C.J. Woollum guided the men's basketball and golf teams, Vince Brown the track squads, and Vaughan wanted one of them to be his interim successor.
Thus began one of the most remarkable administrative careers in Virginia college sports history.
You've heard plenty about Woollum since he announced his basketball coaching retirement last month, and rightfully so. His teams won 502 games and earned 17 NCAA tournament bids in 26 seasons.
But what about the gig Woollum retains?
There are myriad ways to judge an athletic director, but none better than the head coaches he hires. And in that regard, CNU's accidental AD, on the job 23 years, has few peers.
"We've been really blessed," Woollum said, "not only in the caliber of the coaches, but in the fact that they have stayed with us."
They stay because CNU has inherent advantages, especially of late — its resources, facilities and presidential support dwarf most NCAA Division III schools. They stay because their boss supports but rarely meddles, suggests but rarely orders.
"He's always on the sideline for home games," field hockey coach Carrie Moura said. "Big wins, tough losses on the road, you get a phone call from him."
But there's no denying Woollum's eye for coaching talent. For example, Moura's program has earned four consecutive NCAA tournament bids and reached the national quarterfinals in 2006.
"I marvel at his ability to know who will fit," said women's basketball coach Carolyn Hunter, who doubles as the Captains' senior women's administrator. "He's got such a knack. I believe it's a gift. I believe he has a vision for this department."
After reluctantly accepting the interim athletic director post in June of '87, Woollum had until the end of August to formally apply for the full-time job. He submitted his paperwork Aug. 31.
Woollum, who relinquished his golf duties in 1998, has since hired coaches young and old, from near and afar, career assistants and seasoned head coaches. Most have won wildly.
"He was direct when he needed to be. He was serious when he needed to be. He lightened up when he needed to," football coach Matt Kelchner said of Woollum's vetting. "There aren't any big surprises with C.J. He's by the book, in a gentle, caring way."
The only coach the Captains have had since embarking on football for the 2001 season, Kelchner ranks among Woollum's shrewdest hires. He has led CNU to six NCAA playoffs in nine seasons, outrageous success for a start-up.
An assistant under Jimmye Laycock at William and Mary for 16 years, Kelchner was a logical candidate for the Captains. He had served an apprenticeship and knew Hampton Roads like ol' Chris Newport himself.
Baseball's John Harvell, men's soccer's Steve Shaw, softball's Keith Parr and Hunter were similarly familiar hires.
A 1992 CNU grad, Harvell coached Woodside High's varsity for four seasons before taking over the Captains in 2001; Parr not only graduated from CNU but also worked as an assistant coach there for four seasons prior to his 2004 promotion.