Who Is Patrick Kraft, Penn State’s Next Athletic Director?
Following widespread speculation after Sandy Barbour announced her impending retirement, Penn State is officially set to hire Boston College’s Patrick Kraft as its next athletic director. He’ll take over on July 1.
Kraft serves as the first major hire for President-elect Neeli Bendapudi, who still needs to wait a few weeks to take office in early May. Bendapudi helped lead a search for the university’s next athletic director and publicly formed a search committee just a few weeks ago.
Before Kraft gets set to lead the Nittany Lions’ athletic department, take a closer look at his background and potential future with Penn State.
Kraft has long-standing experience inside the Big Ten. As a student-athlete at Indiana, Kraft walked onto the Hoosiers’ football team, before eventually earning his way to a scholarship. Off the gridiron, Kraft remained academically busy, earning three degrees and specifically pursuing sports management, for which he earned a Ph.D.
He began his professional career as a corporate sales manager for the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League. After a brief stint as a professor at Loyola-Chicago, Kraft returned to his alma mater as the Hoosiers’ senior assistant athletic director. Kraft spent two years in that role, until he jumped back to Loyola to work in a similar position.
Penn State’s ninth athletic director has previously served in the same position at two other schools: Temple and Boston College. In 2013, Templehired Kraft as its deputy athletic director, where he spent two years before ultimately getting promoted to athletic director. At 37, Kraft was one of the nation’s youngest athletic directors, as he helmed the Owls’ athletic department and oversaw key football operations. In July 2020, Kraft moved on to fill Boston College’s athletic director opening.
Between his two tenures as athletic director, Kraft experienced varying degrees of success across multiple sports.
According to journalist reports and fan opinions from his former schools, football appears to be Kraft’s strongest focus. It also appears to be somewhat of a strength. At Temple, Kraft oversaw over 50% of the program’s all-time bowl appearances. Mostly working with head coach Matt Rhule (a former Nittany Lions linebacker), Temple experienced its highest quality stretch in its football program’s history, eventually winning an AAC title in 2016. At Boston College, Kraft’s two years were both characterized by bowl-eligible seasons.
Kraft’s first football hire as athletic director came at Temple, after Rhule left for the NFL. Originally tabbing Miami’s Manny Diaz (ironically, the current Penn State defensive coordinator) as Rhule’s successor, Kraft was left empty-handed after Diaz instead returned to Miami for its head coaching job. The backup choice, Rod Carey, was fired after three seasons and a 12-20 record, though Kraft had already left for Boston College by then.
At Boston College, Kraft deepened his portfolio of coaching hires with the hiring of men’s basketball coach Earl Grant. Though with football coach James Franklin under contract for 10 years, women’s volleyball and men’s basketball naming their successors, and wrestling coach Cael Sanderson almost certainly being poised for a lengthy extension, Kraft may not need to make many high-profile hires in the near future.
Kraft has overseen one national championship in his athletic director experience. In 2019, Boston College women’s lacrosse won its first-ever national championship, which was also the school’s first-ever title for women’s sports.
Academically, Kraft’s student-athletes at Temple worked to achieve a record nine consecutive semesters of a combined GPA above 3.10 and 15 consecutive semesters above a 3.0. His first two semesters as Boston College’s athletic director saw similar academic results, with 70% of student-athletes achieving higher than a 3.0.
On the financial side, Kraft negotiated deals at both schools to establish apparel deals with Nike, New Balance, and Adidas. His deal with Adidas was noteworthy, as it was football-exclusive — the first football-exclusive clothing brand deal in FBS history.
While at Boston College, Kraft also secured a $15 million gift meant to benefit the construction of a new basketball practice facility at the school. However, the planning (regarding both financials and construction) will extend well past Kraft’s departure, so it’s hard to fully count it as a completed task.
With 29 varsity teams under Boston College’s umbrella, Kraft will not face a drastically different situation numerically when he arrives in Happy Valley. Penn State has 31 varsity programs, while Temple had 19.
Though Kraft’s deep experience is promising, there are still unanswered questions regarding that experience.
Temple University only houses 19 varsity sports. While there is definitely overlap with major sports like football, basketball, and soccer, Temple has 12 fewer sports programs than Penn State. Yes, Temple served as Kraft’s first athletic director experience and he later led Boston College, which only has two fewer programs than Penn State. But, with only two years under his belt at Boston College, it’s hard to draw significant conclusions from that time, given the long-term nature of the most prominent metrics for measuring success as an athletic director.
Kraft oversaw success at Boston College, but most of his two-year tenure was marred by the extenuating circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With only one positive test being recorded over the course of the football team’s initial COVID-19-affected season, it’s safe to say Kraft handled the unprecedented situation well. That said, it’s already difficult to judge Kraft’s brief stop at Boston College. When you add in the dramatically different landscape he was operating within, it makes it even tougher.
Additionally, the groundwork for Boston College’s football success and its women’s lacrosse national championship was completed prior to Kraft’s arrival. Jeff Hafley, head coach of Boston College football, coached his first season in Kraft’s first year on the job, but he was hired by Kraft’s predecessor. Similarly, the women’s lacrosse championship came in Kraft’s first year, leading some to give more credit to the infrastructure built by the pre-Kraft regime.
Despite Patrick Kraft’s question marks, Penn State should feel tentative satisfaction with his hire.
Outgoing athletic director Sandy Barbour’s most notable plan was arguably her 20-year Facilities Master Plan, which would have renovated more than 20 athletic facilities including Beaver Stadium. Since its introduction, most of the project’s upgrades have stalled or gone uncompleted. As such, the Facilities Plan will likely go down as a disappointment more than a triumph. Kraft’s experience in negotiating financial deals and obtaining donations for projects offers an optimistic outlook for the continuation of Penn State’s renovation process.
Penn State football head coach James Franklin has been outspoken in the past about increasing the university’s spending and overall attention on his program. Kraft brings a wealth of personal football experience and a reputation for being football-heavy. Although Franklin was not included on Bendapudi’s search committee for athletic director, it seems the hire will placate the longtime head coach, who’s now committed for the long haul with a 10-year contract. With documented football success at both previous universities, Kraft may be the leader needed to infuse the program with an energy boost.
Time will tell if Kraft can live up to the lofty expectations he will inevitably inherit. However, with his near-decade of athletic director history, Kraft deserves a chance from the Nittany Lion faithful. Besides, at 44, Kraft could be in for a long tenure at Penn State if he finds success in Happy Valley.
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About the Author
Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.