In two years as the University of New England’s director of athletics, Jack McDonald oversaw a key era of expansion that included hiring the school’s first football coach.

But when the Nor’easters play their first football game, a sub-varsity contest at Curry College on Sept. 2, McDonald will no longer be on the job.

McDonald informed his staff Wednesday morning that he will be stepping down effective Sept. 1 because of personal reasons.

“Family health reasons. That’s the reason,” said McDonald, who will turn 66 on Friday. “I’ve had an absolute blast working here. I’m fine. For those who have cared for me in my career, now it’s my turn to care for them.”

Curt Smyth, the senior associate director of athletics and the sports information director, will serve as the interim AD after McDonald’s departure.

The search for McDonald’s replacement won’t begin until the incoming school president, Dr. James Herbert, begins his job July 1, Smyth said. Herbert is replacing the current UNE president, Danielle Ripich.

“This is really a time to celebrate what Jack did here,” Smyth said. “I think he raised the level of student engagement and awareness of our program, not only across campus but across the community.”

McDonald started on June 1, 2015, shortly after Ripich announced plans to add football and women’s rugby to the athletic program.

In a press release, Ripich said, “Part of my vision for UNE has always been the growth of our athletics programs. Jack made that vision a reality, overseeing the addition of new sports and state-of-the-art athletic facilities while shepherding the success of our student-athletes.”

McDonald hired football coach Mike Lichten, women’s rugby coach Ashley Potvin-Fulford and men’s hockey coach Kevin Swallow.

Women’s rugby played its first game last fall.

The football team, which recently announced its first recruiting class, will play a sub-varsity schedule this fall and is set to join the Commonwealth Coast Conference as a varsity member in 2018.

McDonald also oversaw the 35,000-square foot expansion of the Harold Alfond Forum, a project that doubled training, weight and equipment room space, and added locker rooms to provide the infrastructure to support new programs.

Smyth said McDonald also worked closely with Patty Williams, the assistant director of athletics for club and intramural sports, to expand and improve club and intramural offerings for the student body.

One year into McDonald’s tenure, he was promoted to vice president of student engagement.

“I wish I could stay longer, I really do,” McDonald said. “My time here has been probably two of the happiest years of my career. I wish it could be longer.”

McDonald grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts, the oldest of 11 children. He and his wife, Linda, who have four grown sons, will move from Biddeford to their home in Ocean Bluff, Massachusetts. Six of McDonald’s siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews, live in Ocean Bluff.

Before coming to UNE, McDonald was the athletic director at Quinnipiac from 1995-2015, overseeing that school’s transition to Division I athletics in 1998.

McDonald was also the athletic director at the University of Denver (1990-95) and the assistant director of athletics for marketing at Boston College (1987-90).

“He has a strong personality that makes you believe in UNE and the mission he has, so being around that guy was a treat every day,” Lichten said. “Jack made me feel part of something special.”

Lichten said the addition to the Alfond Forum is a testament to McDonald’s efforts.

“That was a $12 million addition that speaks to his vision and his influence, and he’s established a kind of long-term plan in terms of growth of the university and the athletic department,” Lichten said.

McDonald said there are long-term plans for additional facilities and outdoor fields, but a new football-only stadium is not in the immediate future.

A first step will be to replace the existing bright blue artificial surface, now seven years old, with a larger surface that would accommodate football. That is slated to “hopefully” happen in the summer of 2018, McDonald said.

“The first goal is to fill up the stadium we have, and fill up the parking lot and have long lines at the concession stand, and then decide what to do next,” McDonald said. “We’ve got some plans but they can’t all happen at once.”

Lichten said the foundation that McDonald and Ripich helped to build will provide for continued growth for UNE athletics.

“I think we’re only going to grow and challenge to reach new heights every day because of the work Jack and President Ripich have done,” Lichten said.

“They have also built a culture that isn’t going to be a variable because that’s what culture is. It’s something that transcends one person.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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