Brad Fadem (above) has been Penn's DOBO for the last three seasons. (Photo courtesy Penn athletics)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: While head coaches get the headlines and assistant coaches do the bulk of the recruiting work, there’s more to a Division I basketball coaching staff. The Director of Basketball Operations, also known as the “DOBO,” is the main man behind the scenes, with tasks ranging from scheduling practices to coordinating travel and class schedules… and more. We spoke with all six of the city’s DOBOs to find out more about these key pieces to the local hoops programs, and get some inside dirt on the City 6. What you see below is a transcript of our conversations, edited for readability.)
A native of Devon, Pa., Brad Fadem got out of Philadelphia for college, heading up to Boston College -- where he became a manager for new Eagles head coach Steve Donahue. He’s since followed Donahue back to Philadelphia, where he’s jumped in as Penn’s DOBO since Donahue’s hiring in the spring of 2015. Since then, he’s seen the program go from a fresh start to back to the top of the Ivy Leagues, though there were plenty of bumps along the way. Here’s his story...
CoBL: So, you’re heading into your fourth year at Penn, but you’ve been with Quakers’ coach Steve Donahue for a while now -- nearly your whole collegiate basketball career?
BF: Yeah, pretty much. He was hired at BC at the end of my freshman year there, and then was there through my first year as a grad assistant there. So I had four years there, and now going into our fourth year at Penn together.
CoBL: You’re a Philly-area native, from Devon. What brought you to Boston College originally? What was your high school hoops experience?
BF: When I was searching for colleges, my brother, who’s three years older, was at Boston University, so I’d gone up to Boston a fair amount when he was there, and knew about Boston College and had visited it a couple times when I went up, and once it came down to choosing a school based on where I’d gotten in, it felt like BC was the right choice based on the city and everything else BC has going for it.
And then in terms of my involvement with basketball, going into my senior year of high school [at Conestoga], I started getting involved with our high school team as kind of a player/manager, so after that season, my high school coach Mike Troy asked if I’d want to continue to do stuff like that in college, and I said absolutely. So he made a couple calls and got in touch with people at BC, and when I went up for my freshman orientation, I met with Dan McDermott, who’s now the director of basketball operations at BC, and told him I wanted to be a manager and the rest is history, kind of.
CoBL: Did you play basketball before that? What was your relationship with the sport growing up?
BF: I mean, I played growing up, I was cut from the freshman team and that was kind of the end of my serious competitive basketball career. But still played throughout high school and always had a passion and love for the game, especially all the behind-the-scenes things. So when I had an opportunity to be a student manager at Boston College, it was the perfect scenario in terms of staying involved with the game and being able to be a part of the behind-the-scenes stuff.
CoBL: What was your first impression of Donahue?
BF: It was a great one. I could tell right away, from the first workout we had that spring, that my managerial experience was going to be vastly difference with Coach Donahue and that new staff there. We were much more involved, it was a different atmosphere. Not that anything was bad under Coach Skinner, I could just tell it was different and it was going to be a much more fruitful experience.
CoBL: Why so?
BF: As Coach Donahue always says, he sees the managers as an extension of the coaching staff. So there’s no real -- you’re not the bottom of the totem pole, so you’re involved in practice, whether it’s helping out in shooting drills, you’re rebounding, all the coaches are making an effect to really get to know you on a personal level, whether it’s at practice or helping out in the office, and then we were kind of all together there as they were trying to rebuild and reinvigorate the program there at BC.
CoBL: Donahue got fired at BC in 2014, so your last year at grad school you were a grad manager/assistant under Jim Christian. Was that similar to an operations role?
BF: Yeah, in a lot of ways. Every school structures their grad assistants differently, a lot of places will try to find former players to help out in workouts and in practice, places will find people to help out on the operations side, so I was definitely kind of an assistant to the director of operations, as a grad assistant.
CoBL: So you finish up your two years as a grad manager, right around when Steve Donahue was hired at Penn. What was going on at the end of your time at BC, how did you come about to be at Penn?
BF: Coach Donahue was hired in March of 2015, and I remember as soon as I heard, I shot him a text of congratulations, so happy for him and I said that while I know it’s a crazy and hectic time for him, if there’s any administrative opportunities or positions with the team, I’d love to discuss that with him. And he got back to me and said we’d have to see what happens. But over the next couple weeks, stayed in contact with him and with [assistant coach] Nat Graham and it became obvious that they were going to have a newly-created Director of Operations position, because before then it had just been one woman, more of an administrative assistant role helping out the men’s and women’s basketball teams, but now each program was going to have their own director of operations. So we get into April and things started to solidify, and then finally in May, right around the time I was graduating from BC, it became official that I was hired here. Went right from completing to MBA at BC, moving back down to Philadelphia and starting here at Penn.
CoBL: You’re a Philly-area guy. If Donahue had taken a job elsewhere, would you have followed him there? Was it about working with him, being back home, the combination, or what? In other words, if he hadn’t gotten this job, what would you have been looking to do?
