By Danielle Achin, Tyler Wahl
FSU has seen an incredible level of success in its athletic programs the past few decades.
These achievements are undoubtedly a team effort among players, coaches, and the athletic department – but nobody has played a bigger role than Athletic Director Tom Kelley.
Despite the chaos that comes with the title “Director of Athletics,” Kelley has managed to keep the program sailing smoothly for years now.
He started his time at Framingham State as a student-athlete on the football team, eventually returning a few years after graduation to help with recruiting and coaching.
“I was in the first class of males that lived on campus – Linsley Hall was brand new,” Kelley said. His college career lasted from 1972-76 and he returned just two short years later as the assistant coach for the football team.
It didn’t take long for Kelley to prove himself as a worthy coach and he immediately took over as head coach in ’82 at the age of 27. His first stint as head coach didn’t last long, however, as he swapped positions once again two years later.
Kelley added in 1984, the Athletic Department expanded – creating new positions. “They created an assistant athletic director’s position and I applied and fortunately got the position, but I had to give up coaching football full time because of my new duties as athletic director.”
In 1996, the Athletic Director position opened up, and Kelley was “fortunate” once again to be hired. He immediately began working on major changes to the program once fully in charge.
Kelley made it a point for club sports to receive the same level of attention as varsity sports at FSU. “We want to treat them like we treat all the other athletes. Same coaching. Same trainers. Same meal money. Same transportation,” he said.
Kelley said he always felt like more than just an Athletic Director for the students at FSU. He said he admires how appreciative the athletes are of the program and wanted to give back in any way he could.
“I go to as many games as I physically can go to. I think it’s important that the athletes appreciate me. They don’t have to thank me because I enjoy it, but they do anyway,” he added.
While Kelley improved the morale of the athletic program during his time at FSU, the results in
championship wins were initially lacking.
In 2007, then FSU President Tim Flanagan expressed his concern about the football program, according to Kelley. Although Kelley was still busy with the athletic director position, he was entrusted with the position of head football coach once again.
FSU football began to see unprecedented success due to Kelley’s coaching. In 2010, the Rams made their first ECAC Bowl Game appearance – Knishing with their best season to that point on a 9-2 record.
In 2012, Kelley then led the football team to victory as they captured the NEFC Championship and advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in school history. His care for the players on and oB the Keld led to accolades for the program.
After another 12 years as head football coach, Kelley decided to step down from the position to focus solely on directing FSU athletics. He wanted to have a heavy focus on recruitment of student athletes, but never got the chance due to the pandemic.
Kelley said nothing made him more miserable than walking the empty halls of the Athletic Center and not hearing the chatter of students lifting in the weight room or sneakers squeaking across the gym floor.
The decisions he had to make throughout the pandemic weren’t easy, he said. However, canceling seasons and closing sections of the Athletic Center were necessary for the health of everyone on campus.
After the long stretch of walking through a vacant campus, Kelley said he was more than ready to gear back up for the 2021 athletic season.
Kelley added he was excited to show support for the football team from the sidelines, but the
unexpected resignation of the new head coach left the team coachless two weeks before the season started.
For the third time, Kelley would be named as FSU’s head football coach. Despite the unexpected role switch, Kelley led the Rams to an impressive 8-3 record and secured the MASCAC title.
Starting quarterback of the 2021 football season Nicholas GoBredo praised his coach for his work. “He has won the MASCAC 10 of the past 11 years and I could definitely see why my first year playing for him. Hard work is his main focus – the work we put in every day on and oB the Keld leads to the results and success he has had over the past decade.”
Goffredo added, “If you are struggling, he will help you and he never wants to see any of his players fail. There are plenty of other examples. He holds a study hall for all of the freshmen players and any other players that want to go. Doing well in school and staying on track is one thing he believes in.”
“It’s a labor of love,” Kelley said. “It’s not all lollipops and rainbows. But when it’s all said and done, if I affected one kid then I did something right. Those kids, they’re my kids. They represent Framingham State. They represent me when they go out and play.”
Junior starting defensive back of the 2021 season Cully Curran showed admiration for Kelley’s work ethic as well adding, “No matter how long it’s been since he’s been in the program, he’s always willing to give a helping hand.”
Curran added, “The best part of playing for Coach Kelley is the life lessons he gives everyone that plays for him. He gives tough love when kids need it the most.”
Nick Ashley is also a starting linebacker for the Rams and further commented on the eBect Kelley has on the people around him.
Ashley said, “Coach Kelley is a caring guy off the field. He is someone you can go talk to about problems outside of sports. He always says he will take care of us the best he can.”
He also discussed Kelley’s philosophy, adding, “My favorite part of playing under Coach Kelley is his motto of blue collar. He was raised blue collar and expects his team to work the same way. Every day, we get our hands dirty because that’s what blue collar does.”
Kelley’s dedication to the school has continued to show over the years. With the declining student population, Kelley takes it upon himself to expand his recruiting search to other parts of the country.
He said every year has its new challenges and one of them is competing with regional schools to recruit athletes.
“We’re almost forced to go out into the country like Florida or Connecticut to find better players. But like I said, there’s always something else to do – something else to conquer. That’s our business,” he said.
Referring to the program as a whole, he added, “It’s starting to come back and we’re going to get it back.”
Kelley acknowledges his retirement isn’t too far out of sight, but said he still has unfinished business with Framingham State.
He said, “My next benchmark is 70. When I hit that age, I’ll see how I feel, but I’m not ready to let it all go yet.
“I spoke at the investiture a couple years ago and my main point was – follow your passion. I said how I can remember having jobs along the way and on Sunday, your stomach would be turning because you had to go to this job that you really didn’t love,” he added.
“I said it in front of Javier [President F. Javier Cevallos], my boss, the Board of Trustees, that I haven’t worked a day in my life in the last 30-something years. I had a lot of opportunities to go into D-1 or sales, but there was always something I needed to get done here. There’s always unfinished business – and there still is. I think that’s what keeps me passionate about this place.”