Attempting to chart a course toward becoming more competitive in the SEC, Missouri is hiring Desiree Reed-Francois from UNLV as the school’s next athletic director. Sources told Yahoo Sports on Sunday that Reed-Francois has agreed to a deal and the official announcement is expected in the next 24 hours.
After the awkward parting of athletic director Jim Sterk with two years remaining on his contract, Missouri put a premium on a candidate with SEC experience and more youthful energy. The addition of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC upped the stakes for Missouri, who has felt a greater urgency to modernize the athletic department and compete in the SEC with two new heavyweight conference competitors in its region.
Reed-Francois brings significant SEC experience from a four-year stint at Tennessee. She became the first woman to oversee men’s basketball while there from 2009-13, and was part of the search committee to hire current Missouri basketball coach Cuonzo Martin in Knoxville.
One of the key behind-the-scenes voices promoting Reed-Francois’ candidacy was SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who got to know her during her time at Tennessee.
Her hiring is historic at Missouri and in the SEC, as she’s Missouri’s first female athletic director and the first female athletic director at a public SEC school.
Her charge is to energize and modernize a Missouri athletic department that’s backslid toward mediocrity after reaching the SEC football championship game in back-to-back seasons in 2013 and 2014. Missouri men’s basketball hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2010.
After four seasons of .500 football under Barry Odom, there’s optimism with second-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s 5-5 start playing an all-SEC schedule in 2020.
Sterk brought a muted personality and conservative decision making to the athletic director spot. The arrival of Reed-Francois is expected to deliver an adrenaline shot to fundraising, student-athlete engagement and long-term vision for the athletic department.
Reed-Francois also brings Power Five experience from Virginia Tech, where she oversaw the football program and day-to-day operations for 22 sports. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, who worked at Missouri earlier in his career, was also an ardent supporter of Reed-Francois behind the scenes.
When Reed-Francois came to UNLV in 2017, she became the first Hispanic female and woman of color to be an athletic director at the FBS level. Reed-Francois is the fourth woman of color to become an athletic director in a Power Five conference, with all of the hires coming within the past five years. She joins Vanderbilt’s Candice Lee, Duke’s Nina King and Virginia’s Carla Williams.
Reed-Francois’ son, Jackson Francois, is expected to be a walk-on on the Missouri basketball team next season and play for Martin.
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