TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Vanessa Fuchs was pulled away from the meeting room in Indianapolis where she was attending a conference on rules.
The conference could wait. Fuchs received a text that Florida State president Dr. Eric Barron needed to speak with her. And while it wasn’t unusual for Vanessa Fuchs to talk with Barron through the years about compliance-related matters, the phone conversation was a surprise.
“When he said to me that he wanted to offer me to lead the department in the interim, I kind of paused for a second,” Fuchs said. “In athletics, you have to be prepared for anything. And this is one of those moments.”
Fuchs, 34, received an immediate promotion and is now leading an athletics program just 12 years after she last stepped off the basketball court as a Seminole. She is the first woman to be leading Florida State athletics and is one of seven female athletics directors among the 124 schools that competed at the FBS level this year.
It’s clearly a bittersweet time for Fuchs, who emphasized her respect and admiration for the man she replaces, Randy Spetman. He will remain a senior adviser in the department until his contract is up in February 2014.
“Randy has been fantastic and incredibly supportive,” Fuchs said. “We will continue to use him as a resource.”
Fuchs has built a good working relationship with many administrators in the Moore Athletic building, and she plans to lean on them. She also has longtime friends down Pensacola Street in the women’s basketball offices, too.
Her former coach, Sue Semrau, is going into her 17th year at the school. While Fuchs is Semrau’s boss, the coach is still regarded as a mentor. And Fuchs’ roommate and teammate at Florida State, Brooke Wyckoff, is an assistant on Semrau’s staff.
“I just tell her she’s amazing,” Wyckoff said. “Sitting in the same room with her, I’m like, ‘This chick is bad.’ She controls the room. She handles it very calmly.”
Fuchs has enjoyed a relatively quick rise in athletics administration since graduating magna cum laude from Florida State in 2001.
She began her career as an intern in the Atlantic Coast Conference office and then worked at the NCAA headquarters for seven years in a variety of roles, including leadership positions and as a member of several committees.
Semrau then recruited Fuchs away from the NCAA, helping bring her back to Florida State in 2010 as an associate athletic director for compliance.
“I know how capable she is,” Semrau said. “She knows what she’s doing. Since that internship she hasn’t had to apply for a job. She has been recruited for everything.”
And in May 2012, Fuchs was promoted to senior associate athletic director and oversaw all of the Florida State women’s sports teams.
Fuchs has hit the ground running as interim athletics director, meeting with coaches for nearly every sport at Florida State. Her main goal is to emphasize that the coaches have the support of administration, but to also let them know that “we’re not in a holding pattern here.”
“That’s been her mantra all along,” Semrau said. “She’s not about status quo. She’s a visionary.”
Barron has not given a timeline for hiring a permanent athletics director, and the process is still in the early stages. A hiring committee has not yet been established, so it’s clear that Fuchs is running the program at least into the fall sports season.
Barron has assembled a hiring committee, which in turn will work with a search firm to help land Florida State’s next AD. Fuchs will be given a chance to earn the full-time job.
“Vanessa Fuchs has been a member of the Florida State University family ever since she was a student-athlete here, so she is very familiar with the athletics department’s students, staff and operations,” Barron said. “I am fully confident in her ability to effectively lead the department during this interim period while the search is conducted for a permanent athletics director.”
Being an athletics director, even on an interim basis, will also help Fuchs achieve her ultimate goal: to become a Division I conference commissioner.
But for now, Fuchs is more than content — and has her hands full — at Florida State. Fuchs said she was born and raised a Seminole, and now she’s leading the program where both she and her father were student-athletes. Her father, Don, was a pole-vaulter at Florida State in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Vanessa grew up in Pompano Beach and was a high school basketball standout at Cardinal Gibbons High before choosing to play at Florida State.
“Playing for Sue for four years was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” Fuchs said. “… Something that sports taught me was just the importance of working as a team. And I have drawn on that and have brought that into my professional career. From my experiences if you are able to build relationships with people and you’re able to work in a team environment you’re going to be successful.”