It has been a whirlwind of a couple months for Irma Garcia. Now that the dust has finally settled, it is time to go to work at Manhattan College as the school’s interim athletics director.
Former interim president Brother Daniel Gardner tabbed Garcia as the interim athletics director as announced by the school on June 7. The appointment came after Marianne Reilly’s resignation from her post, which was announced on June 1 but did not become official until July 1.
Garcia steps in at a time of overhaul and even a level of notoriety caused by the Jaspers athletics department’s compliance violations under Reilly’s watch, which were brought to light a few days before her resignation. Garcia’s first day, which was Aug. 1, came after a much-needed summer vacation to reflect and recharge.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Garcia told The Riverdale Press about Manhattan College. “It’s so beautiful here. The history of it, it’s up on a hill… once you get on campus you feel it is really a special place.”
Garcia has the interim tag for now, but she is all in on leading the Jaspers well into the future. That, of course, is a decision that lies in the hands of newly appointed Manhattan College President Milo Riverso and the school’s leadership.
“I feel confident they will take the interim off,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to talk about the past, but instead what we can do now and into the future.”
Garcia spent the last 16 years as AD at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. The end of the road came this past Spring when St. Francis announced it was cutting its NCAA Division I athletics programs. The financial situation became too dire, and as a result lives were upended.
“I was grateful for that opportunity,” Garcia said. “I will always be a good alum and will always give back to St. Francis because it is a place I truly love.’
For Garcia and everyone else involved, it is hard not to think back on the day sports shut down for good at St. Francis. The meetings with players and the premature goodbyes that followed were a sad reality for Garcia and her staff.
She was proud of how the coaches and players came together in that moment despite the circumstances. And also proud of her subordinates, many of whom went on to become athletics directors at various colleges and high schools. The staff was her “rock”, Garcia says.
“It was probably my darkest day,” Garcia said.
“When it came to the kids, they didn’t say anything but stood right behind me and gave me the strength and said ‘you got this.’”
During times of doubt this Summer, Garcia recalls receiving encouragement from people of all walks of life. It was a goobye to St. Francis, but a hello to new beginnings and a commemoration of a person who became the first Latina Division I athletics director in history.
“To me it’s not about who I am as the first Latina athletics director, it’s about what I do with it,” Garcia said. “And to inspire young woman to follow my footsteps.”
She received the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in April, and was recognized in May alongside the likes of Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright in the 2023 Basketball Old-Timers of America Hall of Fame class.
“Your book is going to be full of memories and stories that will inspire people, but it is up to you to do something with it,” Garcia says of her thought-process during those moments. “I had the platform to share that with them.”
Garcia got a firsthand glimpse of more Hall of Fame props with the induction of Becky Hammon into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Aug. 12. Hammon has a trailblazing resume, too, as the first female head coach in the NBA Summer League, and only the second woman to become an NBA coach when the San Antonio Spurs hired her as an assistant in 2014. And, fittingly, Hammon entered basketball lore in Springfield alongside her mentor and fellow Hall of Fame newcomer Gregg Popovich.
“I had a blast,” Garcia says of being there for her friend. “For Pop to acknowledge Becky and Becky in turn to acknowledge Pop for the opportunity he had given her.”
Whether she is on campus or on the road at special events, Garcia wants to tell the story of Manhattan College to others, including a sporting tradition that dates back to the late 19th century with founding athletics director and school mascot namesake Brother Jasper of Mary.
“I’m so excited to be there and watch these student athletes put in the work and get rewarded for it,” Garcia said.
But, most of all, to be a team player and a voice of reason for her staff and coaches. Her own experience over two decades ago as head coach for the St. Francis’ women’s basketball program for 11 seasons gave her an early handle on communication and adaptability.
“She is very good at dealing with difficult situations,” former St. Francis men’s basketball coach Glenn Braica told The Press. “I think because she was a coach she has an even better perspective.”
The immediate goals include the Fall sports season. Garcia has already met and spoken with members of the Jaspers men’s soccer program.
“I believe in an open-door policy,” Garcia said. “I want to know who I am signing for and vouching for.”
There is also the part of taking on the challenge of a new mid-major, like trying to get the men’s basketball program back to normal heights. These days, Garcia does not want the challenges of name, image, and likeness in college sports to set any limitations of having outsized success as a small basketball school.
After all, lower-budget schools like Fairleigh Dickinson, who shocked Purdue in the NCAA Tournament last season, is a shining example, Garcia says, or Saint Peter’s run to the Elite Eight in 2022.
“It’s unheard of in football because of the money,” Garcia said. “When money gets thrown around you don’t know who you are anymore.”