As expected, the University of North Texas Board of Regents unanimously voted Friday to appoint interim Missouri athletic director Wren Baker as the Mean Green’s new athletic director.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to lead a FBS Division I athletic program,” Baker said in a statement from Mizzou athletics. “While I am excited that (my wife) Heather and I will be able to realize a lifelong goal (for) our family, we will miss our friends in Missouri and at Mizzou. During our two stints living in the Show-Me State, we grew to love the people and the area.”
Baker, who begins his new job Aug. 22, was hired by the Tigers in May 2015 as former MU athletic director Mack Rhoades’ deputy athletic director. Baker previously served for two years in a similar post at Memphis.
When Rhoades resigned July 13 to become Baylor’s new athletic director, MU’s interim chancellor, Hank Foley, made Baker the Tigers’ acting A.D. even though he’d already been contacted by North Texas about its vacancy, a source told The Star.
With Baker’s departure, Foley announced Friday that he’ll lead the Tigers’ athletic department until a permanent candidate is hired.
“An aggressive search for Mizzou’s permanent Athletic Director is a top priority for me as chancellor and is already well underway,” Foley said in a statement from his office. “In the meantime, I will serve in that official capacity with the assistance of our other outstanding leadership in athletics.”
Baker, 37, is widely considered a rising star in the world of major-college athletics.
“I can say with total confidence that he is truly one of the rising leaders within intercollegiate athletics and will do a great job at North Texas,” Oklahoma athletic director and former Mizzou athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a release from North Texas. “I’ve been a huge fan of Wren’s since I watched him build the Rogers State athletics program from scratch.”
Baker was a possible candidate to succeed Rhoades, but it’s unclear how soon the Tigers will be ready to make a hire.
Instead, Baker is headed for Denton, Texas, in the north Dallas suburbs. The most visible programs at North Texas, which joined Conference USA in 2013, have fallen on hard times.
The football team, which went 1-11 last season, has had only one winning season since 2004 and is 36-96 during that span. Meanwhile, the Mean Green men’s basketball team hasn’t had a winning season since 2011-12 and women’s basketball has endured 10 straight losing seasons.
Still, North Texas had enough resources to build Apogee Stadium, a $78 million football facility, in 2011.
“I regret the timing of this announcement would bring any negative light to Mizzou,” Baker said. “Chancellor Foley has been tremendous to me and I am thankful for his leadership during some challenging circumstances. As I’ve said many times the past couple weeks, Mizzou has much to be proud of. It is a special institution with many successes to celebrate.”