He led VIU athletics to the top of the PacWest, and now someone else will lead the program to any future heights.
Bruce Hunter, athletic director at Vancouver Island University, will no longer be in that role as of June 15. Neither he nor the university would say he was fired, but he did not resign. He will revert to his previous job at VIU as a phys-ed professor.
“I’m really looking forward to the change. I put my job ahead of a lot of things in my life for the last 15 years and it’s been great, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, but for me, now, I feel like it’s time to make a change…” Hunter said. “I’ll always bleed Mariner blue. I’ll always be a huge supporter of the Mariner program.”
Under Hunter’s leadership, VIU has won the Pacific Western Athletic Association’s aggregate championship for 10 straight years. The first time the program won the trophy, in 2006, he hadn’t even known it existed, as Malaspina University-College didn’t have many high-performing teams when he first took over.
Hunter was a student-athlete at Malaspina in the early 1980s, a provincial medallist in badminton. He went on to get degrees at other institutions, but always found himself coming back to the college on the hill. In 2001, he was asked to fill in as interim athletic director for a six-month period. Six months turned into 15 years.
“Obviously any time you take over a program like that, you’d love to make it a dynasty and when you’re starting from the bottom, almost, it was sort of lofty ambitions,” he said.
The women’s volleyball program was already a national power when Hunter became athletic director, but the soccer teams and the men’s basketball team hardly won any games his first year. Not only were there struggling squads, but fan support was lacking, and behind the scenes, Malaspina’s coaches weren’t a harmonious group, Hunter said. So he identified areas that needed improvement, and knew the only way to get the programs where they needed to go was to get the right people in place.
“I really believe that that is the cornerstone to a successful program,” he said. “You need to have a successful coach who has the ability to recruit. You have to have someone that good players want to play for. Once you start to collect a few good players, then good players want to play with other good players. There’s no question that success breeds success.”
Hunter said he’s proud of the current coaches at VIU and especially the stability there’s been with that group.
As athletic director, he said, it was his role to ensure those coaches had the resources they needed and then basically stay out of their way.
“We’ve had unbelievably successful teams, but as an athletic director, I never made a basket or served an ace or scored a goal,” Hunter said. “What my role was as an athletic director was to put the people in place that can attract the top athletes that can make those things happen.”
Success and banner seasons have followed. Hunter still gets emotional recalling VIU’s women’s volleyball team winning the national championship in its home gym in 2012, and he was on the sidelines when the men’s soccer team won national gold on penalty kicks in Edmonton in 2010.
Through it all, Mariners athletes maintained an “outstanding academic record,” Hunter pointed out, topping the conference’s academic excellence list every year, and he continually hears praise from out-of-town tournament coordinators about VIU athletes competing with class.
“As a rule, our student-athletes comport themselves so well,” he said. “They’re great ambassadors for the institution.”
One of the appealing aspects of his career change, he said, is the prospect of interacting with VIU students in a classroom setting.
The athletic department, meanwhile, will be reorganized. Carrie Chassels, VIU’s executive director of student affairs, said the university will look for someone to oversee not only athletics, but things like campus recreation, outdoor rec, and physical literacy.
“We’re going to conduct a search to look for a replacement,” Chassels said. “We’re going to have to have some conversations with some staff … to get a sense from them of what we would look for in a new director.”
Hunter isn’t sure what direction will be taken. A new gymnasium and health and wellness centre have long been on the university’s wish list, and though he knows there have been continued discussions on that front, he hasn’t been privy to those talks.
“VIU’s always had the desire to move the program into the CIS, but there has not been the will to invest what was necessary in order to make that happen … It’s a significant investment in capital and operating [costs],” he said. “Maybe now the will is there to make that investment and there’s a desire to have a change in leadership as one of the starts of that process. That’s possible.”