Sources: Missouri on cusp of historic athletic director hire of Desiree Reed-Francois

·3 min read

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.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 28:  UNLV Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois smiles during a news conference introducing T.J. Otzelberger as UNLV's new head basketball coach at the Thomas & Mack Center on March 28, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Otzelberger most recently served as the head coach at South Dakota State.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois smiles at a news conference in 2019. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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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