PROVIDENCE — Right from the onset, Bob Driscoll expressed a strong desire to inject new life into the athletic facilities utilized by Providence College coaches and student-athletes.
“I remember speaking with a reporter in one of my first interviews for an article about what was possible,” said Driscoll, now less than a month away from the 12th anniversary of his hiring date as the school’s athletic director. “I’m a pretty big dreamer, but even for my dreams, it’s exceeded that.”
These days, Driscoll proudly walks around the campus located at the corner of Eaton Street and River Avenue, his vision of top-shelf, Division I athletic venues no longer a mere fantasy, but a reality. The Friar athletic community he aspired to lift out of the dark ages of outdated and worn down facilities has, by and large, come to fruition.
Granted none of these changes took place overnight, rather over the course of years of careful planning and execution. What Driscoll compiled not long after his Nov. 2, 2001 appointment was a list of wishes and desires that was akin to a young child writing to Santa what they desire for Christmas. The list was long, not to mention extensive.
A dozen years later, the cries to replace and/or update woebegone facilities have been muted. PC athletes no longer compete and train in buildings that would be considered relics in the eyes of the Providence Preservation Society. With Driscoll spearheading the efforts and exhausting all possible options, the Friars are reaping the benefits that come with training and competing in top-flight facilities.
In a recent interview, Driscoll talked about taking what were perceived as unreachable and unobtainable aspirations at the time of his coming onboard and the steps that were taken along the way to rehabilitating the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Alumni Hall and Schneider Arena along with constructing several on-campus facilities.
“Every day, I have a big smile on my face when I walk into the hockey or lacrosse locker room. I look at the soccer field and know that a year from now, they’ll be playing in a soccer stadium,” said Driscoll. “It’s been a big transformation and pretty cool stuff.
“In order to be a high-profile school that can recruit the best possible student-athletes from around the world, you need to have world-class facilities,” Driscoll continued. “There was a lot of pounding of rocks, but once the wheels started turning, people became excited and decided to jump onboard.”
Projects of this magnitude are costly. Fortunately for Driscoll, he quickly realized that he had plenty of folks behind him in his pursuit of forward progress. A turf field located next door to the Peterson Recreation Center opened in Sept. 2005, the result of substantial fundraising efforts. The athletic director also noted that the drive to make PC’s athletic facilities more appealing received a major boon the same year when the Rev. Brian J. Shanley was elected the school’s 12th president.
“The amenities are really important to students, especially when they’re spending the kind of money to go a school like Providence College,” said Driscoll. “You also need the right people in place such as trustees and a president you can work creatively with.
“You’ve got to have people who believe in the vision and luckily we’re at a time here at the college where everybody is on the same page,” Driscoll added. “It takes a long time to get to that point, but once you do, you need to capitalize.”
According to Driscoll, there have already been noticeable returns on the completely transformed Schneider Arena, which re-opened for business this past weekend.
“(PC men’s hockey coach) Nate Leaman has already recruited student-athletes that we couldn’t get before. We had a couple of young men who were on their way to visit Boston College and Boston University come through. They saw the facility and immediately committed,” Driscoll shared. “Facilities tell you that you’re committed to being a great athletic and academic institution, so it’s a really big deal.”
In terms of basketball-related matters at The Dunk, Driscoll says that the quest to provide Ed Cooley’s Friars with a distinct home-court advantage continues to take place. New lighting and sound systems have been installed at the downtown arena. In addition, “there will be a state-of-the-art floor that we’re going to start branding. It’s a great basketball venue,” said Driscoll.
Talking about a spruced-up Dunk allowed Driscoll to drift back to another time in his PC tenure. From seating upgrades to a new video scoreboard, substantial physical accoutrements were implemented over the course of several seasons leading up to the 2008-09 campaign – all by and large based on the excitement generated by the last Friar basketball squad to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“That was more complicated because you’re dealing with the state and the city. You really don’t control the decision-making process,” said Driscoll. “If you remember when we talked about that conversation of possibility, it’s when we were 12th in the nation [during the 2003-04 season]. When we were talking about it, there was a demand because we were pretty good and I kept painting the picture that if we don’t support it, then we’re not going to continue to recruit the best student-athletes.
“We were very lucky in terms of timing when the state had money and people were excited about basketball,” Driscoll delved further. “I’m not sure we could get the same energy based on a team that wasn’t successful.”
Driscoll estimates that his vision of a facility paradise needs at least three more years of overhauls and transformations. The Ray Treacy Track was recently opened with a grand unveiling scheduled for next spring. Construction projects on the drawing board include a new lacrosse and soccer venue, which will be based in the same vicinity as Schneider Arena. This elaborate project also means that there will be a new spot on campus for a softball field and tennis courts.
“In three years, we will have everything that we would ever need to be successful facility-wise,” Driscoll pointed out. “You can have the greatest facilities in the world, but if you’re not winning, that’s how you’re judged.”
Driscoll is not at all surprised with the advancement of athletic facilities that have taken at Providence College.
“If you get the right people on the bus, you can accomplish anything,” he said. “I just get really happy about what everybody collectively has made happen.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03