Grant Leiendecker: ‘It really is a dream job’

Grant Leiendecker is a 2011 Butler alumnus and played on the 2010 and 2011 basketball teams that made appearances in the NCAA national championship games. Photo by Grace Hensley


Grant Leiendecker will take over as vice president and director of athletics on May 1. He has been working at Butler since August 2023 as associate vice president of athletics. 

Leiendecker was chosen to be the next athletic director after Barry Collier announced his retirement, effective April 30. Collier has been in the role since August 2006. 

Prior to working at Butler, Leiendecker was the assistant vice president and senior associate athletic director for development at Marquette University. He also worked as a member of their athletics and university advancement leadership teams. Before Marquette, Leiendecker served as the director of major gifts for The Rams Club at the University of North Carolina. 

Leiendecker is a Butler alumnus and former student-athlete. He graduated in 2011 with a degree in finance and played on the 2010 and 2011 men’s basketball teams that made appearances in the NCAA national championship games

THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: As an alum and former student-athlete, it seems natural that you came back to Butler. Was coming back in this capacity something you saw for yourself or dreamed about? 

GRANT LEIENDECKER: Yeah, dreamed about 100%. I mean, when I was a student here, obviously I was a student-athlete and had a tremendous experience. But I wasn’t necessarily set in my career path until senior year rolled around, and I really dug in on what the future would hold for me, and at that point, I realized I’ve got to find a way to stay in and around the game and around athletics, but I also knew that my heart wasn’t in coaching. So, that’s when I got exposed to this administrative world of sport in college athletics and leaned on my administration here [and] my coaches here to help educate me and open my eyes to what’s out there. 

I was fortunate enough to go on and earn an internship with the NCAA here in Indianapolis and during that first year post-grad, I realized this is for me: I want to be an [athletic director] someday. And as soon as I made that decision, immediately it’s like, well, [my] dream job would obviously be to someday be at Butler. And at that time, I had no idea that my career would take me to North Carolina and to Milwaukee, Wisconsin — two places where I had no family [and] I had never spent any time in. At that point, you never know where your career is going to take you. This industry can be a little bit transient if you let it and if you want to continue to grow and advance and take on more responsibility, so you never know. Timing is everything. It was always a dream to come back here, and I’m just incredibly fortunate that the timing of this worked out for me and my family. My wife and I are both Butler grads, and for us to have the opportunity to come home in any capacity, and especially in this role, it really is a dream job. It’s incredibly special. 

TBC: Can you describe the role of athletic director? What are some of your main responsibilities? 

GL: Ultimately, we have 500 student-athletes under our purview here. My responsibility is to manage all of our coaches and our student-athletes and our staff … and ensure that student-athletes are having a great student-athlete experience — that we’re putting them in a safe environment for them to pursue something that they love, and that they have everything that they need to be successful on and off the field. We’re here to support our coaches, to attract and retain our coaches and to coach them and ensure that they’re being great leaders for our student-athletes, that they’re doing everything they can to develop them mentally, physically, emotionally, competitively, so that they’re putting [student-athletes] in the best position to succeed. And ultimately, our staff is here to support all student-athletes and the coaches in their pursuit of being the best version of themselves as student-athletes. So that’s really the 30,000-foot view of it. Day-to-day as an athletic director, no two days are the same. I mean, one day could be spent meeting with donors and trying to generate support for everything we’re trying to accomplish. The next day could be meeting with our coaches, could be meeting with our student-athletes. 

Essentially, I am a problem solver that is working with a group of people trying to collectively achieve pretty big goals. It’s a very dynamic job. But ultimately, my job is to develop and build a department that is serving the university’s mission. 

TBC: What did you learn during your time at Marquette, another Big East school, that you hope to implement at Butler? 

GL: That was my first exposure to this new Big East. So I learned very quickly the competitiveness, the strength of the conference, the alignment between the schools and the conference [and] certainly the importance of the sport of basketball to the conference, but that all of our other sports are obviously very important to the conference as well. 

For me personally, in my role there, I really had a chance to lead a team and be at the leadership level in a Big East institution. [I was] working with our AD there, working with our president there, with our vice president for advancement, so really getting a high-level leadership experience and really understanding what it takes to be successful in this conference and even nationally. 

Running an athletic department at our level, as I mentioned [for] the Big East, there’s less diversity from top to bottom of the conference than you see at some of the other Power Five conferences across the country. So the great alignment there has definitely been helpful for me. And even within it, there’s opportunities for Butler to grow and take a step forward. There’s a lot of really, really good institutions in our conference, and we’re trying to have sustained success in the Big East. So I also learned what the ones that are doing it at the high level, what they’re doing. And so some of those things, I think that I can bring to Butler and help us close that gap. 

