West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee, interim director of athletics Rob Alsop, and other decision-makers within the WVU hierarchy set out to find WVU’s next director of athletics immediately after parting ways with Shane Lyons last month.
Alsop noted in his introductory press conference in November that an expedited timeline of “three to four weeks” was the goal for finding Lyons’ replacement.
A strong leader, someone who embraced new opportunities, a bit of a risk taker, and a person who could align with West Virginia – both the state and the university – were among the qualifications given to national search firm Turnkey ZRG. It’s the same search firm the Big 12 Conference used to identify Brett Yormark as the next league commissioner earlier this year.
Just two weeks went by before WVU had their man, former University of North Texas director of athletics Wren Baker.
“When we interviewed Wren, I can tell you he fits every one of our criteria,” Gee said at Baker’s introductory press conference on Dec 5. “And in addition to being an exceptionally … talented athletic director, he’s also a very positive person, who easily connects and engages with everyone that he meets.”
Gee tabbed Baker as a “wonderful addition” to WVU.
Turnkey ZRG and West Virginia representatives met with multiple candidates over the two-week period that led to Baker’s hiring. Along with the aforementioned qualities Gee and company were looking for, so too was a good understanding of the large role digital technology plays in collegiate athletics today.
West Virginia’s search committee met with candidates from Power 5 and Group of 5 conference institutions, as well as candidates currently outside the world of college athletics, according to Gee. After an initial search, seven to eight candidates came to the foreground and met with Gee, Alsop, and former director of athletics Oliver Luck over Zoom.
“We had a lot of input from a number of folks, and I personally had a lot of input from many of the people that I worked with over the years,” Gee said about the search.
From that group of seven to eight candidates, WVU’s president and the committee narrowed the viable selections down to three. All three candidates, including Baker, met with West Virginia representatives in Atlanta.
“I can tell you it was unanimous,” Gee said of the committee’s selection of Baker.
“It was just readily apparent that the fit, and the person, and the structure, and the place where he should be is right here,” Gee added. “So that’s exactly how that process worked.”
While Turnkey and WVU were gathering information on Baker, he gathered intel on West Virginia. Multiple personal connections allowed him to have conversations, both officially and unofficially, he said, about the Mountaineers.
It was during those conversations with colleagues Baker realized there were similarities between his Oklahoma hometown of 800 and the culture in the Mountain State and at WVU.
“Whether it be (conversations with) the committee or whoever, I grew more and more interested,” Baker said.
West Virginia’s 13th AD accepted the job without stepping foot in Morgantown before saying yes.
Baker, and the other two final candidates, were also asked for their opinions on the football head coaching position during the interview process. Those interviews, and other conversations, led to Neal Brown remaining as head coach of the Mountaineers. Gee and Baker addressed that situation earlier this month.
Baker’s first official day at West Virginia is Dec. 19.