“Wherever I’ve been, there’s been tremendous kids,” reflected Franciscan University of Steubenville’s athletic director Mike Holmes. “Where you normally get a pocket of great kids at other schools, here it’s the majority of kids.”
Holmes, the university’s athletic director since 2017, has witnessed and spear-headed much growth for Baron athletics. Considering this, it may come as a surprise to many people that Holmes had “never really considered athletic direction as a possibility.” In fact, Holmes described his initial introduction to the position as something he “kind of got thrown into.”
After this current spring semester, Holmes will be moving on from Franciscan to take on the position of athletic director at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. Similar to Franciscan University of Steubenville, St. Ambrose University is a small, Catholic institution grounded in the liberal arts tradition but located in Holmes’ native state.
Before Franciscan, Holmes was the athletic director and men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine-Presque Isle. Holmes described the university’s athletic department as unique due to the fact that it was not part of an athletic conference. Because of this, teams had to endure long hours of travel for competition. Holmes described this as an “independent, brutal lifestyle.”
One of Holmes’ lasting legacies at the University of Maine-Presque Isle was helping the athletic department finally join a conference. “That was a big adrenaline hit,” reflected Holmes fondly.
In making the switch to Franciscan, the athletic director said he had initially never heard of the university before the job offer came up but was really looking for “a faith-based institution.” Holmes was attracted to the position in Steubenville because he “appreciate(d) how the university is very brave in its identity.”
In coming to Franciscan as the athletic director, Holmes understood he was coming to a department that was relatively young and new. In the beginning of his time here, Holmes realized, “this thing really needs to grow.” Holmes’ goal was simple: “We got to get better, but we can’t lose who we are. This is why I have been pushing coaches to recruit hard.”
The athletic director highlighted the overall integrity and peer culture of the university as his favorite aspect of his position. “It’s just a delight to come to work,” said Holmes. “The kids here are unbelievably solid. I could walk around campus blindfolded with a dart in hand; nine times out of 10, the person I would hit is someone I would trust to be a babysitter for my kids.”
Even though he is on his way out, Holmes remarked on the positive impact that athletics have and can continue to have on the campus on the hill. In particular, he spoke of his desire that the entire university family see past the common “misperception of athletics.”
As an example of virtue in Baron athletics, Holmes reflected on last year’s Alleghany Mountain Collegiate Conference Cross-Country Championships, in which both the university’s men and women’s teams took the crown. Before the race, both teams huddled in prayer together, and almost every team member made the sign of the cross as he or she crossed the finish line.
Holmes sat back in his chair and smiled. “How could you not walk away being inspired?”
At St. Ambrose University, Holmes looks forward to heading up the university’s already-successful athletic department, which currently fields 29 sports teams. While Holmes had originally planned to retire at Franciscan University of Steubenville, the idea of returning home and taking charge of this program excited him.
Holmes said he will miss his student athletes here on the hill and that he is looking forward to seeing how the department will continue to grow and serve them.
Speaking humbly on his contribution to the program, Holmes merely said, “I hope I started pushing the boulder down the cliff.”