Gee told BlueGoldNews.com that the departure of Oliver Luck to accept the newly-named Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs NCAA has been planned for about a month, and that Luck, whose last day will be Jan. 15, has been “exceptionally helpful” in making national contacts about the position. West Virginia University, Gee said, will not hire an external consultant, but instead work in-house, and has been working in house already. While there is no firm timetable for a hire, Gee said WVU, with a month with which to work already, expects to move quickly.
Gee, who served as the 11th and 14th President of Ohio State, the seventh Chancellor at Vanderbilt and the 17th President of Brown, in addition to his current position as the 24th WVU President and a stint in the same position at West Virginia from 1981-85, says the WVU job is one of the most attractive in the country, and that he's been "in this hiring business" and made these hires before of "a lot of great ADs."
Gee noted that candidates will not be limited to those with athletic department experience, and that the "door needs to be open to the very best person however you find them."
“This is a very attractive job, one of the most attractive in the country,” Gee said. “The person needs to have a passion for intercollegiate athletics and a passion for who we are as an institution. It’s not necessary that they have West Virginia or WVU roots, but that they understand our institution’s uniqueness and our role within the state. They also need to possess the integrity and ability to recruit and retain talent and understand the modern-day student-athlete.”
Gee said the WVU AD job is "no place for a learning curve" and that the hire must have a "strong track record" and be able to navigate the "shark-infested waters" of major collegiate athletics as a business. Last year, West Virginia’s athletic department had a $77.7-million plus budget that will increase as the university moves to a 100 percent share of its Big 12 revenues in 2016. WVU received almost $14 million this past spring as a 67 percent share in year to as a member, and will receive an 85 percent share this spring.
In his four and a half years at WVU, Luck helped guide the University into a power conference, the Big 12; initiated a new $21 million baseball park project in the county set for a spring 2015 opening; spearheaded the modernization of many athletic facilities, including a new football team room, men’s and women’s basketball facility and women’s soccer training complex; implemented several safety and crowd enhancements at athletic venues; and increased overall department revenue. He also added an 18th varsity sport, men’s golf, which will get under way in 2015, made several key coaching hires, initiated a 12-year media rights contract and spearheaded the $75 million bond to help finance the facilities modernization plan.
Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Keli Cunningham will serve as interim director of athletics, effective immediately, until a permanent athletic director is named. Cunningham has been with the WVU Athletic Department since 2010, overseeing compliance and managing the daily operations of the administration.
There have been multiple names floated for the opening, perhaps the foremost of which is current Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens, a state native. The 45-year-old Mullens earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s in sport management from West Virginia University in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Mullens was named Oregon’s 12th director of intercollegiate athletics on July 15, 2010, after arriving from the University of Kentucky, where he served as deputy director of athletics and managed day-to-day operations for Kentucky’s 22-sport athletics department, with an annual operating budget of $79 million.
Mullens’ background is in accounting and auditing, and he promoted sound fiscal management and self-sufficiency at the University of Kentucky. During his total of eight years at Kentucky, the athletic department’s operating budget expanded by nearly 70 percent. Fundraising for the department hit record levels each of the past seven years prior to his departure.
“I think that the door needs to be open to the very best person however you find them,” Gee said. “You need to have someone who has a strong track record and the ability to operate in the very shark-infested waters of this business. It’s something we have to take a look at. This is no place for a learning curve.
“This is a great opportunity for Oliver. He’s been very helpful, one of our major assets in terms of recruitment. He and I have had continuing conversations about who we ought to look at, who we should be looking for. The nice thing about having Oliver here is he can answer (candidate) questions about the opportunities here, and he’s leaving in the best of circumstances with all flags flying.”