Building Blocks: McClellan off and running as IUPUC’s first athletics director

Zach McClellan has spent most of his adult professional life building things, and now he is taking on the challenge of building something else — an athletics program at IUPUC.

McClellan has been named the school’s first athletics director and started his position on Jan. 3.

“Columbus is such a great city, and I just think that we are a sports city, and this is a tremendous opportunity to bring a level above high school to Columbus,” McClellan said. “The reception I’ve received already has been overwhelmingly positive. Columbus is such an amazing city.”

McClellan was president of LHPU, a division of LHP Engineering Solutions, and built the built business program for LHP. He was teaching professional development to engineering students at IUPUC before taking on the athletics director role.

“That experience is something that I’m going to leverage with this project,” McClellan said.

Athletics also has been a big part of McClellan’s life. He played baseball at Indiana University and played professional baseball for about a decade.

He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in 2000 and was traded to Colorado Rockies in 2004, when he was in Double-A. He played winter baseball in Mexico in 2006, got first spring training invitation in 2007 and saw his only major league action that season, when Rockies made it to the World Series.

McClellan had shoulder surgery during the 2007 regular season and was unable to pitch in the playoffs. He was, however, the pitcher when Rockies infielder Troy Tulowitzki turned an unassisted triple play.

“You’re only one strike away from getting out of a jam, and that’s kind of how I’m looking at this process,” McClellan said. “You’re one strike away.”

After re-signing with the Rockies in 2008, McClellan pitched six games in rehab assignment. He had second shoulder surgery in 2009.

“For all intents and purposes, that shoulder surgery was pretty much it,” McClellan said.

McClellan tried to make a comeback with the independent Gary Railcats in 2010, but realized it was time to focus on his business ventures.

One of those businesses was Demand Command, a baseball organization that he started in 2007. Demand Command now has baseball teams in Indiana, Ohio and Arizona and also has a travel basketball team.

McClellan earned his bachelor’s degree in arts and humanities from IU while he was playing in Double-A. He got his MBA from University of Phoenix while he was playing in the major leagues.

“One of the reasons why I wanted my MBA was to learn how to manage a business and start a business,” McClellan said.

Last fall, McClellan began as an adjunct professor, teaching Intro to Professional Brand, a master’s level class.

“I got to know some of the other professors that worked on campus, and it felt like home to me,” McClellan said. “I just think interacting with students is critical.”

McClellan, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, comes from an athletic family. His father played basketball at Michigan and scored the first points in Crisler Arena. His mother was a high jumper at Bowling Green. One brother played baseball at Ohio Northern, and another brother played basketball and baseball Oakland (Michigan). His father-in-law played football at IU, and his sister-in-law is on the rules committed for volleyball and basketball at the National Federation of High School Sports in Indianapolis.

Zach and his wife Sarah have three daughters. Despite their extensive athletics backgrounds, they realize that education comes first.

“I would say we both have a strong background in education and athletics,” Zach said. “I definitely believe in the mantra that it’s ‘student-athlete’ with ‘student’ first and not ‘athlete-student.’ Without my education, it would have been a lot tougher for me.”

IUPUC is planning to start with men’s and women’s cross-country this fall and baseball and softball next spring. Jackson Paradise and Katie Taylor, both 2020 Hauser graduates, are among the first to commit to play baseball and softball at IUPUC.

The baseball and softball teams are hoping to practice in the fall. Practice and competition facilities have yet to be determined.

“We want to include the sports that make the most sense in terms of facilities because we’re not going to build our own facilities,” McClellan said. “But we have to start somewhere. We have a long way to go, but I’m confident in the plan that we have in place. Every community leader that operates facilities in Columbus has offered support.”

IUPUC applied in November for membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The school had its first webinar with NAIA officials on Monday, and the NAIA is coming to Columbus for a site visit Feb. 28 and March 1 to evaluate IUPUC’s plan and proposed facilities.

“That site visit isn’t just an evaluation of IUPUC,” McClellan said. “It’s an evaluation of Columbus and how prepared we are to host events. I plan on putting on a good presentation for both.”

Reinhold Hill, vice chancellor and dean at IUPUC, is excited to have McClellan as the school’s first athletics director.

“As a former IU student, a resident of Columbus and a faculty member at IUPUC, Zach fully understands the impact that intercollegiate athletics can have on our campus, as well as the community as a whole,” Hill said. “When you look at his accomplishments both inside and outside of sports, it’s evident that Zach is someone who gets things done, and we believe his positive energy will invigorate our campus as we move forward with this new chapter in the history of IUPUC.”

McClellan is ready for the challenge.

“When I’m presented with an issue, when I don’t know the answer to the problem, I’m humble enough to ask people around me,” McClellan said. “That’s basically been my philosophy my whole life. Nobody knows everything. At the end of the day, this position is not about me. It’s about the students, especially during COVID, when people have lost seasons, lost years of eligibility. The thing I enjoy most is helping people.”