For the second time in 18 months, Mizzou must search for a new athletic director.
That’s because Tigers athletic director Mack Rhoades stepped down abruptly Wednesday after fewer than 15 months on the job to become Baylor’s vice president and director of athletics.
First, the University of Missouri Board of Curators probably needs to hire a new system president and a new chancellor for the MU campus.
Additionally, those hires probably will dictate the course of the athletic director search.
But still, a new athletic director for the Tigers should be a top priority after the other positions are filled.
Whom might Missouri target? Glad you asked:
WREN BAKER, MU DEPUTY ATHLETIC DIRECTOR
Let’s start with the interim guy, Baker, who interim chancellor Hank Foley tapped to lead the athletics department during the transition after Rhoades’ departure. He’s had previous experience as an athletic director, but not at a major college program.
Baker served as Northwest Missouri State’s athletic director from February 2011-February 2013 after serving the previous five years as the first athletic director at Rogers State in Claremore, Okla.
Before coming to Missouri in June 2015, Baker, who oversaw basketball under Rhoades, was the deputy athletics director for external communications at Memphis. He’s a bright, affable guy and will be an athletic director again somewhere and some day if he chooses to be.
SARAH BAUMGARTNER, RUTGERS SENIOR ASSOCIATE AD
Baumgartner spent seven years at Missouri, including a stint as associate athletics director for development. She left to become the No. 2 figure on the Scarlet Knights’ athletic department. Baumgartner is a proven fundraiser and would be a popular hire. She’s sharp and well-respected and has Midwestern roots as an Illinois graduate.
MARK ALNUTT, MEMPHIS DEPUTY AD
Alnutt was Southeast Missouri’s athletic director for three years before replacing Baker at Memphis in July 2015. He’s widely considered a rising star in the world of athletic administration and might be more attractive as a minority candidate given the unrest on campus last fall. Alnutt’s experience, charisma and familiarity with Missouri — he played there from 1993-95, spent two seasons as a graduate assistant and six as director of football operations, then worked seven years as an assistant athletic director there — could make him an ideal candidate.
BRIAN WICKSTROM, LOUISIANA-MONROE AD
Wickstrom, who started his administrative career at Mizzou from 1999-2001, helped orchestrate the first privately funded facilities upgrade in Warhawks history. The Omaha native and Kansas State graduate also spent time at Santa Clara, Michigan, UTEP (under Bob Stull) and as California-Riverside’s athletic director.
JON SUNDVOLD, MU BOARD OF CURATORS
He has name recognition and an undying love for Mizzou. Sundvold, a Blue Springs graduate, has demonstrated business savvy as the president of Sundvold Financial, a Columbia investment advisory firm. Recently, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed him to the Board of Curators. He checks a lot of boxes from a leadership standpoint and has a lot of connections in college sports through his work as a TV college basketball analyst. Sundvold would be an intriguing candidate if he’s interested in the job.
WHIT BABCOCK, VIRGINIA TECH AD
A former Mike Alden lieutenant, Babcock was rumored to be in the mix at Baylor before Rhoades was hired. He’s got ties to Mizzou after serving five years as the Tigers executive associate athletic under Alden, starting in 2007. Before joining the Hokies in January 2014, Babcock also was the athletic director at Cincinnati. He has the fans clamoring, but it’s hard to see how MU is anything more than a lateral move right now … and one into potentially abject chaos.
MARIO MOCCIA, NEW MEXICO STATE AD
The former Southern Illinois athletic director served seven years under Alden as a senior associate athletic director. He returned to his alma mater in 2014 as the Aggies’ athletic director in 2015. While there’s no doubt Mizzou would be a massive step up, he might be comfortable at the school he graduated from in 1989. New Mexico State, which was booted from the Sun Belt, flirted with the idea of going the FCS route before opting to remain an FBS independent for now.
ROSS BJORK, MISSISSIPPI AD
Let’s just toss this one out there, while we’re naming prominent former Alden assistants. Bjork is a Dodge City, Kan., native and Emporia State graduate, who spent six years at Missouri from 1997-2003, including the last two as an assistant athletic director for development. The Tigers have a slightly bigger budget than the Rebels and he’d be closer to home. But only Bjork knows if he wants to trade Ole Miss’ issues, including an NCAA investigation into the football program, for Missouri’s. Again, it seems like a lateral move.
Of course, there are a couple athletic directors with no Mizzou ties out there too:
JIM STERK, SAN DIEGO STATE AD
One of the reigning National Association of College Directors of Athletics AD of the year, Sterk landed a spot on the prestigious NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee. He’s guided the Aztecs to unprecedented heights as a program and is a fundraising whiz. Of course, Sterk has Pac-12 roots and may have no interest in uprooting a comfy Southern California existence to deal with Mizzou’s myriad issues.
GREG CHRISTOPHER, XAVIER AD
There’s a knock — a pretty big one on Christopher in that the Musketeers don’t have football and he’d inherit a first-year football coach Barry Odom. However, Odom seems capable and Christopher has experience as an assistant at Purdue (1997-2006) and as the athletic director at Bowling Green from 2006-13, so football isn’t alien to him. Christopher has fundraising chops is a staple on prominent NCAA committees. That said, he’s an Indiana/Ohio guy and might have little interest in relocating.