BF: If he’d gotten a job somewhere else, I think I would have still pursued some sort of administrative, operational role, because I knew I wanted to get into college athletics on the administrative side. I was never really interested in the coaching side. So here at Penn, this was my way to get into college athletics administration, and it’s certainly, the stars kind of aligned perfectly that it was close to home, at Penn where I grew up going to games, with Coach Donahue, but if we backtrack and if Coach Donahue hadn’t gotten any other job, or that wasn’t in the cards, at the time...towards the end of graduate school I was reaching out to NBA teams, reaching out to other contacts that I had in college basketball, looking essentially to do some sort of basketball operations administrative position. So hard to say what path it would have gone down if this hadn’t happened, whether something in an NBA front office or maybe something at a conference level, but [Penn is] certainly a great place to end up and doing something that I wanted to do.
CoBL: You were with Donahue during something of a frustrating four years at Boston College, and now at Penn you’ve gotten to see him be successful in three seasons. Is there any difference to his daily attitude or the atmosphere?
BF: I think one of the unbelievable characteristics of Coach Donahue is whether we’ve won five in a row or lost five in a row, he’s really able to just focus on the present and have the same attitude and approach in terms of the next game is the most important game. So I think in the day-to-day atmosphere, feeling around the office, it wasn’t too different besides the fact, especially this last year, you’re winning games so everything outside of your immediate office, that energy is much more positive, and you’re kind of able to feed off that in a different way. But in terms of Coach Donahue’s daily approach and daily attitude, he does an unbelievable job, whether its meeting with the staff, with the players, really hammering home the point that nothing from the past matters, the only thing that matters is the next game and doing what we can to get better today.
CoBL: From an operations perspective, you got to deal with something this year that you hadn’t in your college time, and that was an NCAA Tournament appearance. What was that like from your perspective, and was there anything unexpected that threw you for a loop?
BF: The five days from the start of the Ivy League tournament up until we got to Wichita, Kansas, that was probably the craziest five days that I’ve experienced. The emotional highs and transitioning from that, probably the highest of highs to meeting with our administrators here to figure out how we were going to get 75 people to Wichita, Kansas in two days and who was going and all the logistics around getting a team to the NCAA Tournament, that was just an unbelievable experience and for the majority of us here who were working on that, it was our first time, certainly my first time, we had our new senior associate AD and our sport administrator, Rudy Fuller, it was his first time dealing with anything like that, so it was a lot of late-night meetings and early mornings, making sure that we had all of our i’s dotted and our t’s crossed.
Logically the NCAA obviously helps out a lot, but you’re still just turning it around at an incredible rate and just trying to, in the back of your mind, remember that the end game is getting our student-athletes to the tournament and having the best experience possible, but at the same time worried about the other contingencies and alumni and parents and families. It certainly helped shape me and if we’re fortunate enough to get back to the NCAA Tournament, I know that it’ll be a much better experience for all of us involved because we’ll have had this past year’s experience to reflect upon.
CoBL: The Ivy League championship game against Harvard was close throughout. Penn wins it at the end, celebration happens -- how quickly do your thoughts turn to what’s coming next for you?
BF: We celebrate on the court, in the locker room a little bit, I grabbed a bite to eat with my parents at the Penn hospitality area they had, and then I got on my laptop and started to fill out the forms for our travel to the tournament. That was probably within 45 minutes of us winning. And then we were finalizing the details for the watch party, so it was an unbelievable celebration but it was certainly short-lived. But at the same time, that’s the role that the director of operations takes on and as we were saying in our circle here, the administrators and myself, these are the best problems to have, to have to scramble and work late and put our heads together for this sort of things. No one was certainly complaining, but yeah, that turnaround was pretty quick.
CoBL: Your first year on the job, when you came down to Penn, who did you rely on to help you out? Any good learning curve stories?
BF: So I definitely relied on Jake Silverman, who at the time was the director of football operations...doing the operations job for the football team is totally different and a much bigger undertaking, so he had a great feel for how to get things done at Penn, and the best processes to go through. And I was fortunate that when I came in, Christine McCollum, the women’s director of operations, was hired around the same time I was. So throughout that first year, we were constantly leaning on each other, ‘how do you do this, how do you do that, what od you think of this?’ So those two people were key in that first year.
In terms of screw-ups, I can remember how incredibly nervous I was and anxious I was for our first road trip, to the University of Washington in November that first year. Just being responsible for getting all the people on the plane and the logistics of, is the bus going to be there in Washington when we get there, and how’s the hotel going to be, so I remember we got to the hotel and this is probably, a little later at night, two days before the game, and the hotel thought we were checking in the next day. So that didn’t get off to a great start. Especially because I know that everyone's like ‘this is Brad’s first trip, how good is he at what he’s doing?’
