The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
Big changes are coming at Long Beach State, as Executive Director of Athletics Andy Fee announced his departure from the university on Tuesday morning. Fee has been the AD at the Beach for just over five years, but is leaving for a position at the University of Washington, where he will become the Deputy Athletics Director and Chief of Staff for the Huskies.
“It’s bittersweet,” Fee said. “I’ve loved being here–the coaches and the athletes. It’s been an emotional day. When you’re leaving and it’s not because you’re unhappy it’s tough. I’m not running for the door. I’ll still be on Beach Vision watching the teams. I’m really excited for the future here, too, this place is poised for a lot of success.”
Since his hire in April of 2017, Fee has overseen a successful and tumultuous time at the Beach. He enjoyed winning back-to-back national titles in men’s volleyball, including hosting a Final Four at Walter Pyramid. Fee also brought in a number of new head coaches and guided the Beach through the COVID-19 shutdowns the past two seasons. He also presided over an official mascot change from the 49ers to the Beach that left some fans of the school frustrated.
“We are so appreciative of (Andy’s) many contributions during his more than five years here,” CSULB President Dr. Jane Close Conoley said in a statement. “COVID, too, brought an unprecedented set of challenges that Andy ably helped us navigate over these many months. As sad as we are to see Andy and Nicole Fee go, we offer both of them our thanks and our very best wishes at Washington.”
Fee said that while he absolutely wasn’t planning on leaving, Washington made a convincing offer. In the end, the opportunity to run a big program was too good to pass up.
“In talking to their AD she shared that she’s looking for a leader, someone who can help run the department on a day-to-day basis while she focuses on big picture things,” said Fee, including conference re-alignment. “On a personal level, it affords me the opportunity to go to a department that’s high resource. I wasn’t looking for another job, but this one came to me. Long Beach State was great, president Conoley was great, but there’s things we can’t do here that we can do at UW. That’s not to speak ill of Long Beach State, it’s just a cold, financial fact.”
Fee was well-liked by the school’s coaches, and was credited by many for helping to turn around a less-than-healthy culture between some of the programs on campus.
“It’s an enormous loss for Long Beach State, we’re losing a really, really good person with really good intentions for all sports and all athletes,” said men’s volleyball coach Alan Knipe, who won back-to-back NCAA titles during Fee’s tenure. “It’s unfortunate. It’s quite a disappointing day for us. The culture within our department top to bottom was as good as I’ve ever seen it. His ability to connect with the coaches and support them, it was more than just throwing some money.”
One of Fee’s biggest hires during his tenure was the addition of Eric Valenzuela as head of the Long Beach State baseball program. Since his hiring in 2019, Valenzuela has worked closely with Fee on the ongoing upgrades to Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.
“First and foremost, I’m really happy for Andy and Nicole,” Valenzuela said. “I’m super grateful for the opportunity that he gave me here at this awesome place, and I’ll be forever grateful for that and our friendship. It’s always tough when we lose somebody that is really good at what he does and who builds relationships with people and coaches. So yeah, it’s kind of mixed emotions, but that’s part of college sports and we’ve got to move forward. I’m fully confident that we’ll get somebody in here that will continue to elevate our athletic department, so that’s exciting.”
Last April, Fee was given a contract extension that was meant to keep him in Long Beach at least until May of 2026, but he will instead be departing for Washington later this month. His last day on the job will be August 26.
“Not only is a great boss leaving, he’s a great friend and he’s been more than just a leader here,” LBSU men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said. “He’s been someone you’re personally invested with. I think (Fee leaving) is a huge blow to Long Beach State and our department. Yet, if I’m a true friend I’m super excited for him, which I am. He’s earned an opportunity to advance and put himself in position to be a Power 5 athletic director. I think that’s the goal of most athletic directors, and I think he’d be a really good one.”
“I’m gutted,” LBSU women’s soccer coach Mauricio Ingrassia said. “Andy has always had our best interest at heart and has done so much for our department in his tenure, even with all the difficulties that the pandemic brought us. He will be missed, and I wish he and (his wife) Nicole the best.”
Conoley indicated that an announcement on transition plans and interim leadership are forthcoming. The university’s athletic department has undergone a lot of transition in the last few years and doesn’t have a clear-cut interim on hand; recently-retired senior admin Cindy Masner was the interim during the previous two AD changes. Options available to Conoley could include trying to pry Masner out of retirement, or an out-of-the-box solution like pushing Knipe from a coaching role into an interim AD spot.
Fee expressed confidence in the university’s future, both near and long-term.
“It’s gonna be another great year for the Beach, there’s a lot to look forward to,” he said. “I’m proud of the last five years, I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”