FAIRFIELD -- Baseball men seem to find new life at Sacred Heart University, and the Pioneers appear to have hit another home run Tuesday morning with the hiring of Bobby Valentine as their next executive athletic director.
In front of a packed room of students, coaches and school administrators at the University Commons, Valentine, a Stamford native and former manager of the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox, was introduced as retiring Don Cook's successor.
"It's a significant and wonderful moment for Sacred Heart University," said Jim Barquinero, the senior vice president for intercollegiate athletics and student affairs. "Bobby's a leader and brings great energy."
"You could feel the energy in the room," added Mark Adzigian, SHU's senior associate athletic director for licensing and equipment.
Valentine's hiring follows Cook, who coached baseball at Fairfield University and the University of Hartford in addition to being an AD there before replacing Dave Bike, a former catcher in the Detroit Tigers' organization. Bike stepped down as AD in 1992 to focus on coaching men's basketball at SHU.
Valentine quickly put to rest any notion that his hiring was any sort of publicity stunt by the university.
"If it's a joke, it's an inside joke," Valentine said. "I'm very serious about everything I do in my life. I deal with passion and commitment and I deal with excellence."
Several of Valentine's new co-workers mentioned the commitment he has already displayed on campus. Valentine, according to observers, left the Pitt Center with a giant binder under his arm after meeting some of the staff.
"I certainly hope they will allow me to grow and learn everything that needs to be done," Valentine said. "And if I can lend any amount of time, energy, expertise to a situation to make it better, that's what I am here for."
The length of Valentine's working agreement was not disclosed. The university will began searching for a "deputy athletic director" to work with Valentine and devote more time to the day-to-day operations at the school.
"I think there are bigger plans for (the school) and he's a resource that can only help our athletic programs," SHU women's basketball coach Ed Swanson said.
Sacred Heart has 31 NCAA Division I athletic programs with more than 700 student-athletes, from a population of 3,488 full-time undergraduates.
While Valentine plans to immerse himself in every facet of the job, he also will devote time to being a front man for the athletic programs and be an active fundraiser for SHU.
"It's a term that will last until its no longer beneficial to each other," said Valentine, who officially takes over the job July 1.
The fact Valentine has no previous experience working at a university was not an issue for SHU president John Petillo, who first meet with Valentine by chance on trip to Stamford.
"When I first became president of a college 30 years ago, I was never president of a college and I was running a business," he said. "I think his interpersonal skills, his love for youth and his love and knowledge of the industry will serve him well."
Valentine plans to take full advantage of Cook's remaining time at the university along with previous connections Bike and SHU baseball coach Nick Giaquinto while making the transition.
"Dave and Nick are, of course, important and then to have Don (is great)," said Valentine, who gave a glowing tribute to Cook before addressing his new job with the crowd on hand. "For whatever it's worth, many of the jobs that I've taken on are jobs that I've taken because it's a really bad situation that needed to be corrected. That's not the case here."
Under Cook, the Pioneers have won five consecutive Northeast Conference Commissioner's Cups -- seven overall on the women's side -- which are based on overall athletic success. They also have won two straight Building Communities Awards for the student-athletes charitable and community service work.
During Cook's tenure, the Pioneers thrived despite never placing a mandate on wins and loss on their coaches. In fact, none of the coaches has long-term contracts and work year to year.
Barquinerio said at some point he will get together with Valentine to discuss whether the university might change that practice for some of the revenue-producing teams such as basketball, football and hockey.
"I think it is a tremendous opportunity for the university, for the athletic department and my program," said Giaquinto, who views Valentine's extensive involvement in baseball over the years as an asset. "Bobby is going to be a tremendous resource for me, for my coaching staff and my players. I'm just really excited.
"Every year I try to learn and what's better than to have a professional manager to bounce ideas off and learn new things from. ... I think Bobby will be a great guy and a great mentor."
After meeting with the media, Valentine took pictures and shook hands with many of the students whot came out for the press conference before going to lunch with school administrators.
"We are known as Pioneers and once again as Pioneers we are doing something unconventional," Petillo said. "And I think excitingly so with the appointment of Bobby as our AD."