After 16 seasons of serving as athletics director at Austin Peay, Dave Loos made the decision this past April to focus solely on coaching men’s basketball and pass the torch to a new leader who will look to build upon the progression that has been made.
Loos interviewed several candidates to fill the position, but ultimately made the move to hire Derek van der Merwe of Central Michigan. Van der Merwe had been a Chippewa for 22 years, with 17 of those years serving as the deputy athletics director, while also attending and playing football prior to becoming involved in the business aspect of athletics.
Even with his success at Central Michigan, van der Merwe says he needed a change to start a new chapter in his career.
“The time had come for me to start to look at venturing out and finding my program that I wanted to build and be a part of,” van der Merwe told The All State. “I had heard about Austin Peay because we had scheduled them in basketball this fall, and was told how great of a community this was, which is very important to me. Then our assistant football coach Kirby Cannon took the head coaching position at Austin Peay, and had said it was a special place with a great amount of potential and growth. I had very strong endorsements from people I trusted, and came down here and visited the campus. I found out the things said were true which motivated me to pursue this opportunity.”
Van der Merwe certainly has big shoes to fill as Loos led the program to great heights over the years that included multiple Ohio Valley Conference championships. But van der Merwe has built a good relationship with the former athletics director that has helped him prepare for stepping into a new environment.
“When you come into an institution and you’re the next person in after someone who has had a great legacy like Coach Loos, you want to make sure you are working with the right type of person. Coach Loos is an exceptional leader, a very humble and gracious man who has gone the extra mile to help make my reception here warm and welcome, while also taking me under his wing to make sure I understand the culture,” van der Merwe said.
“That’s something I’m very appreciative of and it’s a great honor to work with a person like that because it will help me transition easier to the process.”
Over the past couple of weeks, van der Merwe has started to get a feel of the campus environment by interacting with individuals in meetings and around campus to learn as much as he can.
This is something van der Merwe isn’t accustomed to considering it is a different culture than at Central Michigan, but is taking it all in stride.
“As director of an athletics department, you realize very quickly that your success is based upon the ability to work with people and make them a part of building a successful program,” he said. “That’s been my focus in this first week an half is to listen to our campus partners and understand their concerns as well as the culture of this community.”
Over the past year in Austin Peay athletics, the spring sports have proven to be more successful than those in the winter, with postseason titles earned by baseball, tennis, and golf.
However, van der Merwe has one expectation for all sports, whether it be winter or spring. Consistency.
“The most important thing I believe in framing my expectations of a championship culture is programs who are competing. It doesn’t mean they are going to win a championship every year. It means they are going to operate a program that believes in student athlete excellence on the field, in the classroom, and in the community,” van der Merwe explained.
“When you’re building programs who are subscribing to that standard of excellence, ultimately you will have success on the field as well because I believe success comes from great people, great leaders, and great students.”
With this mindset, van der Merwe is motivated to help Austin Peay get over the hump and continue to build upon the progression of Governor athletics. Only time will determine how much his impact will have, but with support from the community, van der Merwe is in a great position to succeed.
Photo: Derek van der Merwe (Beth Liggett/APSU Staff)