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NDSU AD Gene Taylor on leaving for Iowa job: 'I can never say thank you enough'

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Taylor, the athletic director at North Dakota State University, announced in a news conference that he has accepted a newly created position as deputy director of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Taylor, 56, was NDSU’s athletic director for 13 years starting in spring 2001.

“The last 13 years have been filled with great memories,” Taylor said. “This place is a special place. … I have been very fortunate. This state, this community, this region, this institution and this athletic program have meant a tremendous amount to my family. I can never say thank you enough to this place.”

While at NDSU, Taylor oversaw the athletic department’s transition from NCAA Division II to Division I, which began in 2003.

NDSU has thrived in athletics since that transition, most notably with its football program, which won the past three Football Championship Subdivision national championships. Its men’s basketball program has also been successful, qualifying for the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 2014 – winning a game in the most recent appearance.

The coaches who headed both programs, football and men’s basketball, preceded Taylor in taking positions at new schools, both within the past six months.

Prakash Mathew, NDSU’s retiring vice president for student affairs, was named interim athletic director and will step into that role at the end of July when Taylor leaves NDSU.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani said the search for Taylor’s replacement will begin immediately. Bresciani has appointed Jane Schuh, NDSU’s assistant dean for academic programs, to head the search committee.

“We are moving very quickly on that process,” Bresciani said. “This is a plum job that is going to sell itself, and Gene gets a lot of credit for being the architect of that. NDSU is going to benefit that we are a job that I think nationwide will be very attractive to a quality pool of candidates.”

Stepping stone

Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta has a long-standing relationship with Taylor, dating back to when Taylor started at NDSU. Taylor called Barta a friend and mentor. The two began discussing the position at Iowa several months ago.

Taylor made $230,614 at NDSU in 2013-14. Taylor’s salary for the position at Iowa wasn’t released Monday. The Forum sent an open records request to the University of Iowa, but it wasn’t immediately returned. Iowa’s open records website has Barta’s current salary listed at $373,727.

The Iowa job is something Taylor said he hopes is a stepping stone to an athletic director position at a Bowl Championship Series school – a career trajectory he feels may not have happened if he stayed at NDSU.

“Some may not necessarily agree with that,” Taylor said. “I can’t tell you the number of people I talked to about this because I knew it was going to be such an agonizing decision. Those who I talked to in the profession including (Barta) have indicated that if the BCS route is the way I want to go, this is the step I may have to take.”

Taylor cited the career path of Jeff Long, who is the athletic director at the University of Arkansas, as an example. Long was athletic director at Eastern Kentucky – a school that fields an FCS football program – and later took a job as an associate athletic director at the University of Oklahoma.

Taylor will be the No. 2 athletic administrator at Iowa under Barta.

Barta is out of the office this week on vacation and unavailable for comment.

“Gene Taylor is highly respected across the country and has been a leader in college athletics for more than a quarter century,” Barta said in a news release. “He shares the values of Iowa and will comfortably fit the Hawkeye culture.”

Big year, big turnover

The 2013-14 school year was a banner one for NDSU, highlighted by the football team upsetting defending Big 12 Conference champion Kansas State in the season opener.

Two weeks later, ESPN hosted its “College GameDay” broadcast in Fargo, and in March, the Bison men’s basketball team defeated nationally ranked Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.

The year also was highlighted by turnover. Coaches from NDSU’s three most visible athletic programs have left. Football coach Craig Bohl went to the University of Wyoming and men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips is now the coach at Ohio University. Women’s basketball coach Carolyn DeHoff also left, via resignation.

Taylor, who hired the replacements, said the turnover did not factor into his decision to leave.

“It was the opposite,” Taylor said.

He said the new coaches – Chris Klieman in football, David Richman in men’s basketball, and Maren Walseth in women’s basketball – made the decision harder because he’d like to help them through their first couple of years.

Richman said while Taylor will be missed, he thinks the department will continue to thrive.

“NDSU has been successful before Gene Taylor, while Gene Taylor was here and it will be successful in the future, but he created a family culture within the athletic department,” Richman said.

NDSU’s football program has increased the school’s national profile the past several years, and Taylor’s replacement having a football background would likely be a plus.

