Most observers believed the first big test for Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton would come when he needed to fill a coaching position.
Instead, it's openings in his administration that will give him the first opportunity to make high-level hires. Hired in 2008 with little experience in athletics administration, Sexton knows people will watch to see how he fills important positions in the development and marketing department. Resumes and references occupy a lot of Sexton's time this summer after a rash of departures.
"I think every time you have an opportunity to affect an institution, you take it seriously," Sexton said. "I'm excited about the opportunity from the perspective that it's important to build a better, stronger, faster athletic department and honor the work that others have done."
Sexton's top priority is replacing senior associate athletic director Brian Pracht, who managed the marketing, development, media relations and ticket departments and supervised men's basketball. Pracht recently accepted a job as associate athletic director at Arkansas.
Brian Morris, associate athletic director for development, moved to Oklahoma State's Cowboy Sports Properties as a senior account executive.
"These things come in waves," Sexton said. "If you have success, people want to acquire your success. That's the nature of successful programs."
The changes don't stop with Pracht and Morris. Assistant athletic director for corporate relations Leonard Clark retired. Assistant athletic director for ticket operations Scott Garrett took a job at Kansas State and will be replaced by Russell Wilkins, his assistant in the ticket office. John Brewer replaced Shannon Perniciaro as director of marketing and promotions. Dustin Nichols left as marketing and sales coordinator for a job with the University of Oklahoma's Sooner Sports Properties.
Cross country coach Marc Burns is headed to Bradley to lead its cross country and women's track teams. Associate strength and conditioning coach Nick Hoheisel departed for Oklahoma State.
"Every place I've been, this is the time of year these things happen," assistant athletic director Matt Baty said. "With the economy seeming like it's getting a bump, athletic departments are trying to catch up (in hiring)."
Sexton wants to find Pracht's replacement and let that person have a say in other hirings. The job was posted Thursday and Sexton would like to begin interviews within two weeks.
"I believe it's important for that senior position to have an opportunity to put together their team," Sexton said. "We're doing great things in our development and external operations. If there are ways we can make it better . . . having that senior person in place allows us to have that evaluation as we move forward."
Sexton did take the opportunity to change responsibilities in the department. He promoted Baty from director of development and gave him oversight of the Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization. Baty, temporarily, will take on development duties while WSU searches for replacements for Pracht and Morris.
Sexton doesn't want to lose ground with SASO fund-raising, which he said passed the $3 million mark for the first time. On Thursday, SASO received $75,000 from Shocker House, a three-bedroom home in northwest Wichita constructed and sold to benefit the athletic department.
Baty said SASO brought in $3.2 million, leaving it about $800,000 short of its goal of funding all scholarships and academic support (tutoring, computers, etc.) for WSU's 250 athletes.
"That says a lot for the economy we're in," Baty said. "You're always looking for that new idea, that thing that's going to take us to the next level. There's no reason to sit back and wait, because our supporters aren't waiting on us."
Sexton also wants Baty to continue Morris' work with the WSU Foundation on its Promise for the Future campaign, a program to educate people on the opportunities to donate through estate planning and planned gifts.
"Endowments, planned gifts provide stability over the long term and we need to always be looking at how to incorporate that into our development and fund-raising strategy," Sexton said.
The turnover has raised the anxiety level in the department. Sexton said he is trying to ease fears by meeting with employees, updating with e-mails and being available to talk.
Thursday, he sent out an e-mail detailing Baty's new duties and plans for the search to replace Pracht. Moods throughout the department range from "I'm interested to see what happens next" to "I'm updating my resume."
"Change is always nervous," Sexton said. "I operate with an open door. I've had numerous folks come in with concerns, and we've had those conversations."