High-quality athletic directors are hard to come by, but within the Forgotten 5 conferences are Athletic Directors with Power 5 potential.
With two Power 5 AD jobs open (Vanderbilt and Florida St.), we thought it was a good time to discuss the cream of the crop that may rise to the Power 5 in the near future.
The individuals in this group have great resumes, Power 5 experience, broad networks across intercollegiate athletics, and the skill sets to take over a Power 5 program.
Some have strengths in fundraising and branding, while others in hiring and foundation building, but all hit the mark.
(Names are alphabetized by institution name and are not ranked in any particular order.)
Arkansas State- Terry Mohajir (@TerryMohajirAD)
Mohajir cut his teeth at Kansas and was considered for that recent opening and others.
The Red Wolves have enjoyed unprecedented overall success academically, competitively, and financially during Terry Mohajir’s tenure.
A-State has claimed 18 conference championships under Mohajir, including four Sun Belt football titles. Since Mohajir’s arrival, six different coaches at A-State have been named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
There has been a 184 percent increase in the foundation’s annual fund and premium seating revenue, while capital facilities fundraising is at an all-time high as well. The athletics department’s budget increased from $15.3M in Mohajir’s first year to a school-record $43.1M.
A-State has completed, is in the process of completing, or has committed to a combined $80 million in construction and facility renovations, including a new 40,000-square-foot football press box and west-side concourse, the north end zone project, a 78,000-square foot practice facility for A-State sports, new tennis courts, and a new outdoor track.
Colorado State- Joe Parker (@JoeParkerCSU)
Parker only worked at the Power 5 level before Colorado State, with stops including Texas, Washington State, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Texas Tech.
In Joe Parker’s first three-plus years in Fort Collins, he has guided the athletics department and CSU through the construction of Colorado State’s 41,000-capacity multipurpose stadium.
He has led the department of athletics through the successful process of selling out all premium-seating inventory in the stadium, while season ticket sales reached a record of 15,500 for the 2017 season.
In April 2018, Parker and CSU President Dr. Tony Frank announced a $37.7M naming rights partnership with Canvas Credit Union. Since beginning his tenure in Fort Collins, CSU has boasted 10 All-America awards, one individual NCAA champion (2017-18), and 11 Mountain West championships.
The Rams also signed an extension of Colorado State’s multi-year agreement to keep Under Armour as its official apparel provider through 2021, as well an enhanced, long-term multimedia rights partnership with Learfield, both of which position Colorado State for continued growth in its profile and stature nationally.
Incarnate Word – Dr. Brian Wickstrom (@UIW_AD)
The ultimate grinder of the group, Wickstrom has had success at institutions that have never before experienced it.
Since taking over in San Antonio, Wickstrom has secured two of the three largest commitments in program history.
Wickstrom was part of the bid committee that landed San Antonio in the 2025 NCAA Men’s Final Four and the 2021 NCAA Women’s Final Four, which UIW will co-host.
His football hire, Eric Morris (former Texas Tech OC), has put the Cardinals in contention for a conference title in year one.
During his time at Louisiana-Monroe prior to this, Wickstrom displayed why he is one of the top fundraisers in the country by securing nine of the top ten gifts in ULM Athletics history.
Under Wickstrom’s direction, men’s basketball put together one of the best two-year stints in program history. Tennis was the first women’s team at ULM to win a Sun Belt Conference Championship, while multiple coaches earned Sun Belt Coach of the Year honors.
Wickstrom’s football hire at ULM, Matt Viator, currently has the Warhawks sitting atop the Sun Belt West and in line to play for the Sun Belt Conference Championship.
Memphis- Tom Bowen (twitterless)
Tom Bowen was hired to ready the Tigers for a Power 5 invite and he has just done that.
Vast facilities improvements have been made, including: a new basketball center, a new baseball training facility, and a new football facility that is currently being built.
All-time highs have been seen in the classroom with record GPA’s and enhanced APR scores. Under Bowen, the football program has become one of the biggest stories in the sport.
The Tigers won the 2014 American Athletic Conference crown, the 2017 West Division title, and have made a school-record four consecutive bowl games (2014-17).
As a result, Memphis has experienced an increase in attendance at the Liberty Bowl. In the last three campaigns combined (2015-17), Memphis’ average attendance skyrocketed to just under 40,000 a game — a nearly 100 percent increase prior to Bowen’s arrival.
He is also currently embarking on revitalizing the storied Tigers men’s basketball program under new head coach “Penny” Hardaway.
Nevada- Doug Knuth (@DougKnuth)
A major accomplishment during Doug Knuth’s tenure has been hiring coaches who are able to do more with less.
His hire of Eric Musselman has transformed the men’s basketball team, as the Wolf Pack won Mountain West Championships in 2016-17 (regular season and tournament) and 2017-18.
Knuth’s second hire, T.J. Bruce for the Nevada baseball team, delivered another conference championship in the spring of 2018. The football program is also currently seeing progress under Jay Norvell.
