By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
The national search for Northwestern State’s new athletic director could culminate as soon as today with an announcement of a hire to replace departing AD Greg Burke.
A field of about dozen semifinalists was pared to three finalists at the end of last week. On campus visits began Monday and the last one should happen this morning, the Journal has learned.
The search has been managed by an outside search firm, Bowlsby Sports Advisors. The process involved an alumni-based advisory committee, steered by search firm owner Kyle Bowlsby, which finished its work by helping trim the contenders to three last Friday. After their visits, new Northwestern president Marcus Jones will consider his choices and make a job offer.
None of the three unnamed remaining candidates have ties to Natchitoches or NSU.
Changing NSU’s approach for athletics became a priority for Jones, largely because the Demons have not had a winning football season since 2008 (7-5), coming close in 2013 and 2014 (6-6 both seasons). But in that span Northwestern suffered its first-ever winless campaign (0-11 in 2009 under first-year coach Bradley Dale Peveto) and Jay Thomas’ third NSU squad went 1-10 (0-9 in the Southland Conference) in 2016. The program’s last FCS playoff berth, along with the most recent conference championship, came in 2004.
NSU announced in mid-November that Burke would shift out of the AD’s office and into a university fundraising role. He is believed to be the longest-tenured Division I director of athletics in state history, having taken the post in late August 1996, and has a long list of accomplishments.
The announcement also cited a 6-8 week target for naming Burke’s successor. Assuming the search comes to fruition, that timeline will have been met. It’s anticipated that the new AD will need 3-6 weeks to relocate to Natchitoches and take over. It’s expected Burke will run the daily operations of the department until the new hire arrives.
While football has dipped, other sports at Northwestern have enjoyed high points and low ebbs over the last decade-plus.
Men’s basketball reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time under venerable coach Mike McConathy in 2013, played in postseason again a year later and won 19 games in 2014-15 before struggling in league play until the last two years.
Lady Demon basketball had NCAA Tournament trips in 2014 and 2015, and played in the WNIT in 2016, but hasn’t had a winning season since.
Baseball (2018) and softball (2014, 2015) have made NCAA appearances and the baseball team owns two recent wins at LSU. Track and field and Lady Demon tennis have been consistently strong over the last 12-14 years with NCAA success. Women’s soccer won the 2021 Southland crown and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005, and the fifth in the 24-year history of the program.
Volleyball, which had never experienced a successful season in its first three decades, reached the 2014 NCAA Tournament and has been respectable since in the Southland.
Away from competition, NSU Athletics has maintained a sparkling record in NCAA academic performance, graduation rates, NCAA compliance, and community service. There have been no significant state legislative audit issues under Burke’s watch.