Derrick Gragg named Northwestern’s next athletic director


Daily file photo by Ben Pope

Ryan Fieldhouse. Derrick Gragg was named Northwestern’s next athletic director Friday morning.

Drew Schott, Sports Editor

Less than a month after the resignation of Mike Polisky, Northwestern named Derrick Gragg as its next athletic director. 

Gragg, the NCAA’s senior vice president for inclusion, education and community engagement, was announced as the University’s 23rd athletic director Friday morning. He will be the first person of color to serve in the role.

I am thrilled and humbled to join the Northwestern University family at this pivotal moment in college athletics,” Gragg said in a University news release. “These young people need more support than ever in the midst of challenging, changing and exciting times. I look forward to joining an incredible roster of coaches and staff in Evanston on this collaborative mission to help our Wildcats achieve at the highest level as students, as athletes and as people.”

A press conference introducing Gragg will take place Monday at noon in Evanston. 

At the NCAA, Gragg ran internal inclusion operations and supervising staff across the country in inclusion, education and community engagement. He also served as an ambassador of the organization to promote its goals of diversity and inclusion and oversaw its leadership development office. 

A former college football player at Vanderbilt, Gragg previously spent more than 25 years working in athletic administration. He served as the athletic director at Tulsa from 2013 to 2020 and at Eastern Michigan for seven years before that. In addition to stints as Arkansas’ deputy athletic director and Michigan’s assistant athletic director, Gragg served as director of compliance at Missouri and director of student life for the Commodores. 

“It was essential for us to find the right leader for the next chapter at Northwestern — someone who can build both academic and athletic excellence at a time of rapid change in the intercollegiate sports landscape, and also someone who can create the best possible environment for students, staff and coaches,” University President Morton Schapiro said in the release. “After talking extensively with Derrick, it was clear that he was the ideal person for the job.”

Linguistics Prof. Robert Gundlach, who moved into the position after Polisky’s resignation, will remain NU’s interim athletic director until Gragg takes over on July 1. 

Polisky, the former Deputy Athletic Director for External Affairs, was promoted on May 3 to succeed Jim Phillips, who departed to become commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

The promotion sparked immediate backlash from the University community. Polisky was named a defendant in a federal lawsuit, in which Weinberg senior Hayden Richardson alleged sexual exploitation in the cheerleading program and said Polisky accused her of “fabricating evidence.” 

Additionally, in a February investigation by The Daily Northwestern, multiple sources said Polisky did not sufficiently respond to allegations of racial discrimination within the program. 

While Schapiro published a statement defending the hire on date, backlash continued as 200 Northwestern students, faculty and staff and Evanston community members marched from The Rock to the president’s house to protest Polisky’s appointment. Polisky eventually resigned May 12, writing in a press release that the current challenges will not allow me to effectively lead our department.” 

The hire of Gragg marks Northwestern’s fifth leader of the athletic department since the start of 2021, following Phillips, Interim Athletic Director Janna Blais, Polisky and Gundlach. 

“Derrick Gragg is an extremely talented, professional and visionary leader who operates with passion and integrity,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in the release. “Derrick will lead the Northwestern University athletic department in a collaborative manner that will properly focus on the well-being of all Northwestern student-athletes.”

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