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MOUNT VERNON — Keith Hackett loved his time as athletics director at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, calling the state 'one of the most beautiful places on our planet.'
But Cornell College, where he took over as AD earlier this month, is more like home.
Hackett said his undergraduate years as a student and football team captain at Tarkio (Mo.) College in the 1970s played a big role is his development.
'The person who I've become today, as an educator, as a man, as a father-husband, all started with my experience at a small private independent college like Cornell,' he said Friday while formally being introduced as Cornell's next AD. 'People took an interest in me, they took an interest in my development.'
Cornell is a different kind of NCAA Division III college, with its one-course-at-a-time system and Ivy League-like academic standards. Hackett joked he wouldn't have been accepted at Cornell out of high school.
But it's exactly the kind of place he cherishes today after more than 40 years in higher education. To Hackett, being an athlete is important, but being a college graduate with great potential is essential.
'My purpose was to be the best teacher, mentor, coach, guide and role model that I could be,' he said.
'I'm happy to be back in an environment where, I too, can have an influence and impact on the lives of not just student-athletes, but on students and colleagues here at the college.
'Cornell is a very, very special place … It changes the lives of men and women who walk through the door.'
But make no mistake, Hackett also is a big college sports fans. He was AD at UAA since 2013, overseeing 13 NCAA Div. II sports. He's been an associate AD at Nevada-Reno. He was head baseball coach and an assistant football coach at Baker University and spent three years on the football staff at Memphis State.
The man has experience.
'Athletics is very important because I think it's something that brings people together, it brings the community together, it brings our campus community together,' he said. 'It's something that draws people back … I think it's good for the entire campus.'
And he wants Cornell to be competitive, not only in the Midwest Conference, but nationally. A point of pride at Alaska-Anchorage was the school's climb up the Learfield Directors Cup standings. Two years ago, UAA finished eighth nationally.
'I'm a big fan of the Learfield Directors Cup program,' he said. 'I'd like to see us continue to move up (at Cornell), continue to progress in that way.'
But, as Cornell President Jonathan Brand mentioned in his introduction, Hackett also understands the balance he must attain at Cornell.
'Most important is the kind of success and experience our student-athletes have as students on our campus,' he said ' … This is a life-changing place and we want our students-athletes to experience the entire gamut of what happens here at Cornell.'
Hackett said he's already feeling comfortable in Mount Vernon — 'it was a little hot last Thursday and Friday for someone from Alaska,' he said with a laugh — but is feeling a little guilty about leaving his wife, Patricia in Anchorage to take care of the move.
'It's about a 10-day drive in a truck,' he said, noting most items are shipped in and out of Alaska. 'It's a pretty good trip.'
He said Anchorage was a great place to spend four years. He has pictures of moose walking down his street and had a 'close call' with a black bear last year. 'I don't think he was hungry,' he said.
But Mount Vernon is now home and the Rams are his favorite sports team.
'This is the perfect place for me,' he said,
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