FAIRFIELD - The first day on his new job, Paul Schlickman was up before the dawn. Anxious? Yes. Excited? Heck, yes. He punched in the quickest route to the Fairfield University campus on his GPS, pulled out of the driveway at his home in West Hartford and headed toward a rising sun and a new adventure.

He found a spot in the parking lot at the Walsh Athletic Center and was walking to his office when he took a 180 and headed out onto the field at Rafferty Stadium. Men’s lacrosse was just finishing a practice and women’s lacrosse was getting ready to take the field, so Schlickman quickly made the rounds, shaking hands and introducing himself. By then end of the day - a “great” first day, he said - Schlickman had spoken with six of the Stags’ 20 athletic programs.

“Obviously, I was very excited to get going,” Schlickman said recently, sitting in his office and he continued to get his feet wet as the Fairfield’s new athletic director, replacing Gene Doris. “I’m trying to get that quick face-to-face with all the teams as soon as I can.”

Not only with all the student-athletes but with all the coaches and assistant coaches as well. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Schlickman will have face-to-face talks with everyone in the athletic program to hears the positives, and negatives, of what’s going on throughout the Fairfield organization.

“As I go through the next couple of weeks, I have a survey instrument that I’m going to use that will help me glean some information and then I’ll sit down and discuss it with them,” Schlickman said. “Usually what’s comes from that (survey) is what I call a ‘win list’ of what’s important now, hot-button topics … some of which might be easy to do and would have a good, positive impact. Some of that information comes from formal conversations, some of it comes from getting here and digging in and some from informal conversations.”

Schlickman’s goal, like Doris’ was when he was hired at Fairfield in 1994, is simple - make Fairfield into the premier athletic institution in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

“I want us to be championship caliber in every facet,” he said. “We’re not going to apologize for wanting to be the best. That is who we are and we want to recruit student athletes who want to have that experience. And a big part of that experience is having competitive success. We want to win, we want to compete and we want to do it the right way.”

How does Schlickman make that happen? Good question. Currently, the university is in a massive growth project with the recent renovation of the Rec Plex and the new parking garage that is being constructed across the street.

The Fall 2016 issue of Fairfieldmagazine, featured a story entitled "The Master Plan," which showcased the university's vision to grow, and vastly improve, its overall footprint through various projects, including that new parking garage, a new residence hall, expansion of the Barone Campus Center and a new Alumni Hall, which would become the centerpiece of a continued commitment toward athletic excellence.

Right now, the university is in, according to Jennifer Anderson, Fairfield's vice president for marketing and communications, "phase one" of a three-phase approach to this master plan. Initial concepts are in place, but there is still a long way to go in terms of fundraising, final designs and eventual construction.

"Obviously, we have to start raising the funds for the first phase (design) of the plan, which we haven't done," Anderson said. "There's still a lot to do that we haven't done yet. But it’s a concrete plan that the university's endorsing. It's a plan with an outlook, with goals and it's real."

And along with raising money to get these projects off the ground, there will be meetings.

“The meetings that we have will be more assessment, strategic-oriented conversations about where are we now and who do we aspire to be?” Schlickman said. “What do we need to do to get there? We’ll get to those conversations in the next couple of weeks and I look forward to those.”

In his 23 years at Fairfield, Doris brought Fairfield athletics into the 21st century. The Walsh Athletic Center, Lessing Field and Rafferty Stadium were built and Alumni Diamond, the softball field, University Field and the tennis courts were all refurbished under his watch. During that time, the Stags have won 45 MAAC conference titles, 59 regular season MAAC crowns and captured 35 NCAA berths. Doris also was the focal point in bringing NCAA women’s basketball and Ice Hockey tournaments to Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena.

Schlickmann started his career at Yale, working at the Ivy League school for 10 years before moving to Stony Brook and spending seven seasons there as athletic director, overseeing all 20 varsity sports. The last seven years have been spent at Central Connecticut State University, running the Blue Devils athletic department.

Now, he’s here at Fairfield to try and take the Stags athletic programs into rarified air.

“Five years from now, I’d like people to view Fairfield athletics as the premier program in the MAAC,” Schlickman said. “And when I say that, there’s an immediate competitive connation with that. We want to compete for championships in all sports, we want to have a championship-caliber opportunity for all our student-athletes.

“Part of that is also a championship-caliber experience, so when I say we’re the premier program in the MAAC, I also want them to be thinking, ‘They do it right over there. They do things the right way.’ They have terrific student-athletes, they have great coaches, they compete hard, they have a terrific model of excellence for Division 1. And I don’t want to be thought of that way in the MAAC but all across the country.”

And while some may think that a move from the Northeast Conference to the MAAC might be a sideways step (or a small step forward) Schlickman doesn’t think that at all. All he saw were the positives - and the potential.

“It’s a great academic institution with a great reputation, so the allure of that having the opportunity to be at a place like this was very attractive to me,” Schlickman said. “Great leadership … if you’re an athletic director, you want to be in a situation where you have leaders who are supportive of athletics and how athletics can continue to enhance the identity and the value of the university.

“President (Mark) Nemec has been terrific from the get-go. I love his energy, I love his vision, I love his concept of having Fairfield become the modern Jesuit institution. I love that concept and having athletics as part of that trajectory was very appealing. And he’s got a great senior leadership team, which I’m now a part of. It’s a great philosophical fit.”

celsberry@ctpost.com