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Homecoming: Phil Esten named Director of Athletics

Mark Brown photo
Mark Brown photo



PHOTO: Phil Esten joins UST President Dr. Julie Sullivan today on his announced hiring as athletics director


The University of St. Thomas today introduced a new vice president and director of athletics who will start in January 2019. Phil Esten (@pjesten) is a '95 alumnus who played baseball for the NCAA Division III Tommies.

"I'm excited that we are bringing a Tommie home to lead our athletics program," stated Julie Sullivan, president of St. Thomas. "I can't tell you how important it is that Phil was a St. Thomas student-athlete and that he embraces the core principles of Division III athletics: a quality student-athlete experience, academic success and athletics as an integral part of the student-athlete educational experience. He took his and bachelor's degree in corporate fitness-business from St. Thomas and used it to learn the business, operations and fundraising components of NCAA sports, while never losing sight of the student-athlete experience."

Esten brings experience from athletics leadership positions at Big Ten and PAC 12 universities. Since 2014 he has served as deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer for Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics, working closely with Sandy Barbour. He previously served the University of California, Berkley (2012-2014); the University of Minnesota (2004-2012) and The Ohio State University where he earned his master's. He earned his Ph.D. in kinesiology – sports management from the University of Minnesota.

"President Sullivan's vision for St. Thomas is both ambitious and inspiring. She is committed to excellence in all areas. I'm truly honored to have the opportunity to work alongside her, the St. Thomas Board of Trustees and so many others on campus who share a passion for St. Thomas," Esten said. "I have a strong passion for the impact athletics can have on student-athletes and the broader community. Marrying that with my affinity to my alma mater is something I'm really excited about." In the last 50 years, St. Thomas has had only two athletic directors. Esten will follow Steve Fritz who will retire in June after 27 years in the role, with a total of 52 years at the university. Frank Mach served as athletics director from 1968-1992.

"Of course, the biggest testament to the outstanding leadership and experience Phil brings came during my discussions about him with Steve Fritz. Like Steve, Phil is a family man of outstanding character and great integrity. Steve was not only confident of this hiring decision; he was thrilled," Sullivan shared.

Esten will start at St. Thomas after the season concludes for Penn State football.

Esten returns to lead a St. Thomas program that has excelled regionally and nationally in both the classroom and in athletics: St. Thomas ranks in the top 20 of all Division III institutions in Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-Americas with 101, including 78 honorees since 2000-2001. Along with 16 national championships, St. Thomas is the lone Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference school – and one of just 12 national Division III institutions – to place in the top 10 percent (top 40) all 21 years of the Learfield Division III Directors' Cup all-sport standings.

"I grew up the son of Division III coach, and was a Division III athlete myself, so my values have developed around the idea of the student-athlete in a true sense," he said. "St. Thomas is among the very best across the country at the Division III level. Steve has built a phenomenal program."

Returning to St. Thomas is a homecoming for his family, as well: His wife, Dani, is a 2001 alumna, and together they have three children: Lucas, Cooper and Hannah.

"We're grateful to Phil Esten for the incredible impact he's had on Penn State, Intercollegiate Athletics, our students, and our community," Sandy Barbour, Penn State Director of Athletics said. "As a St. Thomas graduate and baseball student-athlete, Phil has a great passion and understanding of the mission of St. Thomas and the role that Athletics plays on campus and with alumni, students and fans. thrilled for Phil and his family for this opportunity at his alma mater. St. Thomas students, coaches and community will benefit greatly from his strong, determined and passionate leadership. The Penn State nation is grateful for his time with the Nittany Lions and wish he and Dani great success at St. Thomas."

"Excitement is the only word for it," Esten said. "This is an opportunity for Dani and me to come home. It's something we've thought about for a long time."


About the University of St. Thomas

Located in St. Paul, Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas is a private, liberal arts university that emphasizes values-based education and career preparation. With more than 10,000 students, it is Minnesota's largest nonprofit, independent college or university. St. Thomas has 22 NCAA Division III sports and is a member of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The university welcomes students of all ages, religions, races and financial backgrounds. Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. The university has three campuses: St. Paul, Minneapolis and Rome, Italy.