COLUMBIA, Mo. – When decision-makers at the University of Missouri set out to find a new athletic director for the state’s flagship university, they were looking to tick many boxes.
They wanted someone energetic, motivated, and focused on delivering positive results for the student-athletes they supervised. Someone who had the ideas and work ethic to help Missouri catch up with its peers in the Southeastern Conference in fundraising, as well as academic and athletic success.
President Mun Choi, the Board of Conservatives and other MU leaders believe they have found this person in Desiree Reed-Francois, who will begin her duties as the 21st athletic director in the program’s history on Sunday.
“She has the vision, the experience and the steadfastness that we need,” Choi said Wednesday during an introductory ceremony at the Walsworth Family Columns Club at Memorial Stadium. “She’s going to make some profound, but necessary changes, so business as usual is gone with our new athletic director. She’s going to bring that culture of victory back to Mizzou, and we deserve it, in the state of Missouri and across the country. this great institution. “
Reed-Francois, 49, has over 25 years of college track and field experience and a deep personal connection to the institution: his brother, Roman, broke his neck during a college football game; the date, September 10, 1994, a date their family will never forget. Roman has been dedicated to fundraising and research on spinal cord injury.
“He embodies persistence and determination, and it’s actually because of him that I get into varsity track and field,” Reed-Francois said Wednesday. âWatching Roman, he inspires me and that’s the reason I do what I do. I’m inspired to help others achieve these dreams and that’s why we’re here. I focus on student-athlete and I want them to have the amazing holistic experience that my brother has never had. “
In front of a healthy crowd, including former athletic director Mike Alden and former football coaches Gary Pinkel and Bob Stull, as well as current coaches Cuonzo Martin (with whom she worked in Tennessee), Eli Drinkwitz, Robin Pingeton, Larissa Anderson and Brett Halter – Reed-Francois brought energy and passion.
Between the name, image and likeness legislation and the expansion of the Southeastern Conference to add Texas and Oklahoma, Missouri will need it all. Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Tigers have two division titles (both in football) and two conference titles (both in volleyball) and have never won a conference tournament championship.
The Missouri leadership, which now includes a female athletic director for the first time in the school’s history, wants to start fighting for conference titles again, which, as Reed-Francois said, “will put us looking for national championships “.
She did not immediately commit to any plans or decisions to be made, saying there was still a lot of “listening and learning” to do before it got there, although she said there was ‘she wanted to see Missouri in the top quartile of the Learfield Cup. ranking every year. Missouri’s best Learfield Cup result – awarded on the basis of a points-per-result system for each playoff sport – was 20th in the 2016-17 Cup. Missouri finished 48th out of 293 programs in 2020-21, 11th in the SEC.
Choi, who has orchestrated long-term goals to improve the university’s academic standard and increase grants through investment and construction, sees a similar timeline here.
âIt may take us 3, 4, 5 years to get there (competing for the championships),â he said. “We can’t do it in a snap, it takes sustained commitment. So we are looking for sustained, long-term visionary leadership that will create this championship culture.”
Choi also confirmed that Reed-Francois’ predecessor Jim Sterk had been asked to step down.
âI want to say that Jim is a man of great integrity, and that there are a lot of important things that he and his staff have accomplished during the tenure, but looking 10 years into the future, I knew, the board knew, that we needed a different direction, âsaid Choi.â It’s that innovation that we need, given the changing dynamics and the fact that, in order to grow as champions, we have to work harder than Alabama, we have to work harder than Florida.
“Are we going to bring that culture where this high expectation starts at the top? And that’s why we made the decision.”
The Missouri search process – he hired Parker Executive Search for this hire as well as Drinkwitz – was initially expected to take up to a month. Choi said the search committee gathered feedback from nearly 100 people, from the student-athlete advisory committee to coaches and donors, narrowing an initial list of 30 to seven or eight applicants, then four, then two. .
Meetings were held last Sunday in St. Louis, and Missouri canceled the search at 1:30 p.m., extending the offer to Reed-Francois.
However, she already knew her way around campus: her son, Jackson, is an aspiring student at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and made an official visit to Missouri in June, where he made the decision to join the basketball team. . Martin and Drinkwitz both organized sports facility tours, and in a surprise twist two months later, Reed-Francois was a candidate to be their boss.
âDuring the interview, I asked my husband, ‘Should I wear my’ Mum from Missouri ‘shirt?â, Said Reed-Francois. “Because like all other parents, we’re going to buy the whole bookstore. In Jackson’s room he has this huge Missouri flag, he has the pennants, he has the basketball poster, his whole room is entirely. Mizzou. “
Reed-Francois said she kept her connection to the job offer hidden from her son because she didn’t want what happened to overshadow a decision he was delighted to make. When Parker called and asked him to be in St. Louis on Sunday, she had to remind her husband of a golf trip and went to pick up shoes and a gold blouse at the mall, distracting Jackson with “a chase. Ã l’oie sauvage “to go and buy a hat so that he doesn’t make the connection.
âOn Sunday when President Choi offered me the job, I called him, my husband and I said, ‘Well, you thought you were running away from your parents,’ Reed-Francois said with a laugh. Your mother could be Mizzou’s new athletic director. ‘ He was like, ‘Seriously?’ He was blown away. He was really, really happy, and I had tears in my eyes because it was so special. “