Coach of the Week: Ryan Kaiser

An exclusive interview with Ryan Kaiser, Director of Athletics, who coaches the coaches to make the COD Athletic Department and all of its teams successful.


Photo provided by COD Athletics

Lily Goodfellow, Staff Writer

Coach of the Week: Ryan Kaiser

Director of Athletics and Recreational Programs

Student-athletes aren’t on campus in the summer, so instead of my usual Athlete of the Week, I will spotlight different administrators and coaches in the Athletic Department. This week I profiled Ryan Kaiser, Director of Athletics and Recreational Programs. 


Lily Goodfellow: Where are you from?

Ryan Kaiser: I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is on the west coast, just south of Washington, a little north of California. My family and I moved out there when I was a baby. I went to Oregon State University, which is where I met my wife almost twenty years ago. Where we lived was an hour to the Pacific Ocean, an hour to Mt. Hood, so you could get in the mountains and go skiing, and then southern Oregon had the dunes and an hour and a half to the east is Bend, Oregon, which is kind of a resort type of town. We have family that still live there. My sister still lives out there and my niece and nephew. So it’s still home, I just don’t get to go back there quite as much anymore.


LG: How long have you been working at COD?

RK: It has been about three and a half years now. I got to COD in January of 2020. Two months after I started my job, the world shut down with COVID-19. So they asked us to pack our stuff and for everybody to go home, and I had to kind of lead this department while we were at home. I would say it was an unlucky and challenging start. But what it did allow was for our athletic department and me to really take my time. Even though things were kind of crazy and not all of our sports were going at the same time, it allowed me the opportunity to take my time and make good decisions to figure out who wants to be here and what we had the ability to do here at the College of DuPage Athletic Department. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. 


LG: What do you do during the summer to prepare for the school year?

RK: This is our downtime. From the time school gets out in the middle of May until the July 4th weekend is Athletic’s slow time, where people take vacation. Some students are coming and going, but most of our student-athletes don’t take summer school until summer session two. Some of the things I’m working on right now are budgets, so getting that approved through the Board, and then contracts. It’s really just  working on those and getting those prepared so that when we do get to July we’re ready, set, go, rather than scrambling to put it all together. So it’s really just loose ends and maintenance. For example, in the next week or two we’re going to drain the pool and wash it with acid washing. And then a lot of times what happens is that there is so much force because there is so much water in the pool pushing on all the walls, and when you don’t drain it and clean it regularly, some of the pool tiles get loose and pop up. So we need to do some regrouting. The funny thing about that is it takes about two weeks for the grout to actually cure to make it hard enough to put the water back in the pool. We were hoping it was not going to be as lengthy because our members love the pool and want to be swimming, but this is something that we need to do to make sure that the longevity of the pool is applicable not just for this year but for years to come. 

Right now with the scarcity of students on campus, it’s just a little bit more relaxed and kind of fun. We get to focus on ourselves and do some stuff. So I’ve been working out every day, which has been good, and my family came and saw me today. That usually doesn’t happen when my boys are in school. 


LG: How do you recruit athletes to come to COD?

RK: Students don’t come to the College of DuPage because of the buildings or the facilities that we have. Students come because coaches love and care for them, and they spend time building relationships with them, so that makes it harder on the student when they decide. When they’re making their choice of school they have a relationship with the head coach, so it’s not that they’re just coming to play and COD has a nice gym or a nice football field, but they’ve got good people that love and care for them and want to see what’s in their best interest, which is obviously achieving the goal of getting a degree while also being able to play a competitive sport. So students come here because they have coaches that love and care for them.


LG: Were you an athlete when you were in school?

RK: I was. I played golf, both in high school and a little bit in college. When you get into high school you’re playing a lot of different sports, and I can show you this scar I got that playing high school football my sophomore year, and I broke my wrist. I had to have five pins, and it was really broken up, so I couldn’t play football anymore. I concentrated on a less physical sport, something like golf that I could play for a lifetime. 


LG: Did you always know you wanted to work in college sports, and how did you become an athletic director?

RK: My situation is a little bit unique. My dad is an athletic director. He got into college athletics when I was three. So my entire life I’ve grown up in athletics. When I decided what I wanted to do for a career, what I knew is that I didn’t want to be a coach. People ask me all the time what that looks like. I still am a coach, but my role is a little bit different. I’m the one that coaches the coaches. My job is to help nicely nudge and guide the athletic department so that we can take incremental steps so each program can be successful here. And the cool thing I like most about my job is that each one of our sports is in an entirely different category. So our track and field and football sports, I don’t have to spend as much time with them because they’re achieving at a very high level. But some of our other sports are brand new and maybe it’s the coach’s first time ever being a head coach, like for example, Coach Abby Talley. Coach Talley, our women’s basketball coach, this is her first head coaching job ever, and so I have to spend a lot more time with her mentoring and helping her make good decisions that are in the best interest of her basketball program. So I coach the coaches.


LG: What is your favorite part of the job?

RK: Honestly, there’s two things. Spending time with students is by far my favorite time, like spending time here with you. I especially love seeing students have the lightbulb moment, where life and school and growing up and adulthood all click for a student where they’re making good decisions, and they’re on top of their academics, and they might be playing a competitive sport, and they might have to work. And then watching our coaches achieve, whether it be in the classroom or on the courts, fields and fairways. When they achieve, I achieve, and the school achieves. Having those moments like winning a national championship for football or track and field, or the first-ever, like cross country did, or volleyball won this past year too. I’m working with those people on their very best days, but I’m also there with them on their very worst days, and so you’re kind of along for the journey and when you get to the point where you can be successful like that, it just makes it all worth it. 


LG: What is your least favorite part of the job?

RK: My least favorite part of the job is seeing a student-athlete who has all the talent in the world and is really successful in the sport that they play. But there’s a reason they call it being a student-athlete. Because you have to go to school, and you have to go to class, and you have to do the work. The thing that’s the hardest for me to watch is kids who have all the talent in their sport, but they don’t have the mental fortitude to do the academic part as well, and they let that slip. So they might have an opportunity to go get their college paid for and get an athletic scholarship at another school, but not getting the job done in the classroom prohibits them from getting that scholarship. If their academics aren’t in order, they aren’t going to get offered scholarships. I think that’s the thing that hurts the most. We talk to our students a lot and make academics the priority, but when they don’t put the two together it hurts to watch. 


LG: How do you plan to relax this summer?

RK: Great question. We hosted, on our college campus, 157 athletic events this past year. When you take that into consideration, we’re just really busy and we’re here a lot. So when you do get this break time, it’s just kind of nice to be at home and relax. Both of my boys are active and play sports, like lacrosse and volleyball, and they both are track athletes. This past weekend was the first weekend that I did not have a COD event or a personal event for one of my sons since January. We’re just constantly going, so even though my wife doesn’t like this, I am a homebody. I like to tinker when I’m home and spend time in our outdoor space and doing all the dads stuff. I also have a Jeep that is a push button convertible and a sheepadoodle, her name is Charlie, who goes with me when I go on jeep rides. Listening to music and driving on the back roads is just nice and relaxing. And there’s an ice cream shop in Elburn called Alice’s that we go to regularly. 


LG: What one word best describes you?

RK: Passionate. I would say passionate, but the other one that I would use is sprinkles. I am excited. I love being around college kids. I’m a sprinkle kind of guy. I try to see the best in situations. My wedding cake that my wife surprised me with was funfetti. I like to have fun. 


LG: Thank you very much, Ryan.

RK: You’re welcome. I was really happy that we could do this today.