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Taking a look at potential athletic director candidates for West Virginia

A new athletic director is expected to be hired in the coming weeks

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Maryland Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

With the firing of Shane Lyons announced last week, the West Virginia Mountaineers are currently operating under interim Athletic Director Rob Alsop while the University searches for a permanent replacement. They have hired Turnkey ZRG to assist in their search for the replacement for Lyons and hope to find a candidate similar to the candidate they found for the next Big 12 Commissioner - Brett Yormark.

Yormark’s background to Big 12 Commissioner was a bit unorthodox as he was previously the COO of Roc Nation - an entertainment agency founded by rapper Jay-Z.

Yormark served three years as the COO of Roc Nation and Co-CEO of Roc Nation Unified before moving to the Big 12. Roc Nation is a full-service entertainment company supporting a diverse roster of talent via artist management, music publishing, touring, production, strategic brand development and more. The client list includes some of the world’s most recognizable names in the entertainment and sports worlds, such as Rihanna, Alicia Keys, DJ Khaled, Robin Thicke, Megan Thee Stallion, Christina Aguilera, LaMelo Ball, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. The company was founded in 2008 by JAY-Z and has offices in New York City, London and Los Angeles.

Yormark joined the company in the fall of 2019 and in his role as COO, focused on optimizing operational resources and building company infrastructure to support continued growth. Yormark also supervised sponsorship, licensing, content partnerships, and brand strategy. In addition, he spearheaded Roc Nation Unified, the organization’s commercial and consultative arm that works with artists, athletes, leagues, teams, and brands.

See that bolded, highlighted portion. I think that’s important here, especially when paired with the words from interim AD Rob Alsop about what West Virginia is looking for in their new AD

We’ve asked our search firm to cast a wide net for the best candidate for West Virginia University. When you think of any type of leader, you want someone who knows, understands and appreciates the team that’s here, the culture that’s been developed and that we continue on that trajectory of empowering individuals to do the best that they can,” Alsop said. “We also want someone who can continue to be innovative and thoughtful in an ever-changing world.

“From my perspective, West Virginia University is a great place. Our strengths are our brand, history and tradition. We are not a major media market. There are some things where we have to punch above our weight class to be competitive. Looking at additional revenue streams and innovation and the ever-changing landscape of college athletics is something that we will be focused on in looking for our next leader.

Innovative and thoughtful in an ever-changing world. Additional revenue streams. To me, it sounds like the University is looking for a younger AD who can maximize ways West Virginia can be on the cutting edge of new social media platforms and technologies to generate new revenue for the school. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the candidates who have been mentioned for the AD position.

Rob Mullens - Oregon AD

NCAA Football: Oregon at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mullens is at the top of the list, just as he was back in 2010 when Oliver Luck was ultimately hired. Mullens is the AD at Oregon where he has served since 2010. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WVU and has overseen the Oregon program win 17 national titles since he started. Under Mullens, Oregon was the first school to release an Official NIL Marketplace - the first licensed school marketplace in college sports. The Marketplace allowed Oregon athletes to create their own profiles that can be customized and promoted to fans on their personal social media channels.

Oliver Luck - NCAA Committee & Country Roads Trust

NCAA Football: West Virginia vs Virginia Tech Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Luck previously served as the Athletic Director at West Virginia from 2010-2014. During his time he helped steer the Mountaineers from the dying Big East conference, which would ultimately resolve itself into the AAC, and into the Big 12, during the expansion wars of 2010. Luck helped to form Country Roads Trust, West Virginia’s answer to the name, image and likeness issues. CRT helps athletes find and secure opportunities to market themselves.

Keli Zinn - Executive Deputy Director of Athletics - LSU Tigers

West Virginia University

Zinn started as the Assistant AD at the University of Maryland and a compliance assistant with the Big East. From there she returned to her alma mater, West Virginia, in 2010 and was named Associate Athletics Director for Compliance and Governance before being elevated to Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director in 2014. Following the departure of Oliver Luck, she was named interim AD. Following the hire of Shane Lyons, Zinn was named Deputy Athletics Director and COO - providing strategic direction and operations management to the Mountaineers’ 18 intercollegiate programs. This past year she was hired as the Executive Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Operating Officer for LSU where she works closely with leadership, admin, and community partners to advance LSU’s growth and success. As part of her duties, she oversees capital projects, revenue generation and strategic initiatives.

Whit Babcock - Virginia Tech Hokies Athletics Director

Virginia Tech v Purdue

Whit Babcock earned a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University and a master’s degree in sports management from West Virginia. He served as the Assistant Athletic Director at West Virginia from 2003 until 2007 and currently serves as the Athletic Director at Virginia Tech, a position he’s held since 2014. Babcock was instrumental in the launch of the ACC Network, which launched in 2019. He also led the campaign of “Drive for 25”, which was designed to increase the membership in the Hokie Club to 25,000. The campaign was a huge success which increased membership from 9,000 to 26,000 in the six years since the program was launched.

Recently Babcock and the Hokies Athletic program announced the “Reach for Excellence” campaign to raise $400 million for Virginia Tech.

Kevin Miller - Georgia Bulldogs Senior Associate Athletics Director

University of Georgia

Kevin Miller is another candidate with West Virginia ties, earning his bachelor’s degree in business management in 2005 and his master’s in sport management in 2006. He previously worked on the Mountaineer Athletic Club and according to his profile, holds the record as the WVU Foundation’s all-time leading phone-a-thon fundraiser after raising more than $320,000 personally. In 2016, the MAC was able to fundraise more than $15.6 million and secure more than $3.3 million in major gift commitments. He alone was able to secure 21 of 53 major gift commitments. Now serving as the Senior Associate Athletics Director for the Bulldogs, Miller is involved in operations that include major gifts, annual giving, and donor relations.

Pat Chun - Washington State Cougars Director of Athletics

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Chun is a name fans are likely to be unfamiliar with, given that the five candidates above all have ties to West Virginia, while Chun is an Ohio State alumnus. Chun has served as the Director of Athletics for Washington State since 2018 and in his short time there, he has overseen a revitalization of the athletic department. Recently the Cougars raised a record $7.6 million in annual fund donations and a record $15 million in overall contributions in his first year. The following years were also just as charitable as the program raised a record $26 million in 2019-2020. Previously Chun served with Florida Atlantic, rising through the ranks to become the Executive Associate Athletics Director. While at FAU, Chun worked to secure the largest gift in the university’s history - a $16 million gift from the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Before FAU, Chun worked at Ohio State where he worked his way up the ranks in the Athletic Department to become the Executive Associate Athletics Director for External Relations, which allowed him to work with the University to generate $39 million in 2010, $41 million in 2011 and $42 million in 2012. He also was a lead member of a team that authored the then-largest multimedia rights deal with IMG College, a 10-year $128 million partnership.