SFU athletic director relishes challenges
Robinson Fruchtl plans to move on from post in March
Susan Robinson Fruchtl has experienced intercollegiate athletics at the highest level at Penn State and on a smaller scale at Saint Francis University.
Robinson Fruchtl grew up in Center Point, W.Va., about the same size as Loretto, and was recruited to play basketball at Penn State.
“My college coach, Rene Portland, had a big impact on my life. She found me in the hills of West Virginia. I’ve always tried to remember my roots. I remember where I came from. The reason I was successful was I had a chip on my shoulder. I tried to do things people said I couldn’t do. I relished that,” Robinson Fruchtl, athletic director at Saint Francis, told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club on Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park.
Robinson Fruchtl, who was recently named one of the 20 greatest athletes in Penn State history, started playing basketball in second grade and grew up loving sports.
“I fell in love with sports. They have taken me a lot of places,” she said. “I always wanted to coach. My high school coach had a big impact on me; he was a good Christian guy. I saw myself as a teacher and coach. College opened me up to a bigger world. I loved learning; this was the path I wanted to pursue.”
After graduating from Penn State, she played professionally in Japan for one year and returned to Penn State as an assistant coach.
In 2007, she took the job as head coach of the women’s basketball team at Saint Francis and held that job through 2012 when she moved on to Providence as head coach.
“I loved my Saint Francis experience coaching-wise, but I wanted to coach at a higher level,” she said.
She returned to Saint Francis in 2016 to take over the position of athletic director.
“When Frank Monetcalvo and Father Malachi called me in 2016, I didn’t hesitate. I wasn’t looking to get out of coaching, but I felt this area is our home,” Robinson Fruchtl said.
Saint Francis is one of the smallest Division I schools in the country.
“Our kids are student-athletes. That is our model. Athletes at Saint Francis put in a ton of hours. Academics is their ticket. I tell my players that is their future,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “Our student athletes averaged a 3.0 grade point average for 41 straight semesters. We are proud of that. Our kids are doing some awesome things; they are blue collar.”
Saint Francis looks for a special type of coach.
“We cannot hire a coach who won’t put academics first; it won’t work in our model. Our success has been a culmination of many years working to increase scholarships and staff members. We are recruiting high-level kids,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “We have patience with our coaches. We hire a lot of younger people, and our salaries are a lot lower. You cut your teeth at our level. We don’t mind being a stepping stone after four or five years.
“Coaches who are successful at Saint Francis do more with less and take pride in mentoring and developing their players as a person first, we stress development over performance.”
Robinson Fruchtl announced in October that she would be leaving her position in March to pursue other career opportunities.
She had a very busy year in 2019, serving as both AD and head coach of the Red Flash women’s basketball team. Coach Joe Haigh resigned for personal reasons at the start of the season last November, so Robinson Fruchtl stepped in as the interim coach.
“It is a personal decision; you need to make decisions about your priorities,” she said. “I need to make a change. Coaching this year was the right thing to do. I have to decide what I want to do. I am not sure of my next step. I can’t retire. I want to do something less, but less to do more.”
University President Malachi Van Tassel was pleased to see a large turnout at Thursday’s event.
“Susan has much to offer the community in which she lives, and we are grateful for her leadership in both the community and Saint Francis University,” Van Tassell said. “We wish her the best in her future endeavors.”
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.