By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BATON ROUGE, La. – Eddie Nunez thought he was destined for a future in coaching. And when Marquette head coach Tom Crean came calling with a position on his coaching staff, it appeared that Nunez was well on his way in the coaching world.
But after a year as the men’s basketball administrative assistant at Marquette, Nunez knew that his heart was in athletic administration. He had worked a number of odd jobs in the athletic department at the University of Florida, his alma mater, while finishing his graduate degree and came to realize his passion was in another area of sports.
“I thought I wanted to get into coaching,” Nunez said Tuesday from his office in Baton Rouge. “I was pretty young and I could have probably moved up in the coaching business pretty fast. I was offered an opportunity to work at Marquette University on the staff. I coached kids like Dwyane Wade and enjoyed it, but after a year, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do. I had learned so much at Florida under [athletics director] Jeremy Foley and seeing how they went about day-to-day responsibilities and approached the situation. I loved that notion of dealing with every student-athlete and working with the business aspect.”
But when the opportunity arose to break into administration as the director of game and event management at Vanderbilt, Nunez decided to leave his coaching position and to go down a path less traveled for someone of his background.
“I talked to Jeremy Foley and Billy Donovan and others and they told me there was an opportunity at Vanderbilt they thought I might be interested in,” Nunez said. “It was either leave the world of college coaching and go into administration, or to stick with the coaching world. I decided to take a big leap of faith into what others were showing me and I ran with it.”
Nunez has been in Baton Rouge since 2003 and has worked his way up to the position of Senior Associate Athletics Director for Internal Operations and Project Development.
“My responsibilities include everything from sport supervision of our men’s basketball and men’s and women’s tennis programs, as well as overseeing the construction of all of our capital projects,” Nunez said. “I work with our development group as the liaison between the athletic department and the Tiger Athletic Foundation. I also oversee our game and event department. On a daily basis, I do everything from meeting with coaches and I’m on several committees, not just on campus but in the community as well. I do our master planning and I’m kind of a jack of all trades.”
Nunez, who played two seasons (1997-98) at Florida for Billy Donovan after earning an associate of arts degree in architecture from Miami-Dade Community College, said he believes that his experience as a student-athlete in the Southeastern Conference helps him relate to the student-athletes he works with at LSU.
“I think having been a student-athlete in the SEC is a tremendous asset to me and to my opportunity of working with coaches,” Nunez said. “I’ve seen it from their perspective and I understand the expectations, not just with their coaches, fans and administration, but I also understand the day-to-day responsibilities of going to class and working towards a degree as a student-athlete.”
Nunez has always paid special attention to the “student” part of the student-athlete phrase and has emphasized the importance of academics as a player, assistant coach and now administrator.
“I was an SEC Academic Honor Roll selection my two years at Florida,” Nunez said. “I believe strongly in academics. That’s something that my parents taught me a long time ago. Being a student-athlete in the SEC really helped me to understand what it entails to be a student-athlete. They have to deal with class and the extra-curricular life of being a sudent. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of hours that these young men and women put into what they would love to be their profession one day. Not every one of them is going to be a professional athlete, but they are all very dedicated and work hard. I understand that side and it helps.”
Nunez has seen in his current role that a focus on academics is just as important as an emphasis on the sport that an athlete plays. Sure, everyone aspires to play at the next level, but Nunez has seen how important it is to have a strong education to fall back upon.
“I’ve seen individuals that have had all the athletic talent in the world make the jump to the professional world and really never put an emphasis on academics,” Nunez said. “They are one injury away or one situation away from basically being out there in the street without a degree.
He understands that in today’s world of college athletics, it is more and more common for student-athletes to turn pro early if they have the skill set to do so. Nunez is not opposed to that phenomenon, but he says it is important for student-athletes to give it their all while they are on campus to put themselves in a position to finish their educations when their professional careers are over.
“If you’re talented enough, by all means, take your talents to the next level if it benefits you,” Nunez said. “But understand that while you’re here, you need to do your part to lay the groundwork to where if the opportunity presents itself, you can choose to come back and finish up. One of our former football players Justin Vincent had great accomplishments at LSU. He’s back finishing his degree and he works in my event management department. He played in the NFL, but he had built enough of a foundation that he didn’t have to restart from scratch when he came back.”
Nunez’s career path has changed a few times since he first started college. Initially, he thought he wanted to work in the field of architecture. But the opportunity to play basketball at the University of Florida opened his eyes to a new world.
“It all started my junior year of college,” Nunez said. “I had studied architecture for three-and-a-half years, but being around Coach Donovan and his staff at Florida really opened my eyes to this world of college athletics. I sat down with Jeremy Foley and some of his staff members at the time and they gave me really good insight into the world of college athletics.”
That’s when Nunez was bitten by the athletics bug. And there was no stopping him from that point forward.
“I took a couple of classes in sports administration and, that summer, I ended up changing majors,” Nunez said. “I was able to finish up and catch up. Architecture and sports administration don’t really mix, but I was able to bust my rear end to catch up and do what I needed to do. From that point, every opportunity that I had was even more eye-opening. I did an internship and worked in the athletic association at UF. It was a really good in helping me understand what it entails at this level and how big of an organization college athletics is.”
Following his senior season at Florida, Nunez was forced to deal with a difficult summer. His father had taken ill and later passed away. Nunez was back home in Miami for the summer and wasn’t too focused on what would come next.
But as he had been there for him his entire career, Donovan was the one to make the first phone call. He offered Nunez an unpaid opportunity to work with his basketball team. He ecstatically returned to Gainesville, working all kinds of odd jobs in order to support himself and pay for his graduate school tuition.
“Coach Donovan said he had a spot for me, but didn’t have any money that first year to help with my school,” Nunez said. “He said that in my second year, I would have the opportunity to have my graduate school paid for. I took it and ran with it. That first year, I did everything from substitute teach on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to working at the academic center at night as a study hall monitor while I was working in the basketball office. Fortunately, I got to continue to open my eyes to college athletics.”
It wasn’t just basketball, academics and his career that filled Nunez’s life. He also tried to find every way possible to get involved during his college days to make his experience as well-rounded as possible.
“Florida is a wonderful environment that does a great job of integrating college athletes into the entire experience,” Nunez said. “I did a lot not just with other student-athletes, but also on campus and in the community. There are a lot of events I did with the community that opened me up to understanding another world out there besides basketball. I was very involved in anything I could be. I also worked very hard to get the grades that I did. I was not the smartest person in the world, but knew I had to work three times as hard to achieve what I wanted to achieve.”
Student-athletes serve as role models to people of all ages and walks of life. Nunez understood that when he was a student-athlete and it is something that he stresses to the student-athletes that he works with today.
“It’s extremely integral,” Nunez said. “As student-athletes, whether you think it or not, you are a role model to many individuals. Young athletes have such influence on not just the kids out there, but also adults. You have to be able to show that as a student-athlete, you can go out to the community and be a part of that community. You have to go out and represent yourself, your family, your program and your institution. You have to take that responsibility seriously.”
Nunez also understands his responsibility as a role model as an athletics administrator. He knows that there are many people out there who aspire to work in collegiate athletics and achieve a similar position.
“If you want to get in athletics, do whatever you can do to get your foot in the door,” Nunez said. “If they tell you the opportunity is in facilities, compliance or whatever, do what is available and learn as much as you can learn. Be a sponge. If you really want this to be your life, you have to be able to roll up your sleeves and do the little things.
“That’s how I got to where I am today. Being a student-athlete and an administrator, I can say that if you want to get into this world, do as much you can possibly do and learn wherever it is. Ultimately it will pay off.”