More than two months after former athletic director Rick Villarreal parted ways with the University of North Texas, UNT has finally introduced their next athletic director Wren Baker. The move is much overdue after UNT athletics struggled to compete in revenue sports in the year's following the program's Heart of Dallas bowl win in the 2013 - 2014 season.
Baker's resume at age 37 is truly impressive. After starting his career as a basketball operations assistant at Oklahoma State University Baker quickly rose through the ranks in his field before arriving in Denton.
Baker got his first experience as an athletics director in 2006 when he became the nation's youngest athletic director at Rogers State where he also spent one year as the men's head basketball coach. As the school's first athletic director, Baker set a strong foundation at Rogers State, leading the university from the NAIA ranks to Division II.
Following his success at Rogers State, Baker was named the Director of Athletics at Northwest Missouri State. Baker would establish himself as a remarkable fundraiser during his time at the Division II powerhouse as he would help secure the program's largest charitable contribution in school history while increasing revenue by a staggering 60%.
Baker would continue his accomplishments at the FBS level when he joined Memphis' athletics department in 2013. In his two years in Memphis Baker yet again secured a record high charitable contribution, paving the ground work for the program's recent resurgence. This financial boon lead his former boss Tom Bowen to describe Baker as "a rising rock star in this business".
Continuing his upward trajectory, Baker would leave Memphis for Missouri where he would serve in a similar role. After Missouri athletic director Mack Rhodes left the university to accept the athletic director position at Baylor, Baker assumed interim AD duties at Missouri where he was considered a strong candidate for the permanent position before taking the job in Denton.
In his introductory press conference today Baker announced that he would begin a program-wide three month evaluation program. Baker's first major decision will likely be whether or not he will retain men's basketball head coach Tony Benford (54-73) who has left the basketball program floundering in recent years.
Another interesting revelation from the press conference is that Baker was also awarded an additional title of vice president. This essentially puts Baker on equal administrative footing with university heavy weights, ensuring athletics a prominent voice in university matters. From a symbolic standpoint, it displays UNT president Neal Smatresk's dedication to supporting the university's athletic programs.
Given Baker's history we know that he'll do a fine job courting donors and raising revenue for the Mean Green program but UNT will provide a unique challenge for Baker as they do not yet have the entrenched alumni support and strong football tradition that Missouri or Northwest Missouri State did relative to their conference peers.
Baker is an absolute home run hire for UNT and should likely get the program back on a more competitive level on a long term basis, especially if he is able to bring lapsed UNT alumni that live in the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex back on campus and supporting the program financially.