A Team of Yellowjackets

A conversation with the Athletics leadership team

Horizons Fall 2023 Home
Decoration Graphic

Athletics - Fall 2023

December 19, 2023 | Shane Adams ’99

Yellowjacket athletic competition has always been a team endeavor. For the past several years, the athletics administration has mirrored that supportive mentality. Athletic Director Brady McKillip ’00 helps BUILD A WINNING CULTURE alongside Associate Athletic Directors Zack Mullins and Stew McDole ’65, and Senior Women’s Administrator Erin Lundy ’04. Horizons editor Shane Adams ’99 sat down with the group for a conversation about the current state of athletics at Graceland.


THE FAB FOUR (from left to right): Athletic administrators Erin Lundy, Zack Mullins, Stew McDole, and Brady McKillip have a team huddle out in the hallway of the Hampton Center office suites, which has become somewhat of a ritual and has forged a collaborative synergy.

What are the biggest successes of the last 12 months in the athletics department?

BRADY McKILLIP: For me, it was that we helped bring in the largest recruiting class in eight years to the University. We had numerous sports meet and achieve goals — more than in the last two to three years. I don’t want to say we caught lightning in a bottle, but we finally found a way to recruit student-athletes to Graceland. The last three years of recruiting have been tough; it was great to find something that really worked and we can hopefully carry that forward into next year.

STEW McDOLE: I think the second part of that is that Graceland is bucking the trend on the demographic side because we have so many men. Across the country, colleges and universities are majority women, so I suppose there’s a challenge there to us coaching women’s sports to catch up, but it is a success.

ZACK MULLINS: This probably goes back past 12 months, but I’m really proud of the staff that we have been able to put together. I think we’ve been able to hire some really high quality coaches — whether it is football or track or dance — we’re really high on how we’re doing regarding those programs and we’re working with the coaches now to fill those rosters.

ERIN LUNDY: I’m excited just about my position — Senior Women’s Administrator — I’m really excited to be here as a resource and to represent our women’s teams who might feel like they are less represented.


At this point, what are you doing to try and balance the coaching staff from a gender standpoint to help support that mission?

McKILLIP: At the end of the day, we definitely want to hire the right person for the position, but we also are always trying to ensure that we are interviewing women, interviewing minorities, because we want our staff to support our student body, which is very diverse.

MULLINS: Another success is we had a national champion high jumper (Michael Millslagle ’24), who has now represented the United States at two international competitions. And Sydney Gilliland ’25, who also represented the United States this summer.

McKILLIP: I also think that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our turnaround in the football program. We went from going 36 games without a win to winning four games in 2022 and six in 2023. The success we’ve seen with the Graceland Football Alumni Association is prompting other sports alumni to reach out, whether in Men’s Basketball or Volleyball or others.

McDOLE: I think that another big success is that we’ve finished Morden Center.


I’m glad you brought that up because that gives a nice segue into asking this question: How has the renovation of Morden Center impacted your teams?

McDOLE: I think the biggest thing is that you don’t have to be careful where they look anymore. And they can look anywhere and you go out of your way to explain to mom and dad. There are so many things — you can hear the PA, you can see past your hand — just so many basic things that the facility now has. It’s easily 10 times better than it was when it was brand new in 1968.

MULLINS: I think it also sends an underlying message to every recruit that walks in that the University supports athletics. I think every recruit that walks in there thinks, ‘Wow, this University really cares about its athletes.’

McKILLIP: I think the game day atmosphere it provides now — the lighting, the way that we can introduce starting lineups, the PA, the scoreboard…

LUNDY: The climate and the environment. It used to be freezing in the wintertime and the hottest hot in the summer.


If you were dreaming big, what would you love to see in the future when it comes to facilities and potential growth opportunities?

McKILLIP: One thing for me is — and I know we have a lead donor for it (read more here) — but a strength and conditioning center. I think athletic training needs to be integrated into it, but we also need to look at strength and conditioning coaches for the department. We have 22 sports and every sport, every coach is doing their own strength and conditioning. You know, my athletes get tired of seeing my face at practice and then you add that they have to see me for another hour and a half for lifting and conditioning. If we just had three strength coaches — one for women’s sports, one for men’s sports, one for football because of its size, and we could tie that into the health and movement science department. Classes in the strength and conditioning center, a place to do concussion training — this would really set us apart.

McDOLE: I think Brady led with that because it’s well on its way, but you couldn’t talk him out of moving softball or baseball onto campus. And then I think a wrestling facility for women so we could add that as a sport.

