Coach Q&A: Notre Dame’s Justin Hickey
Philadelphia, Penn. — June 1, 2016 — Just yesterday Justin Hickey was named the University of Notre Dame Program Director of the Men’s and Women’s Rugby Club, as well as the Men’s Head Coach. A former Clemson University coach, he has attended the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship in the past and even won the 2015 Penn Mutual Varsity Cup National Coach of the Year. This year he will once again return to the collegiate Chester-based tournament, but for the first time as a Notre Dame Leprechaun.
When did Notre Dame offer you the official job? As these things do, it took a little longer than I think everybody would have liked. The initial offer was extended on May 5. Everything kind of became official on the 18th of the month and then we worked through start dates and the logistics of the move and getting me to South Bend. I officially rolled into town on Sunday and was in the office for the first time yesterday. So that was their first opportunity to get me on the ground and get everybody in the same room to get the official announcement out.
Where are you moving from? I was at Clemson University coaching the rugby team down there for just about five years: January 2011 to last June. At the end of last summer in August I started a position as Director of Athletics at Moon Area School District just outside of Pittsburgh. So I spent the school year and then obviously this opportunity prevented itself and I headed this way. But I’m originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan so not too far from Notre Dame.
How did you find out about the opportunity? I’ve had a long relationship with the previous coach Sean O’Leary since he started down here. Really as the rugby community is, everybody gets to know each other and use each other as resources. I had the pleasure of playing for him at the tail end of my playing career and really just looked up to him as a mentor, if you will, as a young coach and just developed a relationship over the years.
When he decided to move on he reached out to me and said, ‘Hey look- it’s not official yet but I think I’m going to step down. Would you be interested? I’d be happy to put your name forward.’ So that’s how I first became aware that it was going to happen. But he left the university last August, I think the position was eventually posted in February. So I just kept an eye out and when it was in fact posted I obviously put in for it and went through their process over the course of a couple months and the rest is history.
What’s this summer going to look like for you? A little bit of catch up…Really I want to look at the next two academic years. Obviously the fall is urgent and pressing and I’m piecing that together. [We’re] probably a bit behind on recruiting- of course Notre Dame, like many competitive institutions we can’t offer scholarships or admissions preference but usually the students that are interested in coming here are of that caliber. So just getting back to the coaches that I have relationships with and seeing if they have anybody that’s coming this year because we’re past the decision point. Then starting to focus on the rising [high school] seniors for next year, and building those relationships and reaching out and talking to them.
Just getting the rugby logistics in place: training plans for the upcoming year and obviously familiarizing myself with the students. I’ll start right away with any that are on campus over the summer and right when they get back in at the start of the fall, sitting down individually and meeting one-on-one with all the men and the women. Really just learning and taking it all in this summer so when they are here I’m caught up and we can get going from the start of the school year.
Anything else I should know? It’s sort of a fairy tale job for me. I grew up Irish Catholic, went to 12 years of Catholic school less than two hours away from Notre Dame, family members that went to school here. As I was moving here packing stuff up I found old Notre Dame folders and homework assignments from the second grade that had Notre Dame logos scribbled all over it. So it’s a little bit cheesy but really is a dream come true for me and just the opportunity to be a part of this program and serve these students is incredible- it’s still surreal.
How’s your family feel about the opportunity? They’re excited. I have a growing family. One daughter that’ll turn four in August and we just had our second child just seven weeks ago. So obviously that changes the perspective on everything when we’ve been away from family the last six years. Without kids is one thing but the more kids you start to bring in it becomes tougher to be away from grandparents with holidays. This will bring us closer to home and closer to family. So they’re really looking forward to it- and just the sense of community that Notre Dame provides is incredible. Even just in the short trips, visits and time that I’ve been here it’s so apparent that they really, really do take care of their own and we’re really excited to join that community.
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