University president Dr. Mark Keenum announced Tuesday morning that a nationwide search is underway to select the 17th director for Bulldog athletics. In a provided statement Dr. Keenum said he plans to move quickly “to find an individual with the vision and leadership to meet high expectations for success at Mississippi State.”
An executive search firm will assist the University administration in the search. This signals that Dr. Keenum was already laying groundwork for a search before Scott Stricklin formally accepted Florida’s offer Monday. Stricklin was unanimously approved by the Florida board of regents and steps to the podium at 2:00 today in Gainesville.
This will be the second athletic director selected during Dr. Keenum’s tenure. He promoted Stricklin to the top sports job in 2010 to replace Greg Byrne.
Florida is signing Stricklin, 46, to a six-year contract at just under $1.1 million annually. The base salary is $500,000 with bonuses raising the total. The state of Mississippi caps state employee contracts at four years, though there are means of administrators and coaches having an unofficial fifth year by outside arrangements through foundations and recognized booster clubs.
In the University release Dr. Keenum praised Stricklin’s achievements as director. “Over the past six years Scott raised the profile of MSU athletics, improved facilities across the board, and provided the resources for our student-athletes to compete for championships.”
Input from Mississippi State supporters, fans, and friends will be sought as well as evaluations by the search firm. There has been no statement so far about need for an interim athletic director, which could indicate a prompt choice is planned.
The MSU administration is not discussing candidates. So the growing lists of names appearing in media and fan discussions is mostly speculative. This is the case with the three most commonly-mentioned ‘internal’ persons supposedly under consideration.
Getting the most mention for whatever this is worth are:
Baseball coach John Cohen, the former Diamond Dog and 2008 Byrne hire who this past summer received a promotion to associate athletic director along with his main job;
Senior associate athletic director for development Bo Hemphill, a MSU alumnus who was promoted to this post in 2010 to replace Stricklin;
Senior associate athletic director for external affairs Scott Wetherbee, hired by Stricklin in 2013 from East Carolina and a Ball State alumnus.
To those, a cascade of names began Monday evening with suggestions that sitting athletic directors at UNC-Wilmington, Central Michigan, Memphis, and more are ‘candidates’. This speculative list likely falls far, far short of the real list of names, solicited or not, which began crossing Dr. Keenum’s desk even before the weekend, when Stricklin’s departure was far from certain.
Maybe the most interesting unofficial name is who Stricklin apparently trumped for the Florida job. Current Kansas State AD John Currie was frequently reported as a leading candidate in Gainesville up to last week when Stricklin's status leaked out. Stricklin and Currie are good friends in the profession, and Currie was on the MSU campus just this past summer for a visit to compare notes.
All of which signals something which should assure Bulldog fans in an unexpectedly-uncertain period: the Mississippi State athletic director job has reached a stature to attract proven performers in college and professional sports administrative circles.