It’s easy to imagine Tad Dickman ’12 in his dorm room after a long day of classes and basketball practice as a University of Mary Washington undergrad, fighting exhaustion to finish a term paper and wondering: When am I ever going to do this in the “real world”?
Now, those term papers must seem like tapping a text message compared to the 150-page dossier Dickman compiles weekly as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ public relations coordinator. Just two years after earning a degree in business administration, Dickman finds himself feeding football fans’ – and the media’s – insatiable appetite for information.
A four-year starter on the Eagles’ basketball team, Dickman knew he wanted to pursue a career in athletics. Interning abroad after his junior year, he fell in love with PR while working in Sydney for Australia’s National Basketball League. After graduation, he interned with Major League Soccer’s D.C. United before getting an internship with the National Football League’s New York Giants.
Dickman arrived at Giants training camp on a Monday, and by Wednesday he was working a press conference where more than 75 journalists, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and then-ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, were peppering Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning with questions. To stay calm, Dickman relied on his playing experience. “I’ve had the ball in my hands with the game on the line,” Dickman said, “so nerves never got to me.”
Dickman parlayed the Giants internship into a volunteer role at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, where he applied a lesson from his Eagles basketball coach. “One message Coach [Rod] Wood always hit on was turning ideas and thoughts into realities,” he said. Dickman worked the Big Easy, introducing himself to NFL executives and volunteering for every activity, including the NFL Honors Awards Show, where he served as the PR liaison for Barry Sanders. Those contacts paid off when he got an interview with the Jaguars, who hired him in April 2013.
In addition to the weekly document he assembles for the media, Dickman tracks coverage of the Jaguars and helps prepare players to respond to press questions. Dickman credits UMW’s Smita Oxford, senior lecturer of business, with giving him the tools to communicate effectively with the media. “In our business communications class,” Dickman said, “we were forced to evaluate business problems and dilemmas in unconventional ways and determine the best course of action.”
A star basketball player at Fairfax’s Robert E. Lee High School, Dickman wanted to keep playing hoops in college, and he wanted easy access to professors like Oxford. So he chose Mary Washington over larger Virginia universities that couldn’t provide students the same individual attention. Today he’s thrilled with his decision, still counting many of his Eagles teammates and peers among his closest friends.
“I’ve had the ball in my hands with the game on the line, so nerves never got to me.” – Tad Dickman
Dickman didn’t know those strong connections with faculty and classmates were preparing him for a career. In Jacksonville, he adheres to one of Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s favorite mantras, “Connect with the following.”
For a one-time hoops star and rising sports professional like Dickman, that’s a layup.