CSU athletic director Garrett departs for Wake Forest

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Photo: Cleveland State University

Cleveland State Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Garrett has accepted a position at Wake Forest, as the Demon Deacons’ Deputy Athletics Director for Administration, both schools announced on Thursday morning.

His new role will be under the guidance of Wake’s athletic director, John Currie, who was the AD at Kansas State during Garrett’s nine years with the Wildcats prior to his 2019 arrival in Northeast Ohio.

Though Garrett is departing a few months shy of his fifth anniversary at Cleveland State, it’s safe to say that he’s been a transformative figure for Vikings athletics in that time.

“Over nearly five years serving Cleveland State University and leading our athletics program, we have strived to deliver a transformative experience for Vikings student-athletes. I am proud of how we delivered on this mission in so many ways,” Garrett said in Cleveland State’s release. “There are countless partners to thank for playing a role in this success, including all our remarkable student-athletes, staff and coaches, university leadership team, faculty and staff, and alumni, supporters and fans.”

His impact probably came most significantly (or at least most visibly) through the men’s basketball program, where he made a pair of head coach hires, Dennis Gates and Daniyal Robinson. Those two men, in just four completed seasons, account for one-third of the conference championships in program history, between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 Horizon League regular season crowns and the 2021 tournament title that resulted in a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch was a drastic turnaround from the turmoil that permeated the end of Gary Waters’ tenure and Dennis Felton’s disastrous two years in charge.

“I am proud of the partnership that we forged together at Cleveland State as a first time head coach and AD team,” Gates said in a statement. “Scott’s impact will be felt immediately in Winston-Salem. He is an elite relationship builder, a trusted colleague, and continues to assist me personally as a strategic advisor. Our success at CSU would not have been possible without Scott’s daily support, leadership and friendship.” 

Women’s basketball was arguably already on its way to heightened success when Garrett arrived, as Chris Kielsmeier was brought in by previous AD Mike Thomas, though Garrett certainly recognized what he had in his ascendant program and signed Kielsmeier to a pair of contract extensions. The more recent of those deals, signed last offseason following CSU’s third-ever HL tournament title, an NCAA Tournament bid, and a team-record 30 wins, runs through 2028.

“Coach (Kielsmeier) has the team poised to continue their success,” Garrett told cleveland.com. “None of this happens by accident. You have to credit the players and coaching staff.”

Garrett is a member of the 2024 Cleveland Women’s Basketball Final Four local host committee, which is responsible for community event planning adjacent to the national championship at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in April.

Though basketball is the Vikings’ headlining sport, Garrett elevated all 18 teams under his watch, including one he added, an e-sports squad that has seen plenty of early successes. In all, Cleveland State won nine team league championships, 18 individual league titles, 32 major postseason awards and had 107 student-athletes earn all-league distinction during his tenure.

Garrett likes to call the 2022-23 season the most successful in school history, a claim that has a good amount of support. Along with the heights of the women’s basketball team, the Vikings also claimed a Horizon League title in men’s soccer, while women’s golf’s Sabrina Coffman won that program’s first-ever HL individual championship. Men’s basketball and women’s tennis each advanced to their respective conference finals before falling, while men’s tennis won the HL’s North Division during the regular season.

Those competitive victories were supported by a significant uptick in CSU’s academic and fundraising performance: the athletic department raised a school-record $1.2 million in 2022-23, while Vikings student-athletes earned a collective grade point average above 3.0 during every semester of Garrett’s run. He also oversaw upgrades to the Wolstein Center and Woodling Gymnasium and, through his work on the school’s facilities master plan, helped generate what might be the strongest push yet towards eventually constructing a replacement for the aging basketball arena.

For the time being, Kelsie Gory Harkey, CSU’s Deputy Athletics Director for Student-Athlete Experience, will serve as interim AD following Garrett’s last day, January 15th. However, the monumental task now in front of President Laura Bloomberg is locating a full-time replacement that can continue what Garrett started.

“It has been my pleasure to work with Scott Garrett as a valued member of the senior leadership team,” Bloomberg said in Cleveland State’s announcement. “The longer I know Scott, the more I grow to respect him as a leader, and value him as a colleague. I can say without hesitation that the student-athletes, coaches, and staff members who have worked with and for him here at CSU have all benefited personally and professionally from the experience. He will be missed by all of us.”

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