KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney chancellor Doug Kristensen stood at a podium Tuesday afternoon in the Wiens Room of Ron and Carol Cope Stadium to announce his decision for the vacant athletic director position.
It was a process the lasted about four months. Four finalists were in consideration, and Kristensen debated between two individuals before making his selection. He opted for the familiar candidate, choosing interim athletic director Marc Bauer for the permanent position.
“I used three factors – fit, stability and fundraising,” Kristensen said. “Those are the three most important points for this job. Marc was clearly the leader in those three categories.”
Bauer, 49, served as the interim AD since April 2018 after the sudden departure of Paul Plinske. He stabilized a department that was experiencing turmoil after the elimination of three athletic programs due to budget reasons.
Bauer understands the challenges. He’s lived in Kearney since 1984. He also built the UNK wrestling team into one of the premier programs in Division II over his 17 years as the head coach before stepping down in 2016.
His familiarity with the university and community played a major factor in Kristensen’s decision.
After observing Bauer in the interim role and discussing the candidates with a variety of people, Kristensen knew he was the ideal choice.
He called Bauer on Friday to inform him. After a busy lunch hour tending to athletic director duties, Bauer returned to his office in the athletic department.
He realized he missed a call from Kristensen and immediately dialed him back. Kristensen answered and was upfront with him. Bauer didn’t hesitate and accepted the offer to become UNK’s eighth athletic director since 1945.
“For us, Kearney is home,” Bauer said. “It always has been and now it always will be.”
The process lasted longer than anyone envisioned. The advisory committee suggested five finalists to Kristensen in February. One of the finalists withdrew from consideration immediately and Kristensen conducted in-person interviews with the four other candidates.
Besides Bauer, Amy Foster, Slade Larscheid and Ron Prettyman also were considered.
Foster has served as the associate athletic director for business at Division II Seattle Pacific University for nearly nine years.
Larscheid served as the athletic director at Division II Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., from May 2014 to February 2018.
Prettyman was the managing director of championships for the NCAA, overseeing 17 championships, including the College World Series, from 2016 to 2018. He served as athletic director at Division I Indiana State University from 2005 to 2016.
Prettyman was the last of the four in-person interviews, which occurred March 18.
Kristensen hoped to announce his choice for the position shortly after the completion of the interviews. An unexpected back surgery created a delay in the selection process and kept him out of the office until last week.
Over the last five weeks, he was evaluating the candidates and talking with people close to him that have a strong understanding of college athletics, he said. He also sought feedback from coaches and people throughout the university before concluding the process.
“I was impressed by each candidate,” Kristensen said. “They each brought a different strength. I believe any of the four would make a good athletic director. I think we were lucky enough to pick the best of the group.”
Bauer anxiously awaited the decision. At times it was stressful, especially for his family, but he kept his focus on fulfilling his duties as the interim AD until Kristensen announced the final verdict, he said.
Over the last year in the interim role, Bauer developed an internal structure to manage scholarship and operating budgets, launched a program to promote student-athlete leadership in the community and implemented a performance-based coaching evaluation process.
His first task as the permenant AD will be to hire an individual for the athletic department’s No. 2 spot, which has been unoccupied since December. He hopes to find someone to enhance marketing, promotions and sponsorships.
“We need to get creative in increasing the energy around what we are doing,” Bauer said. “I think people want to get out and enjoy what we are doing.”
Bauer has high hopes for the position. He wants to generate additional fan support, enhance the student-athlete experience on and off the playing surface and guide the athletic department to its highest potential.
He knows there’s areas that need to be improved but he believes UNK has the necessary resources to accomplish his goals of developing a strong culture throughout the university.
“My goal was to become an athletic director,” Bauer said. “It just came sooner than I thought. But again, this was the right place at the right time.”