Veteran senior admin fades off into the sunset
Here’s a touching tribute to a longtime (22 years) "right-hand person” by a praiseful AD.
By Dan Guerrero, UCLA AD, in the Fall 2016 issue of Bruin Blue
It seems like yesterday that our student-athletes, donning cap and gown, were walking across the stage in Pauley Pavilion to receive their UCLA diplomas. I addressed the crowd that had gathered to celebrate this milestone, and our coaches and administrators cheered from the stage as each of these young men and women – all of whom we had watched literally grow up before our eyes – officially took the next step in their lives.
And to cap off the night, our MC/Associate Director of Academic and Student Services, Ric Coy, once again told the parable of the mayonnaise jar and two beers (if you don’t know it by now, check out the graduation ceremony video on uclabruins.com, you’ll love it!).
Graduation marks the unofficial start to summer for the athletic department. Yet as I write you today, summer is nearly in the rear view mirror. Time flies. One day your little daughter is bouncing on your knee, the next day you’re walking her down the aisle. One day you’re combing your hair, the next day you’re wondering where it all went. And one day you’re embarking upon a journey with a colleague, the next day she’s retiring.
This summer, my colleague of more than two decades, Petrina Long, our Executive Associate Athletic Director/Senior Women’s Administrator, officially retired. A revered member of our campus community, her decades-long commitment to the student-athlete won her UCLA’s prestigious Administrative Management Group Distinguished Career Award this past July. But to really tell her story right, allow me to start at the beginning.
Having recently been tabbed as UC Irvine’s Athletic Director, I was in the process of making one of the most important hires of my career. At the time, Petrina was working back east at Columbia University in the Ivy League. A prestigious job to be sure, I learned through the grapevine, however, that she was actually looking to return home to Southern California. So we set up an interview.
I remember the meeting like it was yesterday. In spite of the fact that it was hot, mid-80’s I’d say, Petrina showed up in a blue wool business suit, and she was baking. On top of that, she was quite sick with both the flu and a cold. I’m not sure if it was the heat or her array of maladies, but her complexion floated somewhere between the red of a tomato and the red of a mid-life crisis sports car. By the time the interview was over, she had literally gone through an entire box of Kleenex...and they were spread out all over the conference table in front of me. Her nose was raw and her eyes were tearing so much that she couldn't even see me.
When the interview was over, we joke now, she said to herself, ‘There is absolutely no way I’m getting this job.’ It is one of the few times in her career that Petrina was dead wrong.
Petrina was, in fact, exactly who I needed.
The challenge at UC Irvine around that time, with the school recently having dropped sports – most notably baseball – tearing its budget completely apart and watching both donors and student-athletes jump ship left and right, was close to insurmountable. I knew I was going to have to hire someone who could go through the fire with me, and Petrina, battling through that interview, showed me exactly what I needed to see.
The irony, of course, is that after all of these years, we have never really been out of the fire. It comes with the territory. The only way out is quite literally to retire – which, wouldn’t you know, Petrina also figured out. In a stroke of further irony, retirement is actually the most un-Petrina-like thing she has ever done.
You see, Petrina likes a good battle. Selfishly, I’d always thought in the back of my mind that after that final battle, we’d ride off into the sunset together. Alas – and Petrina knows this – I still have some hills to climb. As in all lines of work, and collegiate athletics is no different, there’s always another hill to climb.
I often cite a story from Greek mythology about a man destined his entire life to roll a boulder up the mountain, only to see it roll back before he reaches the top. I tell this to my staff, not to dwell on the disappointment of being unable to reach the summit, but to truly enjoy the beauty of the chase and the journey. Unlike this story of Sisyphus, in real life, the chase really can get you to your destination, be it a national championship, a student graduating or a life touched through the experience of sport.
The journey that Petrina and I have been on together has lasted longer than several of our athletic department co-workers have been alive, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
As a matter of fact, not many of us would, especially the countless student-athletes whose lives have been touched by Petrina’s relentless advocacy on their behalf.
Greatly admired, her impact on our profession has been profound – a national leader in her field at the conference and NCAA levels, always willing to serve, always willing to make life better for our student-athletes and coaches – she is valued both professionally and personally by so many of her colleagues. She has constantly been sought after as a mentor and has played the role with a generosity of spirit, sincerity, level of expertise and caring unmatched in this profession.
Over the years, I’ve entrusted a great deal to Petrina, not only because she’s bright and talented, but because she values excellence and knows what it looks like. Managing expectations, especially at UCLA, is perhaps the toughest thing we do – not just because our fans expectations are sky high, but because our own expectations are as well. Petrina, though, has never shied away from the challenge, never shied away from the crisis, never shied away from finding the solution, never shied away from the fire.
But so it goes. It's time for Petrina to step out of the fire. Our loss at UCLA is her wonderful family’s gain. Gone are the long hours and tough decisions; the catching connecting flights and consoling a crying student-athlete. They’ve now been replaced by days on the beach and trips to far off lands; more time with her lovely daughter Samantha, who I can still remember running wild around the Bren Center as a little girl, as well as with her husband Sam, one of the classiest men I have ever met.
While there will indeed be sad days ahead for me without her in the office next door, I know she has counseled the department’s ‘new generation’ and left it in extremely capable hands. And although it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyways: I would not be where I am in my career today without Petrina Long.
On behalf of my wife Anne Marie, my two daughters, the entire UCLA Athletic department and Bruins everywhere who may not have otherwise been aware of your selfless dedication to our program and its student-athletes, thank you, Petrina.
Readers please note: The tribute above is a good example of a Clips "Guest Commentary." Clips subscribers should feel free to submit similar "positive leadership" themed commentaries about key staff members, bosses, etc. Send existing articles / ideas / outlines / proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org I'll take a look at them and respond. No self-praising articles please.