WOMEN TO WATCH SERIES: Tiffany Tucker on her career in athletics

Abigail Celoria, Culture Editor

This October, WILMA Magazine announced the 35 finalists selected for the WILMA’s 2022 Women to Watch Awards, which included four current UNCW faculty. Tiffany D. Tucker, Deputy Director of Athletics & Senior Woman Administrator, was one of those four finalists, and at the awards ceremony on Oct. 21, she was announced as the winner under the education category. 

“It’s overwhelming,” Tucker said of the nomination, prior to the awards ceremony. “I’m honestly just humbled that someone would think of the work I’m doing. I’ve had the opportunity to meet the other people in the education category, and they’re absolutely amazing. So just to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, we’ve all won, to be recognized by our peers and presented to the community.” 

Tucker is a passionate powerhouse not only in the context of UNCW athletics, but in women’s sports as a whole. Her long and dedicated career makes her an expert at combining the interpersonal and administrative aspects of athletics. 

Tucker, in her own words, is a product of the UNC system. She attended UNC Chapel Hill as an undergraduate, majoring in philosophy, and as a student athlete in women’s basketball. Upon graduating in 2005, she got the urge to start coaching on the collegiate level, and did so at Alleghany College, Radford University and Francis Marion University before taking on some administrative work during her time with Claflin University and Elizabeth City State University. She also joined a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) advisory committee and worked with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) office on compliance in women’s basketball while at Claflin. 

“In those last two roles, I started to get more involved and networked,” said Tucker. “Both in coaching and also higher-level conversations around how women’s basketball was evolving, how sports in general was evolving on the cusp of this women-centered movement. A lot of people started to look to me in these circles. That was how the idea of administration popped into my head.” 

Tucker applied to Hampton University through a grant-funded program sponsored by the NCAA. Through this program, she was able to pursue her master’s and simultaneously work full-time in athletics administration. 

Both Elizabeth City and Hampton were training grounds for Tucker. Due to them being lower-resource universities, she took on several roles in both departments. At Elizabeth City, Tucker coached women’s basketball, tennis, and volleyball while also filling the role of Assistant Director within their athletics department. At Hampton, she gathered a variety of experiences, specifically in administration. 

“I had a great AD there who put me in a lot of places,” said Tucker. “From working with fundraising and sponsorships, to doing compliance, to overseeing our administration’s operation on a day-to-day basis, on top of this hands-on experience of working with football. In the world of athletics, you’ve got to have some understanding of football and how it operates because it’s a huge generator of revenue, and it’s a huge expense as well. So [Hampton] gave me my first real opportunity to work in all of these areas.” 

After a role as Deputy Director of Internal Affairs at South Carolina State University, Tucker became Deputy Director of Athletics at UNCW in January of 2019. 

“Being back in North Carolina was important to me,” explained Tucker on why she took the position. “I love the state. I’ve spent a lot of time here. And then, too, being a product of the UNC system and having an opportunity now to give back and serve in the same system that has given me so much.” 

Hurricane Florence initially disrupted Tucker’s start at UNCW. The university had been closed prior to her first spring semester, making the comeback new and difficult for everyone. However, the experience gave her a level of resiliency as a professional and a bond with the other staff at UNCW. 

As Deputy Director, Tucker ranks second highest in the department. She oversees all day-to-day operations of nineteen sports, all coaches and sports supervisors, and serves as a liaison to the campus at large.  

Tucker’s other role as Senior Woman Administrator is equally important to her job in athletics. In 1981, the same year that women’s championships were instituted, the NCAA created the Senior Woman Administrator role. Tucker carries this distinction with pride due to the history behind it, guaranteeing the presence of a woman at an athletics department’s table where decisions must be made. 

Her passion doesn’t end with her administrative tasks, however. One of Tucker’s favorite parts of the job is not only learning the stories of UNCW’s student athletes, but being able to share them as well. She is a champion for her student athletes, citing them when asked about her greatest achievement. 

“Not one [achievement] specifically but watching our student athletes graduate and watching them win championships,” said Tucker. “And knowing, because I was a student athlete, the blood, sweat, and tears you put into it—night in, night out, practice, and games, and sacrifices, and not being able to hang out with your friends. All the sacrifices you had to make. All the things you couldn’t do, culminating in you winning or being successful in your support, and you being able to graduate with your degree. It’s watching them go to commencement, and watching their parents lose it. And hearing from them, ‘Oh, So-and-So is so different from when we dropped them off freshman year.’” 

When asked about what impact she wanted to leave on UNCW, Tucker simply expressed her affection for her department. 

“I just want people to know, there was never a job too big or too small, there was never a situation where I wasn’t willing to advocate for my students, for my staff,” explained Tucker. “I want my students and my staff to know I love them.” 

WILMA’s Women to Watch Awards provide not only an opportunity to recognize Wilmington’s amazing women, but also gives them the chance to connect with one another. 

“It’s opened my network up to several boss women in our Wilmington community,” said Tucker. “And figuring out, how can we collaborate and make our city better? I’ve got a great thing here with women in our department, female student athletes. Not even specifically female—student athletes who need the wisdom and knowledge and access of amazing women. It’s created a wider network for me to connect and collaborate on different things in the city, but also to be able to connect my students with opportunities that may fit what they’re looking for.” 

Tucker’s passion for UNCW athletics shines through in her approach to her role. She is an excellent educator not only because of the knowledge she carries, but also the mindset she maintains in contributing to UNCW’s community.  

Check out the full list of WILMA’s 2022 Women to Watch Awards nominees here and the winners, now publicly released, here. The Seahawk’s Culture section will continue to release individual profiles on the remaining faculty finalists. Be sure to return every Monday for their stories and applaud UNCW’s female faculty with The Seahawk.