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Building a candidate pool for the AD search

Mun Choi has to find the right person to meet the challenges in the changing landscape of college sports.

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For the most part, we’re all just sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting on some kind of news to break on the Missouri Athletic Director search. The University has some competition with Michigan State, who is also in search mode after Bill Beekman stepped down this past week. Beekman served as the interim AD after Mark Hollis resigned following the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.

So far it seems like the candidate pool isn’t intersecting, aside from maybe one name. We’ll get to that, as it seems unlikely that crossover fully exists. For Missouri, the initial pool of candidates isn’t completely known, other than maybe a few safe assumptions...

Dave Matter provided an update in his Thursday Chat:

... An initial round of virtual interviews have started. But here are a few things I’ve been told in recent days by sources with knowledge of the process ...

Wren Baker is in the mix. The North Texas AD is widely admired at Mizzou and has a strong reputation nationally. He has some influential backing on campus.

UNLV’s Desiree Reed-Francois is another person worth watching. She has SEC experience at Tennessee and worked closely with the football program at Virginia Tech.

There’s some thought in the industry that Doug Gillin at Appalachian State is still a strong candidate.

There is support among at least one influential booster for Pittsburgh’s Heather Lyke.

The only name from the reporting of Nicole Auerbach and Mizzou alum Colton Pouncy, in the previously linked article from The Athletic, is Pitt’s Heather Lyke. From Matter’s reporting it would seem like Lyke may not quite be as at the heart of the list. She appears as a mention at the end of Matter’s comments and The Athletic’s article. Which, if you are into the reading of the tea leaves, usually says, ““Don’t dismiss this person, but it’s probably not likely.”

I’m a fan of Wren Baker, and not just because he took some time after being named interim AD to talk to me and was always very engaging and helpful. He’s also accomplished a lot at North Texas. So much so that he’s one of the highest paid Athletic Directors in the group of five, and handsomely paid at North Texas. Baker hired Men’s Basketball coach Grant McCausland, who has turned around UNT’s hoops program into one of the better C-USA teams since being brought on. He didn’t hire Seth Littrell, as Baker was hired the next summer, but he’s overseen the growth of UNT Football and they’ve been to four bowls since 2017. He’s also setting fundraising records, and knows the landscape at Missouri having served under Mack Rhoades.

Baker is the known. The reasonable smart hire. I’ve talked to him; he’s charming and intelligent. He knows how to do the thing.

I’m really intrigued by Matter’s second name, Desiree Reed-Francois. Reed-Francois has hired a lot of coaches. According to her UNLV bio she’s named new coaches in men’s and women’s basketball, football, women’s soccer, softball and volleyball. She lured Marcus Arroyo, a hot head coaching candidate, away from Oregon where he was the defensive coordinator. She installed T.J. Otzelberger, and has since had to replace him after he took the job at Iowa State. Her next hire? Lon Kruger’s son, Kevin. Obviously the jury is still out on Kruger, and Otzelberger left before any success could be fully realized. But the hires show a boldness you want in an Athletic Director.

At a place like UNLV, you have to be bold to have success. And Missouri needs bold.

I’m not suggesting Wren Baker can’t be bold, he’s hired arguably the best basketball coach in UNT history. He’s set records raising money. Both Baker and Reed-Francois would, at least from the outside, seem like excellent hires.

Doug Gillin seems like an outsider right now. There’s some connection to the fact he hired Drinkwitz, but Gillin has been at Appalachian State since 2015, and despite his multiple stints at Missouri over the years, it just doesn’t feel like it’s what Missouri is looking for. Gillin has been around, and it would be safe. I’m sure he’d do a good job.

Honestly, being an Athletic Director is a really tough job of which we really understand very little about. So I don’t want to assume one person will do a good job and another wouldn’t. Just for what Missouri seems to be seeking at this point is someone very forward thinking. That’s another way of saying they’re probably looking for somebody with more years ahead of them than behind. I fully expect Mizzou’s next Athletic Director to be on the younger side, and probably a little more charismatic than some previous ADs.

I think Mun Choi is looking for an Eli Drinkwitz after dealing with Barry Odom.

That’s not to disparage either Odom or Sterk, who were both seemingly good people who did adequate jobs. They weren’t exceptional by any stretch, but they were also rather bland boring men who just wanted to go about their jobs and be left alone. But that’s not the gig these days. Drinkwitz is a promoter, and Mizzou Athletics needs a leader in that same vein. Maybe it’s Baker, maybe it’s Reed-Francois... it’s probably neither and will end up being someone not even mentioned in this article.

At this point, we only know who’s it's not going to be —Jeremiah Donati from TCU — but everyone else might be on the table.