UVU searching 'in earnest' for athletic director as WAC era approaches
Mike Jacobsen looks around his office and the clutter within, a 29-year accumulation of work, records and memories as Utah Valley University's athletic director.
The idea of organizing and packing all of it into boxes, he said, isn't an idea he's exactly embracing.
"I hate the thought of that," Jacobsen laughed ruefully. "I’m going to spend two or three nights here getting it done. That’s the hardest thing for me right now."
Hard as it is for Jacobsen to imagine packing up and moving on (he decided to retire earlier this year to focus more on his family), UVU faces a similarly daunting task. Jacobsen's departure comes as Wolverine athletics readies to participate in the Western Athletic Conference, offering the Division I program its first shot at automatic berths in postseason tournaments.
With the transition, school president Matthew Holland said, comes new challenges and opportunities for whoever steps into Jacobsen's place.
"The timing of a new AD coming in at the same time we’re moving into the WAC is a really unique combination," Holland said. "It provides for whoever will step into that role, a really unique opportunity to take a program to the next level. It’s something any AD would want to do."
Proof of Holland's words have come in the form of a wave of applicants, many of whom Jacobsen has some familiarity with. Jacobsen himself, however, has no plans of looming over the process of choosing his successor.
"I’m not going to contact [the new athletic director] at all," Jacobsen said. "If they want to talk to me, I'd be more than willing to talk to them.
"I think the new person that comes in is going to want to put his own stamp on the program," Jacobsen continued. "There are lots of ways to manage people. I’m sure this person will do it different than I do. There’s no right way to do it."
The search committee, however, will be thorough in its choice with the athletics program at such a critical juncture in its history. Utah Valley was granted permanent NCAA Division I status in 2009 and subsequently joined the fledgling Great West Conference.
The GWC, however, lacked automatic qualifying berths for NCAA postseason tournaments, crippling UVU's various athletic teams' chances to play beyond the confernece tournament.
The Wolverines baseball team won a nation-best 47 games last season, including wins over top-15 teams Arizona and Arizona State. Weak conference competition, combined with the conference's lack of AQ status, still saw UVU left out of the NCAA Championship bracket of 64.
Men's basketball is the only team sport that has qualified for NCAA postseason play, participating in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) in 2012 after earning a 20-12 record.
The lack of postseason opportunities led to UVU's search for a new conference home, with the WAC becoming the main target. Utah Valley's initial pitch to join in the summer of 2012 was turned down, with the WAC electing to invite Seattle University.
Utah State's departure to the Mountain West Conference created another opening and, for UVU, another opportunity. Utah Valley formally accepted an invitation to join the WAC on Oct. 9, 2012, and is slated to officially join the conference on July 1.
Jacobsen announced his intention to retire less than four months after the WAC announcement.
"It was really a difficult decision, pretty much a family decision and something that taking everything into play, it was time," Jacobsen said. "It was something that we needed to do."
Holland confirmed that Jacobsen is not a formal member of the university's search committee, but was adament that any input Jacobsen wanted to inpart would be more than welcome.
"Obviously this is a guy who carries a lot of weight," Holland said. "His views matter on this. To the extent he feels inclined to share his thoughts or feelings, we'll take that in account."
The search committee is composed of persons involved with UVU athletics and academics, and the Orem and Provo communities. Technically the group has until June 31 — Jacobsen's last day as athletic director — to make a decision, though Holland said a decision could be announced sooner.
"We’re really going in earnest," Holland said. "My hope [is that a decision will be made] over the next couple of months."
Matt Petersen is the sports web editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.
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