JU Athletics Appoints New Leader

Donald H. Horner, Ph.D., Brings Passion, Drive, & Leadership to His New Position


Photo by Stefani Keeler

JU Chief Athletics Officer Donald H. Horner, Ph.D. discusses his position with Navigator sports editor Patrick Wilkins.

Every university endures the shuffling of different coaches, administrators and staff. It’s inevitable. People leave for personal reasons, they find better opportunities for them and their families and, in the worst of cases, they don’t work out. Every college administration wants to try and find the right fit for each position that’s on their campus and Jacksonville University is no different.

Recently, President Tim Cost was faced with this challenge. The challenge of not only filling a void, but finding the right person for that void.

Just as the school year ended this past May, President Cost and Jacksonville University were handed the news that former Athletic Director Brad Edwards was leaving JU and taking a position at George Mason University. They wished him the best and started the search for the new candidate.

Athletics is a department that requires a lot out of its leader and the person who takes charge must have all of the intangibles to be successful. The Chief Athletics Officer has to be passionate about what he or she does. The CAO is overseeing the maturation process of young men and women and must be able to do right by the student-athlete.

The exceptional candidate must be loyal to the students and respected in the community. Most importantly, the CAO must be a natural born leader, someone that does not stand down to adversity and instead thrives on the pressure of being the leader of an athletic department. This candidate must also want more than just quality athletes. The CAO must want the students to be even more successful in the classroom than they are on the field of competition.

It didn’t take long before President Cost and his search team were looking into the eyes of their new CAO. Donald H. Horner Ph. D., was their selection for the position left open by Edwards, and Horner wasted no time in showing why he was the right fit for the job.

Horner began his tenure at JU in 2009 when he was brought on as a professor of business in the Davis College of Business. He spent two years in City Hall as the Education Commissioner of Duval County before returning to JU to work for the President’s office in the Howard administration building. It seems that he has found a permanent place in Botts Hall, home of JU Athletics.

One of the many tasks that Horner faced when he took his new position on campus was the task of finding several new coaches for vacant positions and he demonstrated why he was the right man for the job. He was able to pick candidates that not only succeeded in competition, but who are also successful as leaders.

Horner hired several new coaches for several of the Dolphins’ athletic programs in a short period of time. Marci Robles is the new men’s rowing head coach and she seems to be a great fit. He brought in Jennifer Steele to head the women’s softball program and she immediately got to work hiring her first assistant Dan Sperl, a sign of leadership and passion that Horner is looking for in all of his coaches.

“This is athletics and athletics is about leading,” Horner said. “I’ve studied leadership and I’ve been a leader.”

Horner played quarterback for Army at West Point and knows what it takes to be a leader. Using his knowledge from on and off the field, he knew that he had to re-sign track and field coach Ron Grigg as well as Mindy McCord, the women’s lacrosse head coach.

These two have not only created winning programs, but they have helped mold the young men and women of their squads into adults who contribute immensely to society.

Horner has many goals in his new position at JU and one of them is to help the Dolphins find their identity. He wants to help bring JU athletics to the notoriety that the campus once knew when students like Artis Gilmore were wearing the Dolphin Green. He wants to bring the best athletes with the brightest minds to JU. He doesn’t just want championships on the field, but also championships in the classroom as well.

As many coaches and leaders have said time and time again, “winning is not everything.” “There is more to life than winning and losing,” and no philosophy rings as true to Horner as this one. Many of our athletes will graduate and never play at the next level, but the person they become while here at JU and the lessons they learn while competing on the field will live within them forever.

“I want our kids to have good memories,” Horner said. “Life is about building happy memories.”

Life continues not only for the students, but for Horner as well. These memories that the student-athletes are making are helping Horner make his lasting legacy here at JU. When the students, the student-athletes, the coaches and everyone around this campus are happy, Horner is happy.

When asked what he wanted his lasting impression to be on JU Athletics, Horner had one simple comment.

“Man, it’s not about me Patrick.”