Slippery Rock University Athletic Director Paul Lueken.

SLIPPERY ROCK – After more than 26 years leading the Slippery Rock University Athletic Department, Paul Lueken announced today that he will retire from his position as director of athletics at the end of the calendar year.

Lueken will officially step away from his position Jan. 1, 2021. Current faculty athletic representative and physical education department chair Joanne Leight will serve as the interim AD during the spring semester. A national search will take place in early 2021 to identify the next athletic director, who will assume the position prior to the fall semester in 2021. Lueken will continue to serve as AD for the remainder of the fall semester with his official last day set for Jan. 1, 2021.

“I am extremely proud to have served as director of athletics at SRU for more than 26 years, assisting our great student-athletes and coaches in achieving tremendous success in the classroom and on the playing fields,” said Lueken. “I hope folks will remember my time at The Rock as someone who loved the experience of working with student-athletes and coaches to achieve many goals, and as someone who helped transform SRU athletics into a top NCAA Division II program. It has always been my intention to improve Rock Athletics through strategic actions and help our teams succeed into the future.”

A 1983 graduate of Earlham College (Indiana), Lueken earned his master’s degree in sports administration from St. Thomas University in Florida in 1985. He joined the Slippery Rock athletic department after serving as an assistant AD and head golf coach at Eastern Illinois University from 1990-94. Lueken, who arrived at Slippery Rock in August of 1994, has worked with six different SRU presidents during his tenure.

“Paul has been an outstanding representative of this institution, and we are grateful to him for his incredible run and years of service,” said William Behre, current SRU president. “The university truly values all the work he’s done for our institution, athletics and especially our student-athletes. Paul did a great job of not micro-managing, while at the same time having his finger on the pulse of the department. He wasn’t nearly as concerned about why you were running a particular scheme as he was about making sure you knew the recruiting rules. His leadership and direction have provided a stable and clarifying vision for our programs that have resulted in both academic and athletic excellence.”

One of the high points of that athletic excellence for Slippery Rock came during the 2007-08 academic year, when The Rock won the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Dixon Trophy, presented to the top overall athletic department in the league. While that year marked the only Dixon Trophy win in SRU history, The Rock has routinely placed in the top third of the Dixon Trophy standings each year, even as the conference expanded from 14 to 18 teams.

“In terms of athletic success, I will always be proud of our run to win the Dixon Trophy in 2008 and also that we were able to maintain our position toward the top of the standings ever since,” said Lueken. “That speaks to the overall stability of all of our teams and our athletic department.”

While winning the Dixon Trophy was an impressive feat, it is far from the lone athletic accomplishment at SRU under Lueken’s leadership. Since Lueken took over the athletic department in 1994, The Rock has won a total of 39 PSAC championships and had 11 individual student-athletes win a national title.

Among the top team accomplishments under Lueken are 8 appearances in the NCAA Division II football playoffs, including 2 trips to the national semifinals with the most recent coming in 2019 when SRU earned the right to host the semifinals. The track & field programs have also shined during Lueken’s tenure, winning a combined 19 PSAC titles between men and women. In total, 11 different teams at SRU won at least 1 PSAC title during Lueken’s tenure with women’s teams claiming 21 titles and men’s teams 18.

The athletic success can be traced to a number of positive moves made under Lueken, from the hiring of quality coaches to the creation and significant enhancements to athletic facilities. Perhaps the most significant piece of The Rock’s athletic success came from Lueken’s fundraising and advocating for additional scholarship money for student-athletes. When he took over in 1994, the total athletic scholarship fund was just over $300,000 annually. When he retires in January, it will be more than $1.1 million awarded annually.

Under Lueken, numerous facilities were constructed and all of SRU’s athletic facilities underwent major upgrades. The creation of new facilities during his tenure included the field hockey and lacrosse locker rooms, training room and offices at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium and the women’s soccer and softball locker rooms and offices at the SRU Softball Complex. While all of the facilities at SRU have received significant upgrades, the most impressive upgrade to the SRU campus under Lueken came with the construction of Jack Critchfield Park and its significant enhancement that was completed just this summer. The state-of-the-art home of Slippery Rock baseball is now one of the finest collegiate baseball facilities in the country, regardless of NCAA division.

Slippery Rock routinely hosts PIAA, WPIAL and District 10 high school playoff events, in addition to cheerleading regional tournaments, youth soccer tourneys and camps and clinics.

Lueken is most proud of the tremendous academic success of The Rock’s student-athletes.

During his tenure, Slippery Rock has ranked at or near the top of all PSAC schools in academic success. A total of 11 SRU student-athletes have been named the PSAC Pete Nevins Scholar-Athlete of Year during his tenure, while 69 SRU student-athletes have been named to PSAC Top 10 teams. That number is just two shy of Shippensburg (71) for the most in the PSAC. Since 1994, Slippery Rock has had a total of 75 student-athletes named to CoSIDA Academic All-America honors and The Rock lead all schools in the Atlantic Region and rank sixth nationally in that category.

When Lueken took over in the fall of 1994, Slippery Rock’s student-athletes combined for an average GPA of 2.614 his first semester on campus. Over the course of his tenure, that average has risen with The Rock’s student-athletes posting a 3.532 cumulative GPA in the spring of 2020. Since 1994, Slippery Rock’s student-athletes have a total combined average GPA of 3.064.

“All of the success in competition is nice,” said Lueken. “But, at the end of the day the thing I am most proud of is the academic success of our student-athletes. To be able to watch our student-athletes become some of the top academic students on campus and to see them leave here and go on to exceptional careers has been the most rewarding piece for me.”

While Lueken will be retiring from the university in January, he plans to stay connected to D-II athletics and to Slippery Rock by taking on a consulting role with the PSAC, where he will help out with championship events and other administrative tasks. This role will also allow Lueken to continue to serve as a member of the NCAA D-II Football Committee.

“I will miss the daily interaction with our student-athletes, staff and coaches,” said Lueken. “But I plan to continue to live in the area and will always be cheering on our Rock teams.”