The Maneater

Jim Sterk officially introduced as Missouri’s new athletics director

Sterk said it "maybe took 15 minutes" to decide to come to Mizzou.

The day after Jim Sterk, 60, interviewed with interim Chancellor Hank Foley for the Missouri athletics director position, his wife, Debra, saw a man with a Mizzou shirt while hiking Torrey Pines in San Diego.

Sterk admitted it was strange, yes, but it wasn’t until later that day while driving on San Diego State’s campus and seeing a Missouri license plate that the former SDSU athletics director thought it was “divine intervention.”

“I’m going, ‘OK, I think the Lord is saying I need to go in that direction,’ so when the opportunity came, we were ready to take it,” Sterk said.

It’s been three weeks since Mack Rhoades left Missouri for Baylor, and those three weeks have featured three interim athletic directors: Wren Baker, Sarah Reesman and Foley himself. But when Sterk was approved by the Board of Curators on Tuesday, Missouri had its man.

As he took the podium Thursday for his introductory press conference at the Columns Club in front of a large contingent of the Missouri faithful that included Norm Stewart, Gary Pinkel, Mike Alden and even, yes, Truman the Tiger, Sterk spoke about what drew him to this institution and this college town in the middle of Missouri from what he said was “like a vacation every day” in San Diego.

Sterk pointed to the fact that Missouri is in the Southeastern Conference, something he called “one of, if not the best, conference in America.” Sterk pointed to the fact Missouri is in the Association of American Universities, “meaning it’s committed to academic excellence.” And although he said he definitely will go back to San Diego for vacation, he said he and his family “are really excited to be back in a college town,” and that the decision didn’t take long.

“It maybe took 15 minutes,” Sterk said. “Chancellor Foley did a great job and when I finished with him, I told Todd Turner, ‘I could go to war with that guy.’”

Turner was part of the search as head of Collegiate Sports Associates, the search firm hired to conduct a confidential search. Although Turner did know Sterk from his own time as an athletics director at Washington — while Sterk was at Washington State from 2000–2010 — Foley said he did “some Googling” and researching himself in making this hire.

Although Foley said he interviewed a number of great candidates, Sterk had an element of “sincerity and humility.”

“He’s a down-to-earth guy, and I found him really easy to talk with,” Foley said. “He really understood the student-athlete experience. He’s done a great job with coaches, he had it all. He was seasoned. He’s not a young guy, and I wanted that.”

Of all things mentioned on Thursday, Sterk’s desire to get to know and assist student-athletes was a clear priority.

At San Diego State, Sterk said he met with captains on teams three or four times a year and did “some social things,” including karaoke at his house. In response to questions about how he’d handle a situation like last November, when the football team elected to boycott football activities in support of Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike, Sterk pointed to this connection and spoke of being preventative.

Hearing comments like those, football coach Barry Odom said he is “damn excited.”

“I’m anxious,” Odom said. “For us, the decisions we make are going to affect this place for a long time. I’m glad to have a partnership with him and to get started, and I heard him say the word championship, and I’m good with that.”

Odom said Foley kept in contact with him throughout the search process and that he sat down with Sterk on Thursday morning for their first in-person conversation. They talked about the connection Sterk wants to have with student-athletes and topics such as facility upgrades.

Although Sterk was slated to officially take over Sept. 1, Sterk said his first day will be Aug. 22, and that his job will begin with ironing out priorities and areas of focus.

Again and again, Sterk said this was a “destination job,” and that he would love to have a similar tenure as Mike Alden, which would put him around the age of 76 by retirement.

Is he up for that?

“My dad is 91, and the last three years, he’s been driving a harvest truck for potatoes,” Sterk said. “So I think I have some pretty good genes and I have a lot of energy.”

Edited by George Roberson | groberson@themaneater.com

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