TBC: How do you want to use your experience as a student-athlete at Butler to inform the decisions you make as leader of the athletic department? 

GL: I always want to keep that at the forefront because I would say, as a student-athlete, you don’t necessarily know that the administrators are making decisions with you in mind. But now being in this role, I can tell you that every single thing we do, the last checkpoint is always: how does this impact our student-athletes? And so having lived it, I have a little bit [of a] different experience and kind of know what’s valued and what’s not. Obviously, we want to be competitive, so we want to try to do everything we can to give our student-athletes a chance to compete and succeed. But we also want to make sure that we’re supporting them off the field, off the court, outside of the pool, and make sure that we’re supporting them from a mental health standpoint, from a physical health standpoint [and] that they’re growing as leaders. I believe that athletics, especially at this level, is the best leadership development training ground that you can find. So all those things that I learned as a student-athlete — with my coaches, my administrators, the way that they helped develop me and hold me accountable and pushed me and supported me and loved me — all those things I’m trying to bring forth to my leadership here and continue to just leave it better than we found it and keep building it and making it better for our student-athletes. 

TBC: With the lack of regulation and guidance for schools around name, image and likeness (NIL), we have seen some colleges and universities thrive and others really suffer. Butler has experienced a lot of turnover in their men’s basketball program this season. While it might not be a direct correlation, how do you hope to use NIL to support all student-athletes and athletic programs? 

GL: Like it or not, NIL is now a significant factor particularly for us right now in men’s basketball. You’re seeing it much more significantly in that landscape than you are in some of our other sports. But ultimately, we want to be here to support all of our student-athletes and their ability to benefit from their name, image and likeness. The way that NIL is playing out in our landscape right now is not the way that it was intended to be when this legislation was passed. So you’re seeing these donor collectives have an outsized impact on roster development, and so, like it or not, that is where we are at the highest level of college basketball right now. The highest level of college basketball is where we want to be and expect to be, so we can’t shy away from that. We are leaning in completely. 

We’re fortunate we have great alignment with our NIL collective All Good Dawgs, and we continue to build that partnership. We’ve continued to share the importance with our donors and supporters and fans on how important it is to invest in NIL support through All Good Dawgs, and we’re making great progress. I’d say we’re in a place where we’re nationally competitive there. But we’re not going to use that to be the primary driver of attracting our student-athletes to want to come to Butler. We have an incredible staff in all of our sports, but particularly if we’re looking at men’s basketball, which again is where this is having the biggest impact, we have an incredible staff. We have an unbelievable facility in Hinkle Fieldhouse that’s really a national gem when you think about the gameday environment. We have a great fan base that loves to support this team. [We have a] great academic institution with a beautiful campus, located in a big city with our own little bubble here. So we have so much to sell here that we will continue to sell, and that’s what we’re going to hang our hat on. 

Turnover is the new normal, [and] you’re going to see that in this day and age. And that’s obviously combined with the transfer portal and the ability for people to leave every year now. So that’s just the way college basketball is right now. But I would say we’ve made great strides in NIL, and we’re going to continue to do that. And we’re grateful for all of our supporters that have stepped up to help us get there. 

TBC: You have been at Butler for almost nine months. Are there any programs or initiatives you have worked on that you want to expand? Or any ideas for growth based on gaps you have found? 

GL: There are a ton of things that we want to do to continue to support our student-athletes in so many ways. We’re in the process of hiring a director of student-athlete mental health. So we’re adding a new position that is going to be responsible for programming, education, support, one-on-one meetings — this person is a sports psychologist and will be able to support student-athletes on a one-on-one level, but also broadly as we think about 500-plus student-athletes [and] how we are supporting them mentally. They face a lot of pressure, a lot of challenges from a time demand standpoint, so all of us, certainly in this day and age, have mental health needs, so this is a really important position for us and in a department that we want to grow. But we’re starting right now with this new position which I think is going to be tremendously helpful to our student-athletes. And we’ll still have consultants in and around this person to make sure that we’re getting these services to all of our student-athletes. 

And we really need to keep growing our support staff both within our teams and within our administration. But we’ve got to grow our budgets to be able to do that, so really the biggest opportunity for us there is fundraising. My background is in fundraising, so I’ve come in with the idea of: what can I bring from these other institutions that I’ve worked at? [I want to] bring some of the science to Butler to help our athletics development team kind of get built up. We’re going to add staff, and that’s going to allow us to attract a lot more resources that we can then strategically invest in our programs in a way that’s going to help move the needle for us competitively in the way that we’re developing and supporting our student-athletes. So it starts with resources, and that’s certainly my strength and background, but then from there, we’re going to continue to invest as we go in a way that’s going to move the needle for us and ultimately, trickle down and improve the experience for our student-athletes. 

