St. Xavier Athletic Director John Sullivan Leaving Bombers in February: 'It's a Special Place'

By Adam Baum, abaum@enquirer.com

A conversation can change everything. 

That’s how longtime athletic director John Sullivan found St. Xavier High School, and nothing has been the same since. 

“It’s funny,” said Sullivan, whose last day on North Bend Road will be Feb. 2 after accepting a new athletic director job in North Carolina.

“We’re sitting in my in-laws living room on a Sunday afternoon and my brother-in-law –all my brothers-in-law are (St. Xavier) grads – he gives me the old, ‘St. X is looking for a football coach, you should apply.’ 

“My response was: ‘What’s St. X?’ I had no idea. So I did and coach (Steve) Rasso) head coach at the time) gave me an opportunity.” 

That was 1990. Sullivan coached for four years as a varsity assistant and then in 1993, the Bombers asked him to start their intramural program and revamp their health program. 

For the next decade, all while still coaching football, he ran the intramural program, taught health and physical education. In 2004, he became athletic director. 

Originally from Pittsburgh, Sullivan attended John Carroll University and then made his way down to Cincinnati. What he found here, quickly captivated him. 

“It’s a special place,” Sullivan said of St. X. “And we participate in a special league. I grew up in Catholic schools my whole life and I never played in a Catholic school league. It just presents something unique and special. St. X itself is a community. Everybody here knows each other. 

“My kids have grown up here and my kids will always speak fondly of St. Xavier High School. I used to drag them here in the summertime … they complained about it then but they look back now and it’s family for me and my family.” 

The decision to leave circles back to his family. 

“My wife (Erin) decided that,” Sullivan laughed. “We’ve always known that at some point as her career was moving along that this was a possibility. She took her position in August and we’ve been living apart for the last five months. It’s not been fun but we make it work and I’ll be there soon enough.” 

After 17 years of coaching football and nearly three decades as a teacher and administrator, the hardest thing Sullivan will leave behind are the people. 

“Some of my best friends are people I met here and worked with here and coached here,” said Sullivan. 

To be successful in anything requires help, and Sullivan was never without help. 

"Teri Smith (athletics coordinator), we built this together," said Sullivan. "Whatever we've done we've done it together. When I got the position she was the first person I hired. She's a been a rock and foundation of St. Xavier athletics. It's gonna be fine because she's still here. 

"I've had multiple (assistant athletic directors) from Tony Nardini to John Richardson, God rest his soul, to Joe Molony, who was actually the longest tenured at seven years, and now Nick (Van Zile) for the last four years." 

Van Zile, a 2003 St. Xavier grad, will be interim AD the remainder of the school year as St. X conducts a search for Sullivan's replacement. 

Sullivan also thanked the entire school administration he worked alongside, as well as director of security Don Brichler, who he called "invaluable," and marketing/communications director Becky Schulte, who he said has played a major role in helping the athletic department grow. 

Feb. 2 will be a hard day. It's something he doesn't want to think about. Not yet. 

"I don't even want to think about that," he said. "That will probably be the hardest day for me. We're not gonna think about that right now. We'll cross that bridge when we get there." 

One thing he has allowed himself to think about is the fact that he won't get to continue making memories with people he loves in a place he loves. 

"Life goes on. Life turns and it's like a river. It moves and it turns. I'm the kind of guy who just goes with it."