Knuth worked in fundraising roles at both Utah and Michigan State, and fundraising success has been seen in Reno as Knuth and his team raised funds for the $11.5M renovation to 50-year-old Mackay Stadium.
Other recent facilities upgrades include the renovation of the Lombardi Recreation Center, the Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center, and new facilities for the tennis and track programs.
Wolf Pack’s scores in the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Academic Progress Report (APR) are at record highs.
NIU- Sean Frazier (@SeanTFrazier)
Sean Frazier has set the foundation for success that will help the Huskies excel for years to come.
The Huskies launched the NIU Athletics Facilities Master Plan in 2014 and followed it up with the department’s strategic plan in 2015.
Both built toward the “Campaign to Sustain” (fundraising campaign), which began in 2017. In terms of revenue generation, the Huskie Athletic Fund (HAF) surpassed $2M in annual support for the second time in 2017-18, raising more than $2.2M in cash and gift-in-kind donations.
Over the course of his time at NIU, Frazier has grown additional revenue streams from just over $700,000 prior to his arrival to $3.1M, an increase of 342 percent.
Frazier is utilizing creative events to help drive revenue, including the Huskie Chi-Town Showdown football game versus Toledo at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox, and drawing popular acts to campus, like Thomas Rhett and Brad Paisley.
North Texas- Wren Baker (@wrenbaker)
Wren Baker is currently the Vice President and Director of Athletics at the University of North Texas.
In just over two years, Baker has completely changed the trajectory for the Mean Green, from an underachieving program to a perennial contender in Conference USA.
The men’s basketball program captured the CBI championship under first-year head coach Grant McCasland, while the football program has been rebuilt with Seth Littrell.
Under Baker’s leadership, the Mean Green recently completed the most successful fundraising year in school history, nearly doubling the previous department record. The banner year culminated with the announcement of the two largest gifts in UNT athletics history.
North Texas athletics is in the middle of the largest athletics-facilities campaign in school history with a new track/soccer stadium already built and an indoor practice facility that is expected to be completely finished in summer 2019.
SMU- Rick Hart (@AD_RickHart)
Rick Hart is a third-generation athletics administrator who has the pedigree and skills to be a Power 5 AD.
During his time at SMU, the Mustangs have won in the classroom, on the playing fields, and in the community. Sixty-five percent of the student-athlete population holds cumulative GPAs of 3.0 or higher, nineteen conference team championships have been won under his tenure, and Mustang student-athletes logged 3,557 community service hours during the 2017-18 academic year.
SMU supporters have responded as donor support has grown each of the last six years. In 2017-18, donors contributed a record $24.3M.
During Hart’s time, SMU has renovated and expanded Moody Coliseum and opened numerous new facilities, including the Miller Event Center, the SMU Tennis Complex, a golf-training center, the Robson & Lindley Aquatics Center and Barr-McMillion Natatorium. SMU has also broken ground on an indoor performance center.
UCF- Dr. Danny White (@UCFDannyWhite)
A blue blood and a blue chip within the world of athletic administration, Dr. Danny White will soon be a Power 5 AD, either by turning UCF into one or by being recruited away.
White was named one of Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award winners in both 2017 and 2018, and he was named a finalist for the Sports Business Journal’s Athletics Director of the Year honor in 2018.
White saw numerous game-changing gifts made to UCF Athletics, including a $5M commitment, which was the largest cash pledge ever to UCF by an alumnus. White also closed gifts of $1.5M and $1M.
The Knights recently broke ground for the Roth Athletics Center, which will house the UCF administration and will include an expansion for football operations. UCF’s football program went from winless in 2015 to six victories and a bowl game appearance in 2016.
The Knights improved even more in 2017, finishing the season as the only undefeated team in the nation and claiming a national championship. Both the UCF men’s and women’s basketball teams also completed stunning turnarounds under head coaches White hired shortly after his arrival at UCF.
UNLV- Desiree Reed Francios (@DRFrancois1)
Since arriving in Las Vegas, Desiree Reed-Francois has begun to transform UNLV Athletics, creating significant culture change.
Reed-Francois is the first Hispanic female and woman of color to serve as athletics director at the FBS level.
Innovative, student-centered programs and a renewed focus on academic achievement led to the first time in UNLV Athletics history that student-athletes earned a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above.
With an emphasis on strategic marketing, many UNLV sports programs have witnessed a rise in attendance. Reed-Francois launched the Rebel Athletic Fund’s Drive for 5 campaign, significantly increasing the number of donors and the annual fund total.
In September 2018, she announced the largest corporate commitment in UNLV Athletics’ history — a $5M gift from Boyd Gaming Corporation. In January 2018, UNLV broke ground on the new $28M Fertitta Football Complex, and Reed-Francois was instrumental in successfully negotiating the Joint Use Agreement with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders for UNLV’s use in the new $1.8B Las Vegas Stadium.