LUNDY: I’m really proud of our athletic training room since we remodeled it about six years ago, but it’s not big enough to accommodate the current student body that we have let alone if we continue to grow and add more. We simply don’t have enough hours in the day, enough space, or enough trainers to fit all that. Student-athletes even say that they get tired of waiting on us and they leave, which makes it more likely that they might get injured.


So let’s talk about the team here – how do you all work together and collaborate?

McKILLIP: We have a Monday 9 a.m. meeting every week that includes the four of us and for the first half hour, our facilities coordinator (Brad Payne), our sports information director (Caitlyn Stupak), and the office manager (Mari Chandler). Then, if the four of us need to work on something, we have the next half hour for that as well. One thing, with being in the Hampton Center, my office is 10 feet from Stew’s, it’s 30 feet from Zack’s, it’s 15 feet from Erin’s. We’re all really good about just going to each other and we walk into one another’s office and just bounce ideas, which is way more important to us than shooting an email. We do that too, but because we’re in there, it takes 10 minutes. We’ve all been there for many, many years, and I think the friendship helps all of us so much in our communication and our goals for the university.


When it comes to recruiting, what are your major selling points in getting student-athletes to Graceland?

McKILLIP: For me, it’s the type of person you recruit. You’ve got to be up front and honest with them from the get-go. Many times I have said to recruits, if you’re looking for a social life four nights out of the week, going to a club, or downtown to dinner, this isn’t your place. But if you’re looking to become the best baseball player you can become and get your education and have the opportunity with minimal distractions, this is where you want to be.

So let’s talk about transformational leadership. What are the students and their families that you currently have and the ones you’re working with in the recruiting process, how are they viewing transformational leadership?

McKILLIP: I think parents love it. The parents I talk to buy into it immediately. The kids don’t really look at it that way, maybe in year two, they start to understand it. As coaches, this was not new to us. We knew what was going on in athletics were the life lessons these kids could take after they graduated. For the University to see that and actually put it into a curriculum model is very innovative. In the recruiting space, we’re selling it to the families because they understand the job market, they know what their kids are going to have to do in four years, the hoops they will have to jump through.


“Graceland talks a lot about learning in the classroom and learning outside of the classroom. So the bottom line is everything we do on the court, the pitch, the field, the diamond is part of our academic enterprise.”

Associate Athletic Director, Head Women’s Volleyball Coach, Professor of Physical Education


McDOLE: Graceland talks a lot about learning in the classroom and learning outside of the classroom. So the bottom line is everything we do on the court, the pitch, the field, the diamond is part of our academic enterprise. What Brady is talking about – it’s always been true. We’ve always made a difference in lives. Transformational Leadership is giving students the ability to find out how to take advantage of the skills Graceland has provided them for years. At the end of the day, you have to be able to exercise strong leadership skills, and if you can do that, you’ll have a leg up on almost everyone else in the marketplace.


Last question – what are you all most excited about?

McKILLIP: I think I see a path forward. The second major is a huge opportunity for our athletes and our students. The renovation of Morden – 15 years ago, I would have never thought we had it. Having a lead donor for a strength and conditioning center, it’s showing new recruits and current student-athletes that there is a big interest in athletics. I see what the president and the development team do on the daily.

LUNDY: What excites me is just continuing to grow within this growth of Graceland, growth of our students, growth of all those relationships and how it will affect the future generation. I mean, you can tell there’s a vibe on campus now that everyone is important. There was a longtime perception that athletics was not as important, but people are starting to show that they care, that it’s important.

MULLINS: I think we have a lot of coaches who have a lot of talent. We have some young ones and it’s our job to guide and help mold them and help them grow. The staff we have now, they’re good coaches, they’re good recruiters, and they’re good mentors. I’m hopeful that we can position ourselves to retain those coaches and help them build and grow their programs to be successful athletic teams, because every coach wants that.

McDOLE: I think one last thing — you know, all four of us have our own responsibilities. You have the head athletic trainer and three head coaches here. It would be really easy for us to focus solely on our own programs, but I think you heard that you have four people here who have a big picture view, and I think that’s pretty amazing.


Keep up with Graceland Athletics at gujackets.com for all the latest team news & scores.

Decoration Graphic

Related Posts

Learn More

Athletics - Fall 2023

Future Strength and Conditioning Center Receives Lead Gift

December 19, 2023

As Graceland evaluated its facilities over the past several...

Learn More
Learn More

Athletics - Fall 2023

Women’s Flag Football Kicks Off

December 19, 2023

It is the FASTEST GROWING SPORT in the United...

Learn More
Decoration Graphic