Arizona names Mizzou’s Reed-Francois as AD

Sports

The University of Arizona is expected to hire Missouri athletic director Desireé Reed-Francois as the school’s next AD, sources told ESPN.

The surprising move will be formalized soon, per sources, as Reed-Francois is expected to agree to a five-year deal. The hiring gives Arizona’s athletic department, which is replete with financial struggles, a veteran leader who has spent nearly three years leading Missouri.

The jump from the SEC to Arizona, which is entering the Big 12 next year, is an unexpected one within the college sport industry. Sources told ESPN that Reed-Francois’ ties to Arizona, which include graduating from law school there in 1997, helped lead to the decision.

The move also comes just weeks after Missouri’s board of curators voted to create the Mizzou Intercollegiate Athletics Special Committee, a four-member panel to monitor Missouri sports.

Hiring a sitting SEC athletic director is a strong statement for Arizona president Bobby Robbins, who is dealing with significant financial issues at the school. There was skepticism of the caliber of athletic director he could land when he launched the search, as the school has been shrouded in negative financial headlines.

Reed-Francois has more than seven years of athletic director experience from her time at UNLV and Missouri and a long history in leadership at places such as Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Tennessee.

“While this may come as a surprise to some, those who know Desireé best know that she relishes challenges and is a builder and is not intimidated,” a source familiar with the decision said.

She’ll become the first female athletic director to hold the full-time position at Arizona. When Reed-Francois was hired at UNLV in 2017, she became the first Hispanic woman to be an athletic director at the FBS level.

Part of the attraction to the job to Reed-Francois, per sources, was the opportunity to build Arizona back to stronger financial ground. The school suddenly fired athletic director Dave Heeke late last month, nearly a week after he had hired new football coach Brent Brennan.

This hire comes at a time of fiscal uncertainty for both Arizona and Arizona athletics, as the school is facing a reported deficit of $177 million. The athletics department is also struggling financially, as Robbins has said it has borrowed more than $80 million from the university in recent years.

Reed-Francois is the second athletic director to leave Missouri for a Big 12 job in the past decade, as former AD Mack Rhoades departed for Baylor in 2016. Reed-Francois’ decision comes at a time when the financial gaps between conferences are much more pronounced, with the SEC and Big Ten pulling away from the other leagues.

Reed-Francois helped reverse a negative budget trend during her time at Missouri. Missouri athletics reported a $15 million surplus in fiscal 2022. That ended a run of five years operating at a deficit. Her ability to handle finances and fundraise were part of the attraction to Arizona officials, as Missouri saw increases in attendance and the athletic department received a record $62 million gift earlier this month.

Arizona also noticed Missouri’s innovative work in the NIL space during her time there. Missouri was at the forefront of local NIL legislation, as Gov. Mike Parson signed House Bill 417 in July, which gives the university a significant in-state recruiting advantage by allowing recruits to begin earning NIL money while in high school when they sign with in-state schools.

Reed-Francois leaves Missouri with the football program coming off one of its strongest seasons in recent history, as the Tigers completed the program’s first 11-win campaign since 2014. She hired men’s basketball coach Dennis Gates, who led the program to its first NCAA tournament win in 13 years in 2023. The Tigers have reserved course this season, however, having gone 8-17 overall and 0-12 in the SEC.

At UNLV, Reed-Francois hired T.J. Otzelberger, who has gone on to thrive at Iowa State. His replacement, Kevin Kruger, has gone 51-37.

At Arizona, Reed-Francois inherits Brennan just weeks after he took over the football program. He arrives from San Jose State to a season of strong expectations. Third-year basketball coach Tommy Lloyd is 81-16 and in line for another high seed in the NCAA tournament, as his 81 wins are the most in the first three seasons by a school in a major conference.

Arizona football is poised to be among the favorites in the Big 12 in 2024, as receiver Tetairoa McMillan is among the best at his position in the country and quarterback Noah Fifita won the Pac-12’s offensive freshman of the year award in 2023.

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