November 1, 2021 – Universities continue to turn to executive search firms to find new athletic directors. Raleigh, NC-based Collegiate Sports Associates (CSA), which specializes in athletic director and head coach hirings, has been called in by the University of Toledo to find its next athletic director. Retiring AD Mike O’Brien will serve in his post until his last day April 30, 2022. During Mr. O’Brien’s tenure, which began in January 2002, Toledo has won or shared 36 MAC championships in nine different sports.
The 10-person search committee features university employees, local business leaders, and alumni. Douglas Huffner, UT’s associate vice president for risk management and chief risk officer, is chairing the committee. “Our committee represents UToledo’s campus community ranging from a student’s perspective to faculty, staff, alumni and donors,” Mr. Huffner said. “I am confident our experiences and expertise we bring to the table will help us find the next great leader for the Rocket athletic program, one of the best in the MAC and one of the top mid-major athletic programs in the nation.”
“Under Mike O’Brien’s leadership, Rocket Athletics has developed a reputation for excellence in the classroom and on the field,” said Gregory Postel, president of University of Toledo. “We must maintain this momentum and build upon our history of success. We are looking for a leader that shares Rocket Nation’s enthusiasm, as well as a commitment to our institutional values including student-centeredness and diversity.”
Collegiate Sports Associates has helped with several searches in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) recently, including the University of Akron, Miami University and Ball State University, as well as national searches for the University of Cincinnati, the University of Georgia and Michigan State University.
Collegiate Sports Associates helps recruit talent for athletics programs at NCAA Division I universities and conferences across the U.S. The firm’s network of associates includes current and former Division I athletics directors and other senior university and conference officials, including commissioners, presidents, faculty athletics representatives, coaches, and associate athletics directors.
CSA founder and president Todd Turner has over 30 years of experience in intercollegiate athletics, 21 of which were as the athletics director at four major Division I FBS/BCS institutions.
Among its previous placements, Collegiate Sports Associates has helped recruit athletic directors for Boston College, the University of Mississippi, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Clemson, and Penn State. The firm has placed head coaches for Miami, Yale, and Boise State, among others. And it has helped to find head basketball coaches for Cal. Kansas State, Fresno State and Oklahoma.
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.
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“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