Kelly Barsky is congratulated by UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang after being named the permanent Director of Athletics at the university. Barsky is the first female to run the athletic department. Credit: Jeff Liang Photo

It was a history-making day at UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday as Kelly Barsky was named the permanent Director of Athletics at the university, becoming the first woman to run the department.

Barsky is well qualified for the job. She served as the interim director for the university’s 20 NCAA Division 1 athletic teams (10 men, 10 women) since John McCutcheon retired on Dec. 31, 2021 after nearly seven years in the position. Before that, she held the post of deputy director of athletics for eight years.

“This is a dream come true,” she said at her introduction press conference. “To be the first female athletic director of this program with this institution, that is truly a special opportunity and I want to recognize it with gratitude. And, hopefully open doors for continued progress for opportunity of diversity and diverse equitable and inclusive spaces for individuals to follow their passion as I have.”

Barsky has worked in the trenches of the athletic department at UCSB for more than a decade. She came west from New Hampshire in 2008 to serve as the top assistant for head women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb. Together, they guided the Gauchos to a pair of Big West regular-season titles in three years.

After Gottlieb left for the women’s head coaching post at Cal, Barsky opted to remain at UCSB and took a job as an academic adviser in the College of Letters & Sciences. It was a great fit for a person whose goal was making a career in education.

“You know my story, you know I’m an educator first,” she said. “I look really deeply at serving student athletes, the campus and community, and serving student athletes in a holistic way: How we can help in providing incredible competitive athletic opportunities, academic opportunities and holistic support that serves them through collegiate journey and beyond?”

Barsky’s passion for education, athletics and her organization skills caught the eye of then-Director of Athletics Mark Massari. In 2014, he named her as his senior women’s administrator.

She also has experience at the national level, serving as the Big West Conference’s representative to the NCAA Division 1 Council and the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee.

Barsky is a people person and is excited to increase the involvement between the athletics program and the community.

“I believe deeply in connection and communications with community and campus, bringing people together, bringing people into events, having shared experiences and coming together to be proud of our Gaucho community,” she said.

David Barsky joins his wife, Kelly, outside of her office, the Intercollegiate Athletics building, after she was named the permanent Director of Athletics at UCSB. (Jeff Liang Photo)

Barsky has a solid footing in the community. She and her husband, David, have three children: Jacob, Alena and Christian. 

She acknowledged the challenges she will be facing on the job as collegiate athletics has entered complex and uncertain times.

“I look forward to having open communications to working collaboratively with all of you, our community and our campus, working through these challenges together,” she said. “Having served as an interim, I certainly have a head start. But as I move to this next chapter as the permanent Director of Athletics, I look forward to working all of you, creating a strategic vision plan and be able to forward in this new collegiate athletic environment.”

UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang recognized that Barsky was the right person to lead the athletics department.

“Kelly brings a wealth of experience as a coach, academic advisor, and athletics administrator, and I am confident that she will continue to be an exceptional leader for our campus and our athletics program,” he said at the press conference. “Since she assumed the interim role, our athletics programs have continued to thrive, our student-athletes are excelling in the classroom and in their respective sports, and our campus and community are energized about our future.

“We have all been impressed by her knowledge, her energy and enthusiasm, and her deep commitment to supporting our coaches and student-athletes in reaching their academic and athletics goals.”

One of the highlights during Barsky’s interim role was to hire renowned Texas A&M softball coach Jo Evans. She led the Aggies to the NCAA postseason 22 times, including three trips to the College World Series.

An example of her leadership skills was her handling of procedures and protocol during the COVID-19 shutdown. Her efforts enabled UCSB to keep the majority of its teams playing in 2021.

“We’ve been through a couple of pretty difficult years, but I think life is about adversity,” she told Noozhawk in a January 2, 2022 column by Mark Patton. “Sometimes things come up that you can’t control and you didn’t expect.

“You have to be able to handle those and continue to thrive and excel.”

With a year under her belt in the director’s position, Barsky knows the department well.

“I’m pretty mission-driven and I think our entire department and campus is, so that’s where we start,” she said. “I’ve walked in some of those shoes at a certain point, not in today’s environment.

“I think it starts with me listening, understanding, using my former experiences and hopefully working collaboratively with our coaches, with our student athletes, creating and moving forward, continuing the excellence that we’ve already had both competitively, academically, holistically.”

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

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