OREM — Soon-to-be WAC member Utah Valley University has narrowed down its search for a new athletic director to four candidates.
The finalists are Kent Stanley of Utah State, Jared Sumsion of Utah Valley, Kurt Esser of New Mexico and Vince Otoupal of California State University, Monterey Bay. Over a two-day period, all of them gave public, on-campus presentations stating their vision for UVU athletics, concluding with Sumsion on Wednesday afternoon.
Key points the candidates discussed ranged from the school's academics-first policy as an educational institution to the program's identity as a local athletic program, with more than one reference being made to UVU's effort to stand out amid the already established presence of University Parkway neighbor Brigham Young University.
The school's pending move to the Western Athletic Conference, however, had the candidates optimistic that Wolverines athletics program is on the upswing in terms of success and notoriety.
"In five years in the state of Utah I've heard them all," Stanley said. "From 'BYU Jr.' to all of those kind of people that think they're being funny. We get it."
Stanley, currently the senior associate athletic director at USU, cited a similar experience when Utah State hired Gary Andersen as its football coach away from the University of Utah.
"I had a core group of people who looked at how we had just hired a football coach from the University of Utah (and thought), 'What were we doing?'" Stanley recalled. "The first thing he talked about was, 'We're going to recruit the state of Utah and we're going head-to-head with the red school and the other blue school. We're taking all of our recruits and we're taking some of theirs too.'
"The reality is we don't need to take a second seat to anybody," Stanley added.
Sumsion's outlook was also positive, focusing not only on UVU's own progress, but on the opponents that will play at Utah Valley starting next season.
"It comes back to our opponents," Sumsion said. "If we're playing (New Jersey Institute of Technology), nobody knows who that is. If we have better opponents in here on a regular basis, I think the fan base will also see, 'Hey, they're a legitimate D-I school.'"
The internal candidate didn't mince words when predicting UVU's success in the WAC, a conference that, though depleted, receives the automatic national postseason bids the Wolverines haven't had access to since becoming a permanent NCAA Division I program in 2009.
"We dominated the Great West Conference," Sumsion said. "This is what we're going to do in the WAC. ... We're going to come in and we're going to be a model institution for the WAC."
Sumsion was quick to reference the rapid growth and recent success within the university's athletic program, citing the success of former UVU athletes such as Ben Kjar (wrestling), Mason Casper (golf) and Ronnie Price (basketball).
Price, an eight-year veteran in the NBA, was in attendance to support Sumsion's candidacy for the position.
"Jared's been a guy that I've known and been a good friend of for years," Price said. "I just wanted to show him support most of all because I feel he's the best fit for the job.
"I have a lot of love for this school," Price added. "I was here when this school was a junior college, so I've actually been a part of the transition. The fact that we're going into the WAC and a position as far as the athletic director (job) being on the table, it was something I wanted to be a part of."
UVU will likely choose retiring athletic director Mike Jacobsen's replacement within the next few weeks, before the program is officially part of the Western Athletic Conference on July 1.
Matt Petersen is the sports web editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.
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