November 15, 2022 – West Virginia University has called in TurnkeyZRG to lead its search for a new athletic director. The school recently parted ways with director of athletics and associate vice president Shane Lyons. The search firm is looking to have a new director in place within three to four weeks.
“I deeply appreciate Shane’s leadership over the past eight years and I wish him well,” said Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University. “But with the ever-changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, I believe this is an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to our program.”
The school recently appointed Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives, as interim director of athletics. “I am confident that Rob will lead and assist our coaches, student-athletes and staff during this turning point,” Mr. Gee said. “I also know that he will lay the pathways necessary for a new athletic director to make a seamless transition into the role.”
The incoming director of athletics will oversee 18 varsity sports, a self-sustaining department budget of more than $93 million, and 250 employees.
West Virginia University is a member of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I. The Mountaineers have been a member of the Big 12 Conference since 2012. At that time, the Mountaineers joined the Mid-American Conference as an affiliate member for men’s soccer. The two major sports at the university are football and basketball, although many of the other sports have large followings as well.
Serving Sports, Media and Entertainment Organizations
Founded in 1996, TurnkeyZRG is a specialized talent recruitment/executive search firm filling C-level, senior-level, and mid-management-level positions throughout sports, media, and entertainment. Over the past 25 years, the firm has filled more than 1,400 positions. TurnkeyZRG helps teams, leagues, stadiums, arenas, theaters, college athletic departments, events, sponsors, agencies, media companies, private equity companies, and other clients identify, recruit, and hire the best management talent.
Len Perna, chairman and CEO of TurnkeyZRG, has 30-plus years of experience in the sports and entertainment industry, with senior-level management experience in sales, event marketing and management, sponsorships, venue feasibility and development, facility operations, licensing, and legal affairs. Since founding Turnkey, Mr. Perna has managed over 1,400 executive searches, according to the firm.
Athletic directors are playing an increasingly vital role at colleges and universities across the country. With the expansion of athletic departments and, for the larger schools, the infusion of big dollars for sports, more schools have turned to search firms when such positions become open. Too much is at stake, they feel, to go it alone. What’s more, the AD job has come to demand greater business and management skills than the typical academic search.
The NCAA board of governors has selected TurnkeyZRG to lead its search for a new president. Mark Emmert will be stepping down as president and will continue to serve in the role until a new president is chosen and in place or until June 30, 2023. “We’re honored to assist the NCAA board with this important search,” said Len Perna, chairman and CEO of TurnkeyZRG. “It’s not plug-n-play. Lots of listening and discovery across a wide range of stakeholders is in order to refine and perhaps redefine the needed role in our new world. We’re huge believers in intercollegiate athletics and were more than willing to put in the extra time and staff to ensure we get this right.”
“The AD today is the CEO of athletic operations at a college,” said John Lahey, current president at Quinnipiac University. “Thirty to 40 years ago, you were more likely to see former coaches and athletes promoted into those roles as a way of rewarding success or longevity, but now you need a business-person who is able to lead people, generate revenue and understand how the marketing and brand of athletics can impact the entire university.”
Bill Lennox, president at St. Leo University in Florida, said schools must make sure that the AD is a senior member of the entire university staff. “We moved the AD to the equivalent level of a vice president, so he sat in all of the meetings and in the decision-making process with the rest of the VPs of the university,” he said.
The modern AD position oversees finances, marketing, human resources, student-athlete wellness, media contracts, and of course overall performance – all while salaries head well into seven figures and beyond.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media