TBC: There have been concerns the last few years about student-athlete wellbeing, specifically in the volleyball and women’s soccer teams. What are you going to do to ensure the safety and success of all student-athletes? 

GL: First of all, that is the utmost priority for us: to make sure that we are creating and providing a safe, healthy environment for all of our student-athletes to come here and do what they love and pursue their dreams and goals in a way that is fully supportive. So that’s the priority. Obviously, we need to have policies in place that make very clear what we can and can’t do as we’re supporting our student-athletes, and so we’ve already implemented those to make sure that we’re doing that obviously within NCAA guidelines, but also just the right things for Butler in the way that we want to operate here. So we’ve already been hard at work bringing all of our policies up to date [and] constant education and developing that culture internally, just reiterating how we’re the standard of care for our student-athletes, the standard of care that our coaches should have for our student-athletes. So that’s going to be an ongoing thing — that’s going to be part of our culture. We’ve already been doing it, and we’ll continue to do that. 

TBC: The men’s basketball team has strong attendance at their games, but other teams struggle. How do you hope to improve attendance for the other teams? 

GL: I think about that a lot. It’s a major priority for me. All of our student-athletes work extremely hard, and it makes their day when they can look in the stands and particularly see fellow students there supporting them, fellow student-athletes there supporting them. So that’s a major opportunity for us. One, just reiterating to all of our student-athletes the importance of supporting each other. We do have a lot of people that show up to men’s basketball games. Obviously, they’re highly entertaining and fast-paced and competitive and athletic, but all of our student-athletes are great competitors in their own right. And so my goal is to continue to see more growth in attendance at all those [games]. 

We actually just set an all-time attendance record for women’s basketball this year. And we still have a long way to go, but it’s progress. And so I think relationships help move the needle. Relationships with our student-athletes, between them, so that they can encourage each other to show up and they can take the time. I mean, as college students and especially student-athletes, you have limited time. And we all recognize that. [We need to] get our student-athletes out in the Butler community and build those relationships [because] people want to come support people. They may not know anything about women’s lacrosse, but if they have somebody that they can get behind because they got to know this person, and maybe they’ll bring some friends out to go watch a women’s lacrosse game, then that starts to grow. So that’s my goal [and] my vision there. Then broadly, in the community, throughout Indianapolis, we want to see all of our student-athletes get more support. So that’s up to us in our marketing team to help build those relationships, to help tell the story of our student-athletes and see who they are as people because I think people support people. So that’s the goal of getting that information out there and trying to drive people there as much as possible. 

TBC: How would you describe yourself as a leader? 

GL: I would describe myself as a servant leader in the sense that I believe that you do things through other people. And ultimately, I don’t do what I do for me, I do what I do because I love helping others and I love solving problems. So my leadership style is to help build other people up, to help support them, to help empower them and give them the tools that they need to succeed and then get out of the way. I believe in hiring good people that don’t need to be motivated — that are curious, that are hungry, that have humility. And then that makes my job very easy. So I really just believe in supporting, in pushing. I’m competitive. I am going to have high expectations. But I’m also going to support and help be in the trenches with my people and try to help solve problems as much as I can. So I just believe in being a great teammate. I was very fortunate when I was here as a student-athlete to be a part of some great teams, around some great leaders. And it really was just a great group of very humble, hungry people that were confident and passionate. And no one was above the team, so that’s the type of culture that I’m trying to build here. And I’ve got to model that, so I have got to lead by example and that’s what I intend to do. 

TBC: You’ll officially be taking on the role of athletic director in less than a month. What are you most excited for? 

GL: I’m just so excited to lock arms with all of our coaches and student-athletes, just the daily pursuit of getting better, the daily pursuit of being hand-in-hand with everybody here and trying to achieve big things, taking it day by day. Winning at this level is hard; it’s very hard, [so] not getting too caught up on that but focusing on the process and finding small victories along the way [is exciting]. There’s nothing better than being part of a team and being part of something bigger than yourself and trying to do really hard things. I’m just excited to continue. We have major challenges ahead of us within college athletics. The landscape is constantly shifting, so we’re gonna have really difficult times ahead, I think. But we have a great group of coaches here, incredible student-athletes, a great staff, and I’m just really excited to work with them and partner with them and try to overcome these challenges together. No matter where things land, I know that we’re all going to be better off for it, Butler’s going to be better off for it, and hopefully, there’s some championships and some nets being cut along the way. 

TBC: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to add? 

GL: I kind of touched on it in the first question, just incredibly grateful for this opportunity. The responsibility of it as a former student-athlete is heavy and not lost on me, and I’m just looking forward to getting to work and doing my best to help move Butler Athletics forward. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.


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