When Derek Carter graduated from Virginia Tech in 1985, he didn't envision a career in athletic administration. He used his marketing education degree to get a position with the Xerox Corporation in his native Washington, D.C., but there was something missing in his professional life.
"When I finished college, I wanted to just get a job in the corporate world," Carter said. "After a couple of years, I thought that, if I have to work for 30 to 35 years, I needed to get back to my passion."
Carter turned his passion for sports into a career that has taken him to all levels of athletic administration. On Sept. 1, Carter began his latest chapter as the director of athletics at Coppin State University.
He came to the Baltimore institution after three years as athletic director at Montgomery College in Rockville, Md. During the last 15 years, Carter has headed the athletic departments at Virginia State, Bowie State, Delaware State and Montgomery College. While at Bowie State in 2009, he received the Jeannette A. Lee Athletic Administration Award from the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
The 54-year-old graduate of DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md., was a standout collegiate football player at Virginia Tech, where he played on the same defense as Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman Bruce Smith. Carter, to his credit, was named to Virginia Tech's 1980's All-Decade football team.
In addition to his bachelor's degree from Virginia Tech, Carter earned a master's degree in sports management from the University of Tennessee.
Beginning his career as a collegiate athletic administrator in 1994, Carter served as an assistant athletic director at his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Four years later, he left to become the athletic director at Patrick Henry High School, in Ashland, Va., later returning to Virginia Tech in 2000 as the director of the Monogram Club, a student-athlete organization meant to "honor and engage" former student-athletes.
Carter secured his first athletic director position in 2001, getting the opportunity at Virginia State. He went to Bowie State in the same capacity two years later, and he guided the Bulldog program for six years before leaving for his first NCAA Division I job at Delaware State. From 2009-2012, Carter served as the Hornets' athletic director before becoming the school's special assistant to the executive vice president of finance. He ultimately came back to athletic administration in 2012, returning to his D.C. roots to take over the athletic program at Montgomery College.
When former Coppin State athletic director Derrick Ramsey resigned in November 2015, Carter was interested.
"I had been a fan of Coppin State during my previous stop at Delaware State," said Carter, who lives with his wife and two teenage sons in Bowie, Md. "The facilities really caught my eye. I wanted to get back to a four-year environment. There's also a new dynamic president, [Dr. Maria Thompson], and I was very enthused to be a part of her team. There's so much potential at Coppin State, and I wanted to be a leader of this charge."
Carter's previous exposure to the MEAC while at Delaware State also factored into his decision.
"I understand the philosophies of the conference," he said. "It certainly helps to have established relationships with the other athletic directors. I want to win championships at Coppin State, and my familiarity of knowing the MEAC will be beneficial."
Carter will lead a 12-sport athletic program, with five men's sports and seven women's programs. Known primarily as a basketball school, the Coppin State men's team has made four NCAA tournament appearances during the last 26 years but hasn't enjoyed a winning season since the 2010-11 campaign. The women's basketball program, which has made three NCAA and two WNIT tournament appearances in school history, has posted four winning seasons during the last five years and is a regular contender for the MEAC title.
"Men's and women's basketball are our premier programs, but our other sports all have to reach a level of consistency that will allow us to recruit even better student-athletes," Carter said. "We have to maintain our academic success, and I want to continue to bring quality student-athletes into the fold. Sustainability is what I want to see."
Carter also understands the need for Coppin State to increase its outreach efforts in the Baltimore region.
"We have to really connect with our external stakeholders, whether it's alumni, the community or corporate," Carter said. "We want them to partner with Coppin State athletics a little more than we've done in the past. It's up to us to get out there and tell our story and talk about the success of our student-athletes."
Carter is also looking forward to building on the school's crosstown rivalry with fellow MEAC member, Morgan State.
"With every sport, you must identify who your rival is," Carter said. "In our case, it is Morgan State. It's about being at a level where we've recruited well and have demonstrated retention of our student-athletes. That's how we build our program to be competitive, against Morgan State and all of our conference rivals."