Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Ross Bjork named Mississippi AD
Western Kentucky's Ross Bjork has been named Mississippi's new athletic director.
The 39-year-old Bjork has been the athletic director at Western Kentucky since March 2010 and also has worked in the athletic departments at UCLA, Miami and Missouri. Mississippi announced Bjork's hiring Wednesday afternoon and will have an official news conference Thursday.
The Dodge City, Kan., native will take over for Pete Boone in mid-April. Boone announced his retirement in November after more than 13 years as Mississippi's AD.
Ole Miss chancellor Dr. Dan Jones, along with a committee led by former Rebels quarterback Archie Manning and FedEx chairman Mike Glenn, made the Bjork hire.
"I've spent a lot of time with him," Jones said in a released statement. "Integrity and character are important to me, and I'm very comfortable with his strengths on those attributes. I'm also very pleased with the professional track he's taken in college athletics. He has trained for this job through his education and a steady, upward track in athletic administration, and he's demonstrated a commitment to Ole Miss and to winning on and off the field."
One of Bjork's challenges will be helping rebuild Mississippi's football program. The Rebels finished 2-10 last season, 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference. Fourth-year coach Houston Nutt was fired after the season and Hugh Freeze replaced him in December.
Bjork was the youngest athletics director in the Football Bowl Subdivision while at Western Kentucky and is considered a fast riser and major fundraiser.
"The future of WKU Athletics is bright and the foundation is in place for greatness to occur for years to come," Bjork said in a statement released by Western Kentucky. "WKU fans can always count on the Bjork family being proud members of Hilltopper Nation."
Before going to WKU, he spent five years at UCLA, where he directed all fundraising activities.
He previously worked at Miami and Missouri after getting his start at Western Kentucky as an athletic development coordinator in 1996-97.
Now he'll be charged with helping the Rebels compete in the loaded SEC. Mississippi has an annual athletic budget of about $50 million, which is dwarfed by several other SEC powerhouses.
Bjork made decisive moves with coaches at Western Kentucky, despite his relatively short tenure.
After football coach Willie Taggart's 7-5 season this year, Bjork renegotiated his deal and more than doubled the coach's base salary to $475,000.
He fired men's basketball coach Ken McDonald midseason after a 5-11 start and replaced him with Ray Harper, who later became the permanent coach and one of the highest-paid coaches in the conference with a base salary of $375,000.
The Hilltoppers went on to make a run to the NCAA tournament, winning four games in four days to earn the automatic qualifier out of the Sun Belt.
"It's been a great run," Bjork said just before the start of the game that the Hilltoppers lost to Kentucky 81-66. "It's great exposure for our university, really all of our teams."
Bjork also fired women's basketball coach Mary Taylor Cowles after this season and had been active in determining her replacement until this past week. That job is expected to start between $150,000 and $175,000.