TopConnect was born over 15 years ago as a project to connect future leaders with current leaders. Initially launched as Villa 7, the TopConnect program has evolved into a valuable resource for professionals in the current climate of sports, athletics and leadership in general to foster dialogue between individuals that continually strive to effectively lead people, programs and organizations.
In March of 2002 Felton Jeffrey (Jeff) Capel III became the youngest Division 1 Head Basketball Coach in the country when he was hired to take over the reins of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams at the ripe old age of 27 years, one month. With only two years of coaching experience on the college level, conventional wisdom would tell any Athletic Director that Capel would have a relatively long tenure leading VCU’s basketball fortunes. After finishing 18-10 and finishing 2nd in the CAA with a team picked to finish much lower, Capel started drawing interest from nationally branded schools. Both Auburn and Miami called the young coach and serious discussions followed.
At that time Athletic Director, Dr. Dick Sander thought “Jeff is not going to be here very long, I have to develop a plan for succession.” With that in mind, Sander developed a program called Villa 7 that brought together the preeminent assistant coaches in the country with Mid-major athletic director in both formal and informal situations. The program had mid-major AD’s gather to discuss major topics pertinent to their situation for roundtable discussions and then a symposium where AD’s would share hiring thoughts, expectations of basketball coaches and general important facts that would benefit any aspiring head coach. Additionally, successful Head coaches shared their thoughts on the “first 100 days of their Head Coaching job” and many other valuable insights.
With the help of Dr. Wood Selig (ODU Athletic Director) and Edgar Johnson (Delaware Athletic Director) former mid-major coaches Joe Cantafio and Rick Boyages (now Associate Commissioner for Basketball Big 10) AD’s and coaches were recruited for the first event. After the first event Martin Newton (current Samford AD) who was working for Nike in college basketball, reached out and Nike became a partner. Throughout the years the program has spawned many high profile current Head Coaches and created relationships within the inner circle of college basketball.
Last year a new version of the program was brought back by Dr. Sander with assistance of Dr. Selig, Mark Benson (AD U Albany), Boyages and Mike Capaccio VP Citadel and Dr. Lyle Wolf (Virginia Tech Director of Student Athlete Development). Over the last three years many coaches and AD’s had encouraged Dr. Sander to resurrect the program and he has under the new name of TopConnect with Arms Software being the title sponsor and Van Wagner, Daktronics and Fast Model Sports pitching in to provide funding.
In 2018, over 45 assistant coaches and 25 Athletic Directors heard compelling and interesting content from a host of presenters. Coaches and AD’s made important connections and built their network of influencers that have proved extremely valuable.