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Potential Candidates To Replace Sandy Barbour As Penn State’s New Athletic Director

In Penn State’s storied athletic history, only eight people have held the distinction as the university’s athletic director, including Joe Paterno for a two-year stint from 1980 to 1982.

Since 2014, Sandy Barbour has held the title of vice president of intercollegiate athletics for the Nittany Lions’ 31 varsity teams. Last week, Barbour officially announced her intentions to retire from the role this summer after an eight-year run.

Under her leadership, Penn State constructed a 20-year master plan for facility upgrades while also overseeing championship-winning programs such as wrestling and women’s volleyball. Furthermore, Barbour spearheaded several head coaching hires, including Carolyn Kieger, Micah Shrewsberry, and Katie Schumacher-Cawley.

Now, Penn State must find its fourth director of athletics since 1993 with Barbour’s retirement approaching within the next few months. Whether the Nittany Lions decide to poach a name from a high-profile university or hire an up-and-coming administrator from a smaller program, here are several names to look out for throughout the search process.

Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois

Following Barbour’s retirement announcement, Bret McMurphy of Action Network reported that Sean Frazier, Northern Illinois’ athletic director, is a “prominent target” for the same role at Penn State. Currently, Frazier is in his ninth year heading Huskies’ athletic department, which consists of 17 varsity programs.

Prior to helping overhaul the Huskies’ football program, Frazier served as the deputy athletic director under Barry Alverez at Wisconsin for seven years, with his stint ending in 2013. In Madison, Frazier oversaw fundraising and advancement activities for Badgers athletics and played a key role in raising $123 million for multiple capital projects, which partly went toward renovated hockey and swim facilities.

Under Frazier’s lead, Northern Illinois has claimed two MAC conference titles in football, with the school also recognized as having the most gridiron victories in the state of Illinois over the past decade. Additionally, Frazier oversaw and completed a facilities master plan at NIU despite being much less expansive than the one Barbour originally envisioned in Happy Valley.

Mack Rhoades, Baylor

If the Nittany Lions are looking to poach a splash hire from a smaller but established Power Five institution, Mack Rhoades from Baylor might be their best bet. Rhoades, hired by Baylor in 2016, has also led the athletic departments of Missouri, Houston, and Akron over the last 16 years.

In Waco, Rhoades has been able to consistently convert with high-profile hires across several major programs, including gaining the services of former Penn State linebacker Matt Rhule from Temple in 2017 to lead the football team out of a scandal-ridden era.

Once the State College native left for grander pastures to coach the Carolina Panthers, Rhoades once again nailed the hiring process by nabbing the leadership of Dave Aranda from LSU, who recently carried the program to a Big 12 championship a season ago. Aside from football, Rhoades signed basketball coach Scott Drew to a long-term 10-year contract in 2017, which recently paid off in a national championship in 2021.

Aside from Rhoades’ ability to reinvigorate success back into the Bears’ football and basketball programs, he has also been able to set the standard among athletes in the classroom. In 2021, Baylor finished the calendar year with a score of 94 in graduation success rate (GSR) metrics. The rank topped the Big 12 in GSR for the seventh straight year and stood as the 10th-best rating in the country.

Desiree Reed-Francois, Missouri

Despite being the director of athletics at the University of Missouri last August, Desiree Reed-Francois has spent time at 10 universities since 1998 after beginning her professional career as an attorney. From there, the UCLA graduate transitioned into a focus in college athletics when she was hired as an NCAA compliance officer for Cal in the late 90s.

Since then, Reed-Francois has served as an associate athletic director at deep-rooted programs like Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Virginia Tech, before breaking through and earning the head role at UNLV in 2017. At the time, the California native became the first Hispanic female athletic director at the Division I level, and currently, she is the only female athletic leader in the SEC.

With the Rebels in Las Vegas, Reed-Francois hired head coaches in men’s and women’s basketball, football, women’s soccer, softball, volleyball, and women’s track and field. In less than five years, three instantly won Conference Coach of the Year honors, while assembling the most diverse head coaching roster in the Mountain West.

Moreover, during Reed-Francois’ tenure in UNLV, she implemented more than $70 million in facility upgrades, including the opening of a new $35 million football complex. She also negotiated a joint-use agreement with the Oakland Raiders, giving the football program rights to Allegiant Stadium for all home matchups.

Patrick Kraft, Boston College

Before heading north to Chesnut Hill, Massachusetts in 2020, Patrick Kraft spent seven years in the Keystone State as Temple’s athletic director beginning in 2013. Similar to Rhoades, Kraft also hired Matt Rhule as the Owls’ head football coach years earlier during his first campaign on the job, which gave the Nittany Lion his first head job since beginning his career as a Penn State volunteer assistant in 1998.

In less than two years leading the Eagles, Kraft has overseen transformational success within the women’s lacrosse program under Acacia Walker-Weinstein. Last May, Boston College knocked off Syracuse 16-10 for the team’s first national championship in school history, giving the university just its sixth national title across all varsity teams.

Additionally, five Boston College teams ranked within the tick of the top 25 polls during the most recent calendar year, showing well-versed success in both men’s and women’s athletics. Kraft also has led a culture of success in the classroom, with 455 student-athletes boasting a 3.0 GPA or better in 2021.

If Kraft is looking to return back to Pennsylvania to spearhead one of college athletics’ most demanding jobs, the Penn State role might be enticing as a long-term landing spot.

Carla Williams, Virginia

Following a 13-year stint as an associate athletic director at her alma mater, the University of Georgia, Carla Williams decided to move north to lead Virginia athletics beginning in 2017. Under her guide, the Cavaliers have enjoyed a revival of their football program and a history-making effort by its men’s basketball team.

Under former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia transformed from a two-win unit in 2016 into earning an appearance in the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl just three seasons later. In hoops, the Cavaliers capped off a 16-2 conference record with a Final Four run in 2019, resulting in a national title victory over Texas Tech.

Less than two years ago, Williams’ announced her own master plan project to help student-athletes better prepare themselves for futures outside of the competitive realm of sports. According to the project’s outline, it’s set to address the immediate need to upgrade facilities for the football program and Cavalier Olympic sports.

Williams’ appointment at Virginia in 2017 made her the first female African-American athletic director at a Power Five university in NCAA history. Aside from her professional career as an athletic adminstrator, Williams amassed first-team All-SEC success as a three-year starter for Georgia’s women’s basketball team, showing her versatility as a player, a one-time coach, and, now, a leader of 27 varsity sports held by the Cavaliers.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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