Saint Francis AD to step down in March

In a surprise move, Saint Francis athletic director Susan Robinson Fruchtl announced Tuesday that she would be leaving her position in March to pursue other career opportunities.

“There’s nothing funny with this, there’s no controversy or anything,” Robinson Fruchtl said Tuesday by phone. “I’ve just been thinking about it and want to pursue new challenges. I don’t know exactly what those are yet.”

Robinson Fruchtl 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.

She previously served as SFU’s coach from 2007-12 before moving on to Providence for four years. She came back to Saint Francis as the AD in April of 216 after Bob Krimmel retired.

The tough 2018-19 school year left Robinson Fruchtl worn out, and she said she never really got re-energized this past summer. That’s when she started thinking about stepping down.

“Summer usually brings a refreshing,” she said. “I don’t feel that happened for me. I’m fine health-wise, but I’m tired. … (Doing both jobs) did take a toll physically, just from a time standpoint, and tiredness.”

A star player who scored 2,253 points at Penn State from 1989-92, Robinson Fruchtl said she and her husband, Tony, plan to remain in the area.

“Central PA is our home,” she said. “My husband works in State College.”

By staying on the job until March, Robinson Fruchtl said she can help the transition as Saint Francis prepares to search for a new AD.

While another coaching job is not on the immediate horizon, Robinson Fruchtl said she would not rule out a return to coaching at some point.

“I’ll never say never with anything, because as soon as you say no, God puts that opportunity out there,” she said. “But I’m not looking to coach.”

During Robinson Fruchtl’s tenure as AD, Saint Francis continued to expand its athletic resources with facilities upgrades across campus. The school has made strong commitments in those areas over the past decade, in large part because it needs to attract as many athletes as possible to help with enrollment.

Student-athletes account for more than 40 percent of Saint Francis’ overall enrollment, so there is pressure on the athletic department to keep bringing in a lot of students for the university’s overall business interests.

“Every institution brings different challenges,” Robinson Fruchtl said. “Most people in the central PA region are most familiar with Penn State, and it’s such a different model in terms of athletics. Saint Francis is enrollment driven, so Saint Francis has to do its part in terms of bringing in students for that enrollment.

“That’s totally different. It probably wasn’t as much enrollment when I was coaching before. But it’s not just Saint Francis. You look at enrollment everywhere across the country and it’s down.”

Saint Francis President Fr. Malachi Van Tassell said in a university statement that he’s “grateful to Susan for her leadership and the many successes that Saint Francis athletics has enjoyed during her term (as AD).”

“Her successes include significant fundraising for athletics, as well as an amazing season as interim head women’s basketball coach,” Van Tassell continued. “While we will certainly miss Susan, we wish her well in her new endeavors. Susan will always be a part of the Red Flash family.”

The next AD will be coming into a good situation at Saint Francis. The men’s basketball program, led by Rob Krimmel, is the strongest it’s been in decades; the women’s team has high hopes with a new coach in Keila Whittington; the football program has made huge strides in recent years under coach Chris Villarrial; the softball program has become a Northeast Conference power; and other sports have thrived, as well.

The school has added more athletic scholarships and gone to having full-time assistant coaches for all sports, two things Robinson Fruchtl pointed out as significant changes.

“I’m hopeful that people will observe that it’s in a better place every year,” she said of overall athletic department. “I feel like this job’s gotten better every year. We’ve had more success every year.

“We have our challenges. There’s limitations. But I really believe we have enough to compete in this conference in many sports. We’re not there in all of them, and we’re still trying to get there in all of them.”