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John Heisler reflects on 40-year tenure

| Thursday, January 24, 2019

John Heisler has a perspective on media relations and sports information at Notre Dame few can claim to match. His tenure as senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame is now coming to a close.

A South Bend native, Heisler said he came to work at the University as the assistant sports information director in the late 1970s following a year working for the Department of Sports Information at the University of Missouri, his alma mater.

“I wanted to get into something involving writing, so I went to the University of Missouri for journalism school [and] did a news editorial major,” Heisler said. “I thought I’d end up working for a newspaper or magazine.”  

Having worked at the University for 39 of it’s 177 years, Heisler has been around to see the University grow and change immensely for almost a quarter of Notre Dame’s existence. Over those many years he said he has seen the school, and especially the school’s athletics programs, expand immensely.

”I think certainly in terms of athletics the University has grown tremendously and become much more of a business. When I started there were only a handful of programs that really had scholarships,” Heisler said. “Not that every one of our sports now is perfectly set up to be a national champion, but we’ve certainly come light-years in that direction over the course of decades.”

Heisler said his department, sports information and media relations, has also undergone massive changes in the past couple of decades with the advent of the internet, social media and the 24-hour news cycle.

“When I started in the late [1970s] there was no website, there were no cell phones. It’s come a long way,” Heisler said.

The changing nature of media relations over the past decades makes the job, almost by necessity, a learning experience.

“There’s way more outlets, from a communications standpoint, than there used to be,” Heisler said. “Things aren’t going to be a secret, no matter what it is.”

While a lot of Heisler’s work has moved from taking place on manual typewriters to smartphones and laptops, he said one aspect of the job that never changed — the importance of the relationships you build with people you meet along the way.

“I’d say you miss the relationships, because in our business that’s what it’s all about.” Heisler said. “Everybody who comes here has their own Notre Dame story of where they come from and how they got here.”

Though his own Notre Dame story may have come to an end, Heisler’s book is far from over. Although he is currently unsure the exact direction he is heading in, he is not looking to retire and instead plans to continue to work and hopefully remain in the field of athletics.


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