But we got that squared away, and then the next morning we woke up at the hotel and the hotel didn’t have any hot water. So, something that’s totally out of anyone’s control, especially out of my control, but I’m thinking ‘oh gosh, I chose this hotel, we don’t have any hot water.’ I got a text from Coach Donahue that morning, and he’s like ‘I’m trying to shave but there’s no hot water, do you know what’s going on?’ At that point, I got on the phone with my contact at Washington and was like ‘hey, would we be able to shower at your guys’ place when we come to practice?’ There’s always solutions, and as Jake Silverman told me, you’re a firefighter who’s putting out fires before they start. So that first trip was definitely a great learning experience.
There’s tons of minor stuff, whether it’s ticket list for recruits coming on unofficial or official visits, and something happens with it there, and you’ve got to mitigate that as the game’s starting, or the post-game food is 20 minutes late and your guys are hungry and trying to eat and you’re trying to navigate that situation. I guess the other big thing is on the road, for Ivy League games obviously we play Friday/Saturday, and when that game ends on Friday night, Coach Donahue and our coaching staff, they want to be able to watch -- let’s say we’re playing at Columbia, so Princeton’s playing at Cornell on Friday night, so they want to watch that Princeton/Cornell game as we’re on the bus on the way to Cornell. So trying to figure out how to get the game tape of a game that just ended when you have limited WiFi is certainly an experience. I don’t know if that first year, on those three Ivy weekends, I don’t know if we ever successfully got the full game that night. So that was always kind of an anxious moment after the Friday night game ended in terms of whether we’d be able to get it, or how am I going to explain this one to Coach Donahue.
CoBL: Otherwise, though, those three away Ivy weekends every year, is that generally easier? You know if you’re going to Harvard, then you’re going to Dartmouth, or vice-versa, fewer buses or flights back and forth, etc.
BF: I think after year one, I think it’s definitely easier. I’ll compare it to at Boston College where you could be playing at Virginia Tech on Wednesday night and then Saturday you’re playing at Florida State, so you travel Tuesday, play Wednesday, try to travel home Wednesday and you’re trying to travel down Friday, and it’s so much back-and-forth there and so many other logistics to worry about. And at this point, with these Ivy weekends, we’re pretty much staying at the same hotels, we have the same routine, when we’re leaving campus on that Thursday, you know you get on the bus Friday night after the game and you’re going to go to the hotel and do your scout, so there’s a good rhythm to it. And I think it allows our student-athletes to prepare themselves academically, to know pretty much Thursday to Saturday, that’s going to be wiped out for me, so year-in and year-out they know what to expect as opposed to having travel on all sorts of different days and having it be unpredictable.
CoBL: Okay, so I have to go back to something. Your first trip...you get to the hotel in Washington, and they tell you they didn’t have you arriving? You’re at the check-in desk?
BF: Yeah, they were like, ‘oh, we had you coming tomorrow.’
CoBL: So what’s THAT moment like for you?
BF: Well, I instantly start sweating, and I feel our trainer, Phil Samko, hovering over me. And I tell them, ‘okay, well, we’re here now and we’re going to be checking in.’ And then they actually wanted to see all of the IDs for everyone who was going to be staying there, and very politely I had to tell them that that wasn’t going to be possible, and then that’s when our trainer started to get upset with the hotel staff of how they could mess this up, so then it became trying to calm him down while trying to get us checked in. So that was….yeah, that taught me no matter how confident you are, calling the hotel the day of or as you’re on the way to the hotel is a must.
CoBL: Luckily they had enough rooms, they were able to get you guys sorted away?
BF: Yeah, it was definitely a miscommunication between the sales staff, event planning staff and the front desk. The rooms were ready to go, it’s just they didn’t have the keys ready, they weren’t ready for us to be checking in at that time.
There’s just always stuff like that. It’s something that’s been told to me, and something I remember every day -- no matter how much preparing you do, there’s always going to be something outside your control that’s going to be happen, so you’ve got to be nimble and got to be ready to roll with it.
CoBL: So you’ve said that, really, you’re not looking to getting into being a coach, you want to get into the operations side of athletics. What’s your dream job? Where do you want to be 10 years down the road?
BF: I think at this point, the ultimate point is being a deputy AD [athletic director] or AD somewhere. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity here at Penn to start to branch over into the administrative side, helping out with some sport oversight, helping out administratively with some sports performance stuff, so those opportunities are invaluable and that’s definitely the path I want to go through. But yeah, five, 10 years, either the number two or the number one at a University, that’s definitely the ultimate goal.
CoBL: And finally, outside of basketball, when you’re not being a DOBO, what do you like to do for fun?
BF: Love to cook, love going to the movies, I was a film studies minor in college, so I love movies, I love going to the movies. I’m sure our coaching staff here would chide me if I didn’t say that I like working out, and training for a half-marathon now so just trying to stay active and use that as a de-stresser in some ways.