“I don’t want to make that the exclusive qualification, but at the same time, it certainly has to be one that gets a high priority,” Bresciani said.

Taylor is now overseeing a $41 million capital campaign to renovate NDSU’s basketball arena, administration offices, locker rooms and indoor track and field facility.

“I would be remiss to say that Gene leaving helps it,” Bresciani said of the renovation that is already in progress. “At the same time, I have heard from our major university supporters to not worry that they remain behind the school and behind the athletic department. … I don’t think anything is going to slow that project down.”

Taylor said there is never an easy time to leave and had some advice for his future replacement.

“The person coming in is going to have high expectations, which is great, and I hope the person coming in understands what they are walking into,” Taylor said. “I hope they enjoy that and embrace that.”

Gene Taylor timeline

May 2001: Gene Taylor is named athletic director at North Dakota State.

Sept. 2001: NDSU hires consulting firm Carr Sports Associates Inc. to determine the university’s readiness for moving to NCAA Division I.

Aug. 2002: Taylor says NDSU will pursue Division I status beginning in 2003-04. The Bison will leave the North Central Conference in May 2004 and play a mostly D-I schedule in 2004-05. “This is a big decision, one that will change the direction of this program for many years to come,” Taylor says.

Feb. 2003: NDSU head football coach Bob Babich resigns to take an assistant coaching position in the NFL.

March 2003: Babich’s departure opens the door for Taylor to hire Craig Bohl to become the new head coach of the Bison football team.

Sept. 2003: Bohl leads the NDSU football team to a shocking 25-24 victory of Division I-AA powerhouse Montana in Missoula.

Feb. 2004: The Great West Football Conference is formed and NDSU is one of the charter members. The Bison are joined by South Dakota State, Northern Colorado, California Poly, California Davis, Southern Utah and St. Mary’s College (Calif.).

Dec. 2004: As NDSU searches for conference affiliation, the Big Sky Conference, citing location, passes on NDSU for membership.

Jan. 2006: The NDSU men’s basketball team defeats the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “This is bigger than the Montana win,” Taylor says. “Just because of the move and all the things included. This is a history-making victory – and we’ve had a lot of history.”

Sept. 2006: NDSU accepts invitation to join the Mid-Continent Conference (which later changed its name to the Summit League) in all sports except football and wrestling. “This is truly a historic day for us,” Taylor says.

March 2007: Bison head men’s basketball coach Tim Miles leaves the program to take the head men’s coaching job at Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference. Less than a week later, NDSU replaces Miles with Saul Phillips. “I really felt there was no coach in the country who I could have interviewed that would have been more passionate about this job than Saul,” Taylor said.

March 2007: NDSU and SDSU join the Gateway Football Conference (which later changed its name to the Missouri Valley Football Conference).

June 2008: The NCAA Management Council officially approves NDSU as an active Division I member, ending the school’s five years of transition.

Dec. 2008: The Bison volleyball team becomes the first team from NDSU to compete in an NCAA Division I national tournament, losing 3-0 to the University of Minnesota in the first round.

March 2009: The Bison men’s basketball team defeats Oakland in the Summit League championship game to secure the school’s first berth in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Nov. 2010: With a 7-4 record, NDSU earns a berth in the FCS playoffs.

Jan. 2012: NDSU defeats Sam Houston State 17-6 in Frisco, Texas, to win a national championship in football.

Jan. 2013: The NDSU football team defeats Sam Houston State 39-13 to claim its second straight national title.

Aug. 2013: The Bison shock Big 12 powerhouse Kansas State 24-21 in Manhattan in the football team’s season opener.

Dec. 2013: Bohl, the school’s all-time winningest coach, announces he will leave NDSU for the University of Wyoming.

Jan. 2014: The Bison football team tops Towson 35-7 to win their third straight national title.

April 2014: NDSU head men’s basketball head coach Saul Phillips announces he is leaving to take the same position at Ohio.

Monday: Taylor announces he is leaving NDSU to become Deputy Athletic Director at the University of Iowa.

Tom Mix

Tom Mix is the North Dakota high school sports reporter. He's worked at The Forum for five years. He was the 2013 North Dakota sportswriter of the year, an award that is sponsored by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com  

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