coming for Keefe, but the changes came about quickly.

“[The promotion was] something that Coach Madigan and myself talked about for a couple years now. When [former athletics director Jeff Konya] decided to leave, Coach Madigan just said, ‘Hey, be ready. This could end up happening quicker than we thought,’” Keefe recalled.

Though there may be a new bench boss at Matthews, the foundation set up by Madigan and Keefe over the last decade is still going strong and leading the hockey team to great heights.

As Keefe described, “We want to just keep this thing going. We want to continue to build. Whether you’re an assistant coach or a head coach, you want to build off the success that we had, and Jim obviously had a big piece of that. I don’t look at it as a pressure thing or anything – just more continued success.”

Having worked together for so long, Madigan and Keefe have built up a strong bond that will help both of them in their new roles moving forward. Keefe credits Madigan for teaching him about what it takes to be a head coach.

“When you’re the head coach, it’s not just about coaching X’s and O’s. It’s about the entire program. And I saw how he was able to do that and get people excited about Northeastern,” he explained. “I’ve learned a ton from Jim. He’s an unbelievable person, and he’s very organized. He’s very detailed. He’s a guy that you want to work for because of the passion that he has for Northeastern.”

That passion for Northeastern is likely to shine through in a big way in Madigan’s new role. Since assuming his new position on June 17, athletics director Madigan has been busy with a wide range of issues and initiatives, both here on Huntington Ave. and across the country as part of the broader NCAA organization. 2021 has brought many changes to the college athletics landscape, and as a first-time athletics director, he has had to get up to speed quickly.

“I’m touching [many different topics] each and every day. I came into the office and the hot button issue was name, image, and likeness rights, which was a national rollout at the NCAA level, and that became effective July 1. So we want to educate our student-athletes on how they can take advantage of that. In the NCAA, we’re talking about a new constitution … that might look a lot different than the one that’s in existence right now. My day is touching on all that as well as the issues raised here on our own campus.”

So what are the issues on campus that the top dog of Northeastern Athletics is responsible for dealing with? From an operational perspective, Madigan is responsible for overseeing many of the department’s fundraising efforts. Though the university provides Northeastern Athletics with a substantial operating budget, the upgrades and initiatives that the department is hoping to accomplish rely in part on revenue from season tickets, marketing opportunities, and private donations.

Organizing donations may not seem like the most glamorous work, but it’s an important part of the changes Madigan hopes to make.

“You’re reaching out to our alumni and friends and parents and asking for that support and having them reinvest in our programs. That’s important, that’s going to help our teams,” he explained. “We’ve always got to look at facilities and how we can improve our facilities and make sure our student-athletes are playing in the best facilities possible. Working towards facility enhancements is always important.”

When he’s not dealing with the day-to-day operations of the department, Madigan has his sights set on the bigger picture. And for him, there’s no picture bigger than the wellbeing of his student-athletes. The Huskies have had a lot of success in recent years across many different sports, and if you ask Madigan, that’s due to the character of the athletes Northeastern brings in.

“We have coaching staffs who go out and attract the best student-athletes who fit Northeastern. They’re all talented student-athletes, but you don’t always need to get the most talent; you need to get the best fit for Northeastern,” he remarked. “We have student-athletes who want to be here, who work hard each and every day, who are committed and challenge themselves academically, athletically, and socially, to be part of the institution and be part of the community and strive for excellence. When you have top down leadership, and student-athletes who are committed and challenge themselves each and every day to be the best they can be, that usually is a recipe for success.”

You can’t have athletics without athletes, so it’s really no wonder that it seems to be Madigan’s mission to improve the student-athlete experience as much as possible. Northeastern has its share of state-of-the-art facilities, experienced coaches, and world-class supporting staff, but despite all that, the man at the helm refuses to be satisfied.

As he explains it, “You can never stay stable … If you’re neutral, and you’re not progressing, then you’re falling behind. So how can we be proactive and provide more opportunities to our student-athletes?”

By working to better the student-athlete experience, Madigan hopes to improve the bonds between the students and the university, making the Boston campus feel like a second home rather than just a school. Because as he sees it, these athletes aren’t just here for a four-year career.

“Right here with [Northeastern] Athletics, it’s going to be a lifetime experience. That’s what we’re building towards. … There’s a whole range of opportunities that we want our athletic alums to participate in once they leave here, but that will only happen if they have a tremendous student-athlete experience during their four or five years.”

The importance of that lifetime experience is something that Madigan strongly emphasizes, and it’s not hard to realize just how much those words mean to the man who’s considered himself a proud Husky for 40 years and counting. And if you ask him what it is that’s kept him coming back for so long, his answer is simple.

“The community is about the people, right? There are tremendous people here at the university. I’ve been fortunate to be part of different administrations, and each time, it’s been the people that have always made the institution very successful,” he recounted. “It’s been a very welcoming institution, where there’s always opportunities for people to grow and develop. People care about each other. They want to help each other out. … There are no barriers to our success, and when you come to campus everyday, you feel the vibrancy of the students who are here.”