As John Suarez made the decision to step down as Long Island University athletic director, he started to receive gentle reminders recently of how long his career there has been.
He was taken aback when Iona College baseball coach Pat Carey congratulated him on his 17-year tenure this spring.
He has plenty to show for his tenure. The Blackbirds’ athletic department reached new heights under his stewardship.
His time there started with hoops stars Richie Parker, Mike Campbell and Charles Jones lighting up the scoreboard at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, but the athletic department eventually needed an overhaul. The ascension started with the completion of the state-of-the-art Steinberg Wellness Center in 2006.
It provided the school with a 2,000-seat arena, a regulation pool and a fitness center. The building has also become a gift to the whole city, as it became the home of numerous high school hoops tournaments and playoff games. Suarez called it the “crown jewel” of what he accomplished at Long Island University.
“I knew once we got the building built, it was going to change not only the basketball program, but all of our programs,” Suarez said. “We finally have a home for all the teams, and that was the turning point. It just started to take off.”
The Blackbirds have won 34 conference titles over the last 10 years, including a school record of 12 in the last three seasons. There have also been 36 coach-of-the-year awards overall. The men’s basketball team became the first program to win three consecutive conference titles, and began to steal headlines from some of the area’s larger schools.
What Suarez did was move with the times. He watched the program flourish as Downtown Brooklyn was starting to also. The Blackbirds twice upgraded its baseball and softball field, added cross country and swimming last season, and forged a partnership with the Barclays Center that guarantees playing multiple games there each season.
“In those 17 years, you think of where Downtown Brooklyn has been, and where it is now in the 17 years, I feel great that we were a small part of that, hopefully,” Suarez said.
He is enjoying looking back on his legacy. And no matter what he does next or how it turns out, Suarez has accomplished a great deal in Brooklyn, and left the Blackbirds’ athletic department in far better shape than he found it.