There is an old adage that says the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Athletic Director Brian Wickstrom will soon find out if that is in fact true after it was announced Monday that Wickstrom will leave Riverside to become the new athletic director at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM).
UC Riverside’s athletics department saw two years of positive growth under Wickstrom’s leadership. During his tenure as Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at UCR, the department has seen increases in fan attendance, sponsorship and winning percentages of many sports teams. But after two successful years at UCR, the up-and-coming athletics administrator has now set his sights on a university that is a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the group of Division I programs with varsity football teams.
“When we looked at the opportunity at this institution, in this community, we were so happy … to be a part of this community because it’s a great place,” Wickstrom said about ULM Tuesday morning, July 2, during his introductory press conference.
He added, “I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Chancellor White, who was the chancellor that hired me at the University of California, Riverside — to give me a chance to sit in the AD chair for the first time. And Chancellor Conoley … who came in and trusted me, asked me questions and let me keep running to help make progress at that school.”
Chancellor Jane Close Conoley spoke with the Highlander and shared her thoughts on Wickstrom’s decision to leave UCR.
“I was disappointed,” said Conoley. “I think he’s been doing a lot of important things to upgrade our program. I was not too surprised. He’s been very clear that he’s interested, in terms of his own career, in being an athletic director where there’s a football program.”
Conoley also noted that UCR was willing to match everything that ULM was offering him. In the end, however, Wickstrom’s intention to spearhead a program with a varsity football team was the deciding factor. “We were not out-bid, we were just out-footballed,” commented Conoley.
UCR men’s basketball coach Jim Wooldridge also shared his thoughts on Wickstrom’s departure and praised the work the athletic director did in his two years at Riverside.
“Wickstrom had a big impact on our department. He came in with a new vision, a can-do vision for the department,” he said. “I’m disappointed he’s leaving because I think that he could and would do a lot more good for our department and school. But I understand in this business you go where opportunity is. We’ll find another qualified athletic director and keep making progress.”
Wickstrom’s departure has left a few unanswered questions. For instance, will the university continue to pursue the construction of the long-sought-after C-Center?
Wooldridge shared his thoughts on this issue, stating that he is confident that the C-Center project will continue. “Chancellor Conoley is behind the project. She has brought that same enthusiasm [as Chancellor Timothy White]. I do believe we will see this project come to fruition,” he stated.
“By building this facility, the department is going to take a huge step forward. It’s going to transform UC Riverside as it relates to the athletic department. There will be a renewed enthusiasm and sense of pride in our school and department. It will pay dividends not only in wins and losses, but in the image and perception of our school. It’s the number one thing we have going [forward].”
Conoley spoke about the progress of the multi-purpose arena, stating that the university is currently in contact with two developers looking to construct the building. The developers will make their proposals to UCR, outlining their plans for construction. The university anticipates to have the proposals ready by the beginning of November 2013 and to start construction about a year after that.
“We don’t have any intentions to slow that down,” she said about the C-Center project.
She went on to talk about finding Wickstrom’s replacement, stating that she expects to hire an interim athletic director as early as next week. According to Conoley, she has already received numerous calls regarding potential candidates.
After a new interim athletic director is chosen, Conoley also announced that a search committee — similar to the one formed in 2011 that hired Wickstrom — will be put together to find the next athletic director. She expects a full-time athletic director to be hired on Jan. 1, 2014 at the latest.