Bates College is small, but not too small, and it loves its athletics.

Those two factors were key among the many that swayed Kevin McHugh to accept the job as the school’s new athletic director.

McHugh, 50, director of athletics at The College of New Jersey, has accepted the same position at Bates, ending a 20-year run with the Ewing, N.J. school.

“I’ve told a number of folks that if you’d asked me three or four months ago if I’d ever leave The College of New Jersey to take another Division III job, I would have said, ‘Why would I do that?'” McHugh said in a telephone interview Monday. “But when Bates first contacted me, it was the first time since I’ve been at The College of New Jersey that I really sat back and thought about it.”

Former swim coach and associate director of athletics Dana Mulholland has served as interim director since the departure of Suzanne Coffey, who left last June after 15 years to become athletic director at Amherst.

McHugh’s appointment at Bates ends a six-month national search by the school, and his term will begin July 1.

“I started looking into Bates, and I looked at the mission statement of the college where it talks about the value of athletics to the value of the educational experience,” McHugh said. “I went up to see the school and everything kept reinforcing itself that it’s a very special place. I’m looking forward to the challenge of being at a new place and starting fresh.”

“His life and career exemplify the finest qualities of athletic leadership, and we are very pleased that he will be joining Bates,” College President Elaine Tuttle Hansen said in a statement released Monday.

At The College of New Jersey, McHugh is credited with transforming separate intramural, recreational and intercollegiate sports departments into a unified Department of Athletics, and positioning the college’s recruitment efforts to successfully enroll a diverse array of student athletes. He has developed programs to acknowledge the academic accomplishments of his athletes, and during his tenure the college added women’s soccer as a varsity sport and seen it become a premier program in NCAA Division III.

McHugh said that he fell in love with Bates more and more with each visit, though, and realized the time was right for a change.

“Most recently I just went up on my own, just to get a feel of the place separate from the interview process,” McHugh said, “just to kind of take things in. But on a campus the size of Bates, the word gets out pretty quickly.”

McHugh said that the intimate setting was another of the school’s big draws.

“The size and the intimacy of that type of campus, that whole notion of the collegiality of the place is something that really was an attraction for me,” McHugh said. “You have people, both students and faculty, that really live and breathe the college.”

A native of Wharton, N.J., McHugh earned his bachelor of arts degree in Latin American studies from Columbia University in 1978.

McHugh earned his master of science degree in sport management from the University of Massachusetts, where he served as an assistant wrestling coach and junior varsity football coach. A former chair of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee, McHugh was inducted into the National Wrestling Coaches Association Division III Wrestling Hall of Fame as a contributor to the sport.

Active in NCAA governance, McHugh was elected vice chair of the NCAA Division III Management Council last winter, and will resign his council membership later this spring to focus on his new responsibilities at Bates.

“I don’t think had I stayed on the council I would have done a service to either Bates or to the management council,” McHugh said. “I really want to sink my everything into the position and get started on the right foot and go from there.”

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