The search is on for Missouri’s next athletic director after Mike Alden announced plans Thursday to step down Aug. 31.
Alden has been the Tigers’ athletic director since 1998 and helped raise the athletic department’s national profile substantially during his tenure, including guiding the transition from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference.
Maintaining the momentum Alden helped foster will be critical for his eventual replacement.
“The program Mike has shaped for 17 years here is incredible …” MU chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said at a news conference Friday at the Reynolds Alumni Center. “Where do you find this kind of success both academically and athletically combined? It’s very, very rare.
“We don’t want to lose that, so that’s the most important thing going forward. We have achieved so much. We can achieve even more, so the critical issue here is finding a leader who gets that and understands that balance.”
Loftin said he will spearhead the nationwide search for Alden’s successor.
“We will do the search right,” Loftin said. “It will be a careful process, but not terribly lengthy.”
The last time Loftin hired an athletic director was during his tenure at Texas A&M, when he lured Eric Hyman from South Carolina in 2012 in what was widely considered a home-run hire.
Loftin said that search took about six weeks. He wouldn’t commit to such a swift timeline again, but he made it clear that he wants to identify MU’s next athletic director soon.
“The longer we delay in identifying a new leader here, the more uncertainty we create and the more difficulty we create for the programs,” Loftin said. “My goal is to make sure we have stability and we continue our upward trajectory. This place is doing very well, and we don’t want to lose the momentum we have right now.”
Loftin has used a search firm to aid in filling previous vacancies, but he said Friday he has not made a decision about using a search firm in this instance.
Three former Alden assistants who are currently Division I athletic directors — Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock, Mississippi’s Ross Bjork and Southern Illinois’ Mario Moccia — seemingly would make logical candidates.
Babcock, 44, took the Hokies’ top athletics job last January after two years in the same position at Cincinnati. He spent five years on Alden’s staff as executive associate athletic director beginning in 2007.
Bjork, 42, a Dodge City, Kan., native and Emporia State graduate, has been the Rebels’ athletic director since 2012. He spent six years at MU, most of that time under Alden, working as athletic development officer during 1997-2001 and assistant athletic director for development during 2001-03.
Moccia, 47, has been with the Salukis since 2006. Before that, he was Missouri’s senior associate athletic director for seven years.
If Loftin has a short list of candidates in mind, he chose not to tip his hand.
“I have no predetermined outcome in terms of who it might be,” Loftin said. “We have no person in mind, no name in mind right this second.”
Loftin said the ideal candidate will have extensive experience working with coaches, but also will be a good communicator with a savvy business mind.
“People who grasp the power of media, grasp how we monetize this whole operation here, that has to be there as well …” Loftin said. “We have an $85 million-a-year budget roughly here at Mizzou. You’ve got to be a good manager. You’re a CEO of a pretty good-sized program. You’ve got to pick good people then support them to be able to do their jobs well. There’s a variety of things you do as an A.D.”
Alden said he would avail himself to Loftin if asked.
“If I could be of any assistance to Dr. Loftin at all, of course I would be, but certainly he’s the man,” Alden said. “He has done this before. He’s a great leader, and I don’t think he really needs any help.”
Similarly, Tigers football coach Gary Pinkel indicated that he’d be willing to offer input but didn’t necessarily expect to be consulted in the decision-making process.
“Chancellor Loftin is very, very good at what he does,” Pinkel said. “If he would ask me about anything, I certainly would give an opinion, but I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll do a great job. Mike Alden has turned this into a great job, so I think we’ll get somebody really good in here.”
As Alden prepares to leave, revenue and fund raising are at all-time highs.
Pinkel has stabilized the football program and molded it into a contender in the mighty SEC.
Former Norm Stewart disciple Kim Anderson is nine months into rebuilding the Tigers’ men’s basketball program.
Memorial Stadium has received a facelift each of the last two seasons with plans to build a south end-zone complex in the planning stages.
There also are plans for a new softball stadium, which go before the MU System Board of Curators later this week, in addition to recent facilities upgrades for tennis, golf and baseball.
“You can’t replace Mike Alden, but we’ll find a leader for our program that is of great character, fits the criteria that we want as a person to have at Mizzou,” Loftin said.