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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 26 2010

Transition success a hard sell for Taylor’s resume

The day was Aug. 30, 2002 and the theory from then on pointed to one thing about North Dakota State athletics: The program was destined for mediocrity at best for a decade.

Nobody, after all, went through an NCAA Division I reclassification with any kind of success – especially five years. It was tough enough with the old two-year transition that was changed to five before NDSU announced it was ditching Division II.

Five years? Good luck Mr. Athletic Director. Good luck Mr. Basketball Coach. Good luck Ms. Basketball Coach. Good luck to all.

So what happens? By the time the five years was up, NDSU beat nationally ranked Wisconsin and Marquette in men’s basketball and Minnesota in football, women’s basketball and baseball.

It was obvious NDSU was no Savannah State, Longwood or Winston-Salem State that labored through a transition. It was really an exercise in good management and department-wide organization.

Not many athletic directors in the country had a tougher job in those five years than Gene Taylor, who came to NDSU in 2001 and later was handed the keys to the reclassification.

The Bison not only survived, they thrived.

What great stuff for a resume if you’re Taylor and you’re looking to move on in your profession. But here’s the problem: Almost all college presidents out there who hire athletic directors probably don’t know much about a Division I reclassification.

Taylor’s best attributes at NDSU perhaps mean virtually nothing to them. Not only that, he did it in North Dakota – far, far away from more than one major media market.

This week, he was one of three finalists for the athletic director at Kent State (Ohio). He didn’t get it – the job went to University of South Dakota athletic director Joel Nielsen, which brings up another point about reclassifications and job marketability.

If leading a school through a transition mattered so much, why would Nielsen get it over Taylor? USD is in the middle of the process and, to date, has not had the success that NDSU experienced.

But there are so many details that go into the interview process that we’ll probably never know what separated the two. Nielsen spent time at two Mid-American Conference schools and that could have helped. Word is he wowed the Kent State president in his interview, turning the scheduled 40 minutes into an hour and a half.

When Taylor interviewed at NDSU, everybody thought University of Minnesota senior associate athletic director Jeff Schemmel was going to get it until he withdrew. Then the favorite was South Alabama assistant athletic director Joel Erdmann.

There’s more to these deals than a resume.


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546 or jkolpack@forumcomm.com