Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk will step down once a replacement is found, ending a five-year tenure that was marked by school-wide social unrest, millions of dollars in facilities upgrades and key coaching hires in football and basketball.
The school said in a statement Monday that the 65-year-old Sterk had “mutually agreed” to part ways with Missouri once a nationwide search identifies the Tigers’ next athletic director. The leadership change comes amid a major landscape shift in college sports, where athletes can now benefit from their image and likeness and conferences could soon realign.
“We are grateful for the dedicated leadership Jim has provided over the last five years to position Mizzou for even greater success,” university president Mun Choi said in a statement. “We recognize his many contributions and appreciate his continued role as we search for the next leader of Mizzou Athletics.”
Sterk was the athletic director at Portland State, Washington State and San Diego State before he was hired by Missouri in 2016. At the time, campus-wide protests related to race, workplace benefits and leadership led to the resignation of several of the system’s top officials, and many athletes in a variety of sports were involved in the campaigns.
Sterk offered his unwavering support, providing a calm and leadership from the moment he arrived in Columbia.
His first major hiring came the following year, when he fired basketball coach Kim Anderson after three losing seasons and replaced him with Cuonzo Martin. The Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament in Martin’s first season but have struggled to make it into the upper level of the SEC, only returning to the tournament this past season.
The second major personnel decision came two years ago, when Sterk fired football coach Barry Odom and hired Eli Drinkwitz away from Appalachian State. Despite the myriad problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Drinkwitz led the Tigers to a 5-5 record in his debut season, and he already has landed a stellar recruiting class for next season.
Sterk was popular among high-profile donors, too. He was able to coalesce support to build a $98 million south end zone facility that opened in the summer of 2019, and ground is schedule to be broken this fall on a $34 million indoor practice facility that will be located southwest of Memorial Stadium.
Last week, the athletic department announced a record fundraising year with $55.5 million during the fiscal year.
“I am grateful for the hard work of our amazing staff, coaches and student-athletes, as well as the generous support of our alumni and friends during my tenure as athletics director,” said Sterk, who did not provide any clue of his future plans. “I believe that Mizzou Athletics is well positioned for future success.”
Sterk’s replacement will take over his office at a tenuous time in college athletics.
Already, many players in high-profile sports have signed contracts to benefit from their name, image and likeness, and it remains unclear how that will affect sports going forward. And this past week, word leaked that Texas and Oklahoma were exploring a move from the Big 12 to the SEC — the same move the Tigers made nearly a decade ago.
“We now begin a national search for a visionary athletics director,” Choi said, “who will develop a strategic plan for Mizzou to achieve exceptional success in the SEC and to navigate a bold path in the rapidly evolving world of collegiate athletics.”
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