This past academic year, questions were raised regarding the contract situations of two head coaches of marquee Stony Brook University teams. Chuck Priore of the football team was quietly given a three-year contract extension back in June 2022, while Geno Ford of the men’s basketball team is now entering the final year of his current contract.
The irony in it all is that Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron — the man negotiating these contracts — is working without one himself.
According to a copy of Heilbron’s contract obtained by The Statesman in a Freedom of Information Law request, Heilbron was given a three-year contract extension by former university president Samuel Stanley in July 2019. The extension kept Heilbron under contract through June 30, 2022. Current university president Maurie McInnis did not extend Heilbron’s contract before it expired.
Though Heilbron has not been extended, that does not necessarily mean that McInnis is planning to remove him from his position. Employees of Stony Brook University are employed under union guidelines, which protects them from abrupt firings. If the institution wants to get rid of a contracted employee, it must issue them a notice of non-renewal at least one year before their contract expires.
McInnis opted not to do that, allowing Heilbron to return for this year as the school’s athletic director without a long-term contract.
Since Heilbron is returning by default and not via extension, he is serving under the same conditions of the previous contract. The contract pays him $340,000 per year, plus incentives for accolades and accomplishments of both himself and the department.
In an interview with The Statesman on March 30, Heilbron confirmed that he does not have a contract for the future, but is optimistic that the situation will be resolved.
“I’ve spoken with the president about it,” Heilbron said. “I feel very confident in how we’re proceeding. It’s something that we’ve discussed. She’s been incredibly supportive of me and our department so honestly, I’m not overly concerned about it.”
It remains unclear why Heilbron has not been extended. He attributed it to busyness on behalf of both McInnis and himself.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about and quite frankly, there’s a lot going on,” Heilbron said. “I’m focused on running the department; she’s focused on running the University. My focus is day-to-day. I put the pressure on myself everyday. Our path is very much right in front of us and I really appreciate her support. We’ll get around to an extension.”
Heilbron was hired in the spring of 2014 as the successor to former athletic director Jim Fiore, who was fired in November 2013 due to sexual misconduct allegations. Heilbron officially assumed the position on July 1, 2014.
During his time, Stony Brook has reached new heights. The department won its first-ever America East Conference (AE) Commissioner’s Cup in the 2018-19 academic year before repeating in 2020-21. In January 2022, Heilbron helped land an agreement to move Stony Brook to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) — a deeper conference with generally higher Rankings Power Index numbers.
On the field, Stony Brook has had some success under Heilbron as well. The women’s lacrosse team achieved the school’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and has become a perennial top-10 team nationally. The baseball team has been to two NCAA regionals (2015 and 2019) while also winning four regular season titles in that span. The football team made the playoffs in 2017 and 2018. The men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever in 2016, and the women’s basketball team accomplished the same feat in 2021. The women’s soccer team made it to three NCAA tournaments in a four-season span (2017, 2019, 2020-21). The women’s volleyball team made it to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in 2017 and 2018.
However, things have not entirely been trending upwards for Heilbron and Stony Brook Athletics. Since the start of the new decade, only the women’s soccer, women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse teams have made it to the NCAA Tournament. The football team is mired in a four-year playoff drought and is coming off its worst season ever by record.
The move to the CAA has been hard on just about all of the other teams except for the men’s cross country team, both lacrosse teams and the women’s basketball team.
Though the University has not yet made a long-term commitment to Heilbron, he said that his motivation to win right now is not contract-driven.
“I always feel the pressure, whether I have a five-year contract or a five-day contract,” Heilbron said. “There’s such a finite amount of time that we have to do this. But, I feel pressure every day to win. I want to win every year no matter what the situation is.”
The University did not immediately return a request for comment.
McInnis has not publicly spoken about Heilbron’s contract situation or potential future with Stony Brook. As of now, only time will tell what the University’s president decides to do with the head of her athletics department.