Tom Kleinlein was officially announced as Georgia Southern’s Director of Athletics on Nov. 12, 2012. A former college football player at Wake Forest University, Kleinlein joined the Eagles following two years at Kent State University, where he served as the deputy athletics director, and five years at Arizona State University, where he served as the associate athlete director for football.
Now in his fifith year at GS, Kleinlein continues making his mark in all facets of the department. His approach and vision is to ensure that the Georgia Southern programs continue their recent string of successes, while he also remains sharply focused on the areas of student-athlete experience, facilities, fan engagement and fundraising.
The entire athletics department has enjoyed success during Kleinlein’s brief tenure. In just four years, the Eagles have distinguished themselves with nine conference championships. The football program won the first Sun Belt title in 2014, its first year as an FBS program, and the baseball team won the 2013 Southern Conference crown, moving on to beat fifth-ranked Florida State in the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee. The Eagle football team capped off a stellar 2015 season – its first as a bowl eligible program – by claiming the first bowl win in program history with a win over Bowling Green in the GoDaddy Bowl.
Kleinlein has overseen the success of all 17 GS programs. The men’s basketball team continued its rise with a second-place finish in the Sun Belt regular season in 2014-15 and narrowly missed a trip to the NCAA Tournament after falling in the conference title game. The success also continued for men’s golf, winning the Sun Belt Championship in 2015 and advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. The cross country team advanced to the NCAA Regionals for
the first time in program history in 2015 and the rifle team – one of two women’s sports created under his watch along with women’s golf – earned the first national rankings in that program’s short history.
Grade point average is but one indicator of academic success for Georgia Southern Athletics and the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, or APR, a team-based benchmark calculation that accounts for retention and eligibility of student-athletes, is another. In the latest report, four of the department’s programs recorded a perfect single-year APR score, while the GS volleyball and men’s soccer programs recorded APRs that ranked first in the Sun Belt in their respective sports. Volleyball and rifle were recipients of the NCAA’s Public Recognition Award, which goes to programs with a multi-year APR in the top 10 percent nationally of all squads in each sport.
Total development of the student-athlete is a top priority and Kleinlein has implemented the “Eagles in Transition” program, which strives to help student-athletes build skills necessary to compete in the job market upon graduation. The first-of-these-kind seminars include topics such as resume writing, interviewing, career exploration, life after graduation and networking skills.
Kleinlein’s vision and planning was critical as Georgia Southern navigated the changing landscape of college athletics by accepting an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference in March of 2013, moving the FCS powerhouse to the highest level of competition in football and securing a new league for the Eagles’ athletics teams. This announcement placed GS among new peers, both as a department and as a university. In two seasons, the football program has gone from an FCS transition program to a program receiving votes in the FBS Top 25 poll after winning its first bowl game.
Kleinlein’s emphasis on organization and leadership is evident in the assembly of the athletics department, coaches and support staff. In addition to coaching positions and sports, Kleinlein has created his leadership team which is part of the infrastructure needed in order to operate successfully at the Division I FBS level.
Kleinlein accepted his current assignment at Georgia Southern after serving in executive roles with the Kent State, Arizona State and Rutgers Athletic Departments. Prior to his career in college athletics, he served as a high school history teacher and coach in Guilford County, North Carolina.
A student-athlete at Wake Forest, Kleinlein earned four letters as a member of the Demon Deacons’ offensive line (1989-92). He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Wake Forest (1992), Master’s of Education in curriculum and instruction from Arizona State (2008) and started his career in athletics administration as an academic counselor at his alma mater.
Originally from Inwood, New York, Kleinlein and his wife, Tara, have two sons – Austin and Mason.