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Schnepf: NDSU’s next AD will have different focus than Taylor did in 2001

FARGO — The last time North Dakota State was looking for an athletic director, Division I hockey — not Division I — was the hot topic.

Back at the turn of the century in 2001, it was reported NDSU wanted a hockey team within two years. Joseph Chapman, NDSU’s president at the time, labeled hockey a high priority.

And when Gene Taylor was named NDSU’s athletic director on May 2, 2001, he had this comment about the sport played only by rival North Dakota: “I think hockey can be successful. I think it will be successful. But I cannot put a time frame on it right now.”

But four months later when NDSU announced it was hiring a consultant to look at moving up from Division II to Division I, hockey’s fate was pretty much sealed. One year later, Taylor proclaimed NDSU moving to the Division I level — a monumental change that would not include hockey.

Since then, the Bison boosters — who have elevated their annual contribution from $700,000 to $2.4 million in the last 12 years — have long forgotten about hockey. Their biggest concern now is who will be NDSU’s next Gene Taylor — the often-proclaimed Division I architect who has left Fargo to become the deputy director of athletics at the University of Iowa.

Taylor has also left NDSU athletics in pretty good shape for the next A.D. — even without hockey.

If you were applying for this job, here are the success stories that would be slapping you in the face: three straight national football championships, two appearances in NCAA men’s basketball tournament, multiple appearances in the volleyball and softball tournaments plus national representation in wrestling and track and field.

If you got the job, you would eventually inherit a $45 million renovated Bison Sports Arena that will house a 6,000-seat basketball arena, a basketball practice facility, a new weight room, new locker rooms and — yes — a brand new office for the athletic director.

Not a bad gig.

This athletic department has endured its share of coaching changes — most recently in its three marquee sports (football and men’s and women’s basketball) — in the last eight months.

But of all the hires NDSU has made — from Tim Miles in basketball to Craig Bohl in football — this one could be the most difficult of them all. Athletic directors — good athletic directors — do not grow on trees. Their names and resumes do not jump out at a search committee quite as impressively as coaches can.

No one stands out in the current list of candidates being mulled over by NDSU’s search committee, which is expected to get serious in picking finalists sometime this month.

Then again, how many of us were impressed when Taylor was named the athletic director in 2001? He certainly made an impression over the years, and that’s what the next A.D. will have to do.

When asked what the next athletic director should be good at, Taylor said: managing the high expectations surrounding this program and raising the money to keep this program humming along.

Add “adapting to change” to that list. Although it would be nothing so bold as moving to Division I, you can count on plenty of changes in college athletics that will affect smaller schools like NDSU.

The five power conferences (the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) are acquiring more and more autonomy to make rules fit the needs of their $100 million budgets. It all trickles down to the possibility that FCS football — which NDSU has dominated for the last three years — could change as well and perhaps for the better.

With smaller FBS programs fearing an even bigger gap between them and the Power 5, you could someday see the likes of a Georgia Southern moving back to and strengthening the FCS level. Taylor had always said, whatever happens, he wants NDSU football at the second-highest level.

That’s good advice for the next athletic director. Because after all, it’s football — not hockey — that drives the bus for Bison athletics.

Schnepf is the sports editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.

NDSU AD applicants

Rick Hartzell, former athletic director, Northern Iowa

Craig Angelos, senior associate athletic director, South Florida

Christopher Rogers, associate athletic director, South Carolina

Jeff Tingey, athletic director, Idaho State

Eric Buskirk, senior associate athletic director, UC Riverside

Daron Montgomery, athletic director, Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Kevin Buisman, athletic director, Minnesota State Mankato

Tim Mooney, associate athletic director, Idaho

David Crum, senior associate athletic director, Colorado State

Alex Kringen, senior director of development, Kansas State

Steve Becvar, associate athletic director, University of San Diego

Sean Johnson, athletic director Angelo State (Texas)

Stephen Watson, athletic director, St. Bonaventure

Jack Maughan, senior associate athletic director, NDSU

Troy Goergen, senior associate athletic director, NDSU

Chris Walker, associate athletic director, Washington State

Steve Smith, athletic director, Bay Path College

Kevin Hurley, senior associate athletic director, Texas A&M

Matthew Larsen, senior associate athletic director, Stony Brook (N.Y.)

Robert Clifford, senior associate athletic director, Oregon State