Aug 21, 2013, 11:59 PM EDT
There are many student-athletes that graduate from the University of Notre Dame and enter careers outside of sports after they hang up their uniform for the final time. However, you may not know that some find their way back to Notre Dame to help mold the next-generation of student-athlete in a variety of non-coaching positions. Over the next five days we will present five Notre Dame graduates who have returned to their alma mater to work in a collection of different departments.
August 19 • Kevin Deeth ’10 (Hockey)
August 20 • George West ’09 (Football)
August 21 • Sara Liebscher ’91, MBA ’93 (Basketball)
August 22 • Steve Sollmann ’04 (Baseball)
August 23 • Mike McNeill ’88 (Hockey)
Former Notre Dame women’s basketball co-captain Sara Liebscher has been down many career paths in the 20-years since she first left Notre Dame. She has gone from student-athlete to graduate assistant coach to working in finance and to academic services before finding her niche in her current position as director of athletics advancement at Notre Dame.
In her current role as director of athletics advancement, Liebscher is responsible for raising money for athletics campaigns, facilitating the relationship between development and athletics and overlooking strategic projects for the department.
While in school Liebscher didn’t always think she would be back working at Notre Dame, yet alone in development.
“If you asked me back then what I would be doing after graduation, I wouldn’t have known in the least bit,” said Liebscher. “However, I can promise you I didn’t think I would be working at Notre Dame. My current position is one that when you look back on your career and think about it, I would never had the smallest inkling that I would have ended up here back when I graduated. No idea at all. I didn’t even know development existed.”
After graduation women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw approached Liebscher with a proposition, become a graduate assistant coach and earn an MBA. Liebscher jumped at the opportunity to continue working with McGraw.
“When Coach McGraw asked me to stay on and be her graduate assistant, I didn’t really know what to say,” Liebscher remarked. “I was in the process of looking at what my next step would be and then she offered me the opportunity to get my MBA and coach with her for two years. To get another two years of a Notre Dame education and still be part of the program for which I loved, it was an easy choice for me.”
What was next for Liebscher’s career was daunting. She had to step out of the Notre Dame bubble and begin her life in the real world.
“After receiving my MBA, I decided it was time to see what the real world was all about,” Liebscher quipped. “I had multiple coaching opportunities coming off of my stint working for Coach McGraw as her GA and I had other business opportunities because of having the MBA. I chose the business opportunity and went to PNC Bank.”
While at PNC Bank, Liebscher entered into their corporate management training program. The program lasted six months and provided her with solid financial banking experience and gave her the opportunity to see a different side of the industry. Upon completing her training she was placed in PNC Bank’s corporate banking division and sent to Pittsburgh for a year before capping off her banking career with two years in Cincinnati.
After leaving PNC Bank Liebscher got the itch to return to coaching and was offered an associate head coach position at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a mid-major program that is a member of the Horizon League. One of the main reasons that Liebscher accepted the position was because her former teammate at Notre Dame, Sandy Botham (’88), was the head coach.
With the help of Liebscher, the Panthers went from a middling team in the league to a league title and a berth in the NCAA Championship.
Having done the coaching career for a few years, Liebscher was unsure of what was next for her.
“At a certain point I told myself I needed to make a decision for my future,” said Liebscher. “That is when I decided that I either need to be a head coach or get back on a business-oriented path. At that point I decided I wanted to shift back to the sports-business side of things and come back to Notre Dame.”
One of Liebscher’s first calls was to director of academic services Pat Holmes. Holmes had an opening in his office for student-athlete academic services and offered Liebscher the job, she accepted.
Liebscher spent some time in academic services providing guidance to the next-generation of student-athletes and then she received an offer that would pave the way for her current career.
“”After Pat Holmes gave me the great opportunity to work in academic services, I started to get to know vice president for university relations Lou Nanni and then athletic director Kevin White,” Liebscher proclaimed. “One day they came to me and offered me an opportunity to get involved with development in an athletics development position. That position is where I found that I could truly combine my two passions – athletics and business.”
Liebscher’s stay in athletic development lasted six years before she was promoted to the regional director of development for the west coast for Notre Dame’s development office, a position she held since 2009. Just a few weeks again, she was offered the opportunity to head up athletics development in the position she currently holds as director of athletics advancement.
“What other kind of job do you work with unbelievably successful people from all walks of life and with unbelievably generous people?” Liebscher asked rhetorically. “You get this great combination of people that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. I’m exposed to great people in the job I have.”
The work ethic that Liebscher embodies is the epitome of her collegiate coach and mentor, Muffet McGraw.
“Coach McGraw woke me up to the real world a little bit,” Liebscher said half-jokingly. “When you come out of high school you think you are the best player, but coming to play for Coach (McGraw) puts you in your place. She is very disciplined and honest. She is not one to mince her words, which is a great thing. Having that style of coach that taught me a lot in terms of growing up and how to take the constructive criticism is so important. I always thought I was competitive until I met Coach McGraw.”
Having been around McGraw for six years, Liebscher had many chances to learn some skills that she would attempt to use as her career began.
“I remember coming to watch her prepare for practice and meetings and being astonished how organized and detailed she was,” said Liebscher. “From a business perspective that always impressed me. When she would speak to a group it would always blow me away. Here is this woman who is tough as nails towards us in practice and she would get up in front of this group of people and command the crowd and have them laughing and crying. Overall, I always thought Coach McGraw had the complete package.”
As in any job it can be tough sometimes when things aren’t going your way. Whenever that happens to Liebscher she just thinks back to playing for McGraw, juggling 15-18 credit hours, running 200’s in the morning and then coming back for a second workout in the afternoon. That usually helped her attitude.
Someone as successful as Liebscher has to have carried themselves the right way through life and lived by a motto that they try to achieve each and every day. For Liebscher it was no different. Something that McGraw used to mention sticks with her to this day.
“Don’t give up until you get where you want to be.”
For Liebscher she has worked hard to get where she wants to be – home at Notre Dame.
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