- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

LEWISTON, N.Y. (AP) - Simon Gray was hired to become Niagara University’s next athletic director in what’s regarded as the first step to revive the school’s rich sports history.

“Any real progress has to begin with leadership,” school president Rev. James Maher said on Friday. “And I think we have a great opportunity to really wake up the great tradition of Niagara athletics.”

Gray joins Niagara after spending the past 10 years at Eastern Kentucky, where he was serving a second stint as acting AD. He has 15 years of athletic administration, including roles in corporate sponsorship and fundraising.

“I’m so excited right now, I’d like to put that jersey on and play a game,” Gray said, referring to an honorary Purple Eagles jersey presented to him after being introduced. “This institution is steeped in a history of excellence. And knowing that I have an opportunity to add to that tradition is an absolute privilege.”

Gray has plenty of work ahead of him in taking over a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference program in transition.

He becomes the Purple Eagles’ third athletic director in two years by filling the job left vacant since Tom Crowley’s abrupt departure in September.

In 2012, Niagara shuffled its programs by discontinuing women’s hockey to add track and field and commit more resources to women’s lacrosse. Last year, the Purple Eagles lost their most high-profile figure after men’s basketball coach Joe Mihalich left for Hofstra.

In 15 seasons, Mihalich became the school’s second winningest coach, and led Niagara to five postseason berths, including NCAA tournament appearances in 2005 and ‘07.

Mihalich’s departure led to several player defections, which contributed to the Purple Eagles finishing 7-26 under new coach Chris Casey.

The women’s basketball team has had nine consecutive losing seasons.

The men’s hockey program has been the school’s strength after earning an NCAA tournament berth last year. But the program is suddenly losing a regional competitive edge with Atlantic Hockey rival Canisius College set to move into a new facility in downtown Buffalo in October.

Gray, who officially takes over on June 23, called upgrading Niagara’s facilities a top priority. He also credited Casey for keeping the basketball team focused and competitive under difficult circumstances.