COLUMBIA, Mo. – The University of Missouri introduced Desiree Reed Francois as the next Director of Athletics Wednesday in a morning news conference in Columbia. Her official start date on her contract may say August 15, but you can probably consider her on the clock.
After listening to the news conference, which included UM System President and UMC Chancellor Mun Choi, along with Board of Curators Chair Darryl Chatman, here are three key takeaways as the athletic department heads in a new direction.
Choi’s Charge: When the university announced it was parting ways with Jim Sterk, Choi’s statement used words like “bold” and “visionary” in describing the path ahead. The intimation many made over the past two weeks is that Sterk’s “safe” approach wasn’t going to cut it in an athletics world that is changing daily thanks to realignment, transfer freedom and the ability of student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.
Usually, it’s the new hire who tries to win the news conference on the first day, but Choi made his own bid.
“I’m gonna throw down the gauntlet. We’re not going from good to great. Today we’re gonna go from good to becoming champions, the very best,” he said, introducing Reed-Francois. “She has the vision, the experience, and the tough-mindedness that we need. She’s going to be making some deep but necessary changes so business as usual goes out the window with our new athletics director,” he said.
“Challenge accepted,” she began
Choi bragged that the school stopped its search when he said they found the right candidate. What took Tennessee 14 days to complete only took Missouri 13 to finish.
Alignment: The phrase came up several times throughout the event. It’s one of the things that Reed-Francois said attracted her to the opportunity. She wasn’t asked specifically about the “deep but necessary changes” Choi suggested, but it seems clear that she’ll have wide sway when it comes to upping the game of a program that is overall in the middle of the pack when it comes to competing in the SEC, especially if her fundraising prowess in previous stops is realized in Missouri. That’s even more important now with Oklahoma and Texas, two national brands, heading for the conference no later than 2025.
“We will keep what has worked and innovate for the future. We compete in the best conference in the country and We should regularly compete for conference championships, which will put us in the hunt for national championships,” Reed-Francois said. “But ultimately I know this is the Show-Me state and I know our actions and our results will speak louder than my words, but I know this league, and I know we can do this. We can be one of the nation’s best in everything, and everything we do will reflect this.”
Football and Basketball: Football and Men’s basketball are the financial lifeblood for every Power 5 conference athletic department. It’s now up to Reed-Francois to give Eli Drinkwitz and Cuonzo Martin the tools they need to succeed. Drinkwitz is on a roll with momentum after his inaugural season as Head Football Coach. The department successfully raised enough money to fund the proposed indoor practice facility. Recruiting is rolling. If Drinkwitz’s second season ends with a winning record and a bowl berth, there will be suitors elsewhere who come calling.
Martin already has a history with Reed-Francois. He was the result of a coaching search at Tennessee where Martin took over for Bruce Pearl. She was in charge of men’s basketball. “Cuonzo Martin is someone I’d want my son to play for,” Reed-Francois recalled Wednesday when asked about Tennessee’s search. And now, barring something unforeseen, he will. Her son Jackson, is expected to walk-on in 2022. The men’s program is coming off an NCAA tournament berth and now has almost an entirely new roster coming in this fall, the result of new NCAA transfer rules and a large senior class. While Martin still has detractors who say he hasn’t been able to capitalize off of his first season, there is optimism about this incoming roster, with a good nucleus of in-state talent. As long as Martin produces, and fans return to the stands, there’s little reason to think any of Choi’s “deep but necessary changes” would include Martin’s program in the near term.