In his 14-year run as Wittenberg athletic director, Garnett Purnell saw the Tigers win a national championship in volleyball, lose a national championship game in men’s basketball at the buzzer, become the first NCAA Division III football program to win 700 games and add numerous full-time assistant coaches in men’s and women’s sports.
Wittenberg had one of the nation’s strongest Division III athletic programs when Purnell was hired on Aug. 1, 1999. You could argue it’s even stronger today as he prepares for his final weeks on the job.
Purnell, 63, announced his retirement Monday effective Aug. 16. He cited “health reasons” as one of the contributing factors. He wants to spend more time with his family in the coming years.
“It’s important to step back and give this opportunity to someone else who has a little bit more energy, who’s body can take the stress that the AD job has,” Purnell said. “With my son just getting married last month and possibly having grandchildren down the line, I want to be around.”
Purnell will still teach one class this fall semester. He also wants to work in retirement on becoming certified as a Catholic lay minister with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Under Purnell’s leadership, Wittenberg won the North Coast Athletic Conference’s Dennis M. Collins All-Sports Trophy in 2009-10 and finished second three times and third three times. Among the many coaches hired during his tenure were Paco Labrador, who has built one of the nation’s strongest volleyball programs, and Jeff Roope, whose men’s golf program has won four straight NCAC titles.
“The thing about being a good manager is finding good people and letting them do their job,” Purnell said.
The Wittenberg football program has continued to excel during Purnell’s tenure. Improvements to the weight room, new turf at Edwards-Maurer Field and the addition of full-time assistant coaches have helped head coach Joe Fincham and his program.
“(Purnell’s) the fourth different AD I’ve worked with here,” Fincham said. “Garnett is a tremendous person. No job is too small for the guy. He has zero ego. He’s been very good to listen to. His door’s always been open when I’ve had a problem.”
Wittenberg is working on a short-term transition plan that will involve an interim AD. It will soon begin a national search for Purnell’s successor. That search will be led by Wittenberg’s faculty athletic representatives, professors Jeff Ankrom and Wendy Gradwohl.