Looking up at the dark Nebraska Scoreboard
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

A Look at What Kinds of Athletic Directors Other Power Five Programs Hire

July 01, 2021

When Shawn Eichorst was fired in 2017, Nebraska’s Athletic Director role was filled on an interim basis by Dave Rimington—an alum of the school and a program-defining center for whom the award given to the best center in college football annually is named after. Rimington helped steer the Nebraska program until the hiring of a permanent athletic director.

Though that man ended up being Bill Moos, a Washington State graduate, much was made about the importance of understanding Nebraska throughout the process. 

Trev Alberts, UNO’s athletic director and a Blackshirt at Nebraska in the 90s, was a name mentioned often for the position.

With Moos retiring, Nebraska is once again in the market for an athletic director, and once again former Huskers are hearing their names come up. Alberts has been mentioned once again. Ed Stewart’s name has been tossed around as well, a former captain of the 1994 national championship-winning Nebraska squad and current Big 12 executive. Matt Davison is also an internal name who’d no doubt come with the approval of the head football coach, if that was a thing to be considered. 

Tom Osborne, arguably one of the greatest college football coaches ever, was a Nebraska native and perhaps wrecked the curve. When he moved into the athletic director chair in 2007, his tenure was designed to course-correct a Nebraska program that had steered off-course of what it’s “supposed to be.”

While that “what it’s supposed to be” might mean different things to different people, Nebraska of late has placed value on people in positions of power entering with an already-established knowledge of what it takes to do this particular job in this particular state. 

While not a given Nebraska hires an alum of the university or a friend of the program, it does still seem a possibility. Curious how many other programs have put a premium on alma maters, we looked at each of the 64 other Power Five athletic directors’ résumés (with Notre Dame included).

Seventeen received either their undergrad degree or a postgraduate degree from the school they currently oversee, or 26.5%. That includes four in the ACC, four in the Big Ten, three in the Big 12, and five in the SEC. (The Pac-12 had none. Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick is an Irish alum.)

The list includes the following schools: Notre Dame, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt.

Interestingly, some of the more recent AD hires at places like Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma State—geographical similarities… perhaps?—were of school alums. In the Big Ten, it’s not yet a trend, but if Nebraska were to go the route of an alum, you’d have roughly a third of the conference’s membership managed by people with a preexisting knowledge of their athletic program. Maybe that’s something worth looking into more. 

With Stewart’s reported candidacy, there’s another factor worth looking at as well. 

Only 12 Power Five athletic directors are people of color. The Big Ten, now led by Kevin Warren, the first and only African-American Commissioner in A-5 history, boasts a third of those hires. 

Beyond that, only six of the 64 other athletic directors are women. 

A recent study conducted by the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University examined the trend. It looked at 385 athletic director changes across 248 NCAA Division I schools over a 10-year period from 2010 through 2019, the study found among other things that:

  • Incoming college athletic directors were predominantly White (77) and male (88 percent)
  • Women and people of color made slight gains over the decade, with the overall percentage of Black athletic directors rising from 17 percent to 19 percent and women from 8 percent to 12 percent.

In addition to Moos’ departure from the Nebraska athletic department, this year has also seen the retirement of Deputy Athletic Director Pat Logsdon and the departure of Diversity & Inclusion Director DaWon Baker. 

Last fall, a group of Husker student-athletes as part of the Minority Student-Athlete Collective, released a call-to-action statement directed at the university asking for better representation for people of color within higher positions in the athletic department. Specifically, the group asked for “multiple” POC serving as senior administrators, head coaches, and sports psychologists, as well as in positions with hiring power in their respective departments. 

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green has tapped a search firm to lead a national search for Nebraska’s new athletic director, so it might take some time before we learn who Moos’ successor will be. Nebraska could break ground, in a sense. It could also prioritize Nebraska roots, rejoining a somewhat select group of programs in doing so.

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