University of Kentucky deputy athletics director Rob Mullens was named the athletics director at the University of Oregon on Thursday and immediately sounded right at home in the Pacific Northwest.
"There are a lot of things about this that just make it feel right," Mullens told the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, noting that his wife's hometown is Tacoma, Wash.
Mullens, 41, came to UK in 2002 from the University of Maryland. As deputy director of athletics, Mullens managed the operations of Kentucky's 22-sport athletics department, with an annual operating budget of $79 million. He will take over an Oregon budget just shy of $70 million and oversee the Ducks' move into a new $227 million basketball arena.
"One of the things that attracts me to the University of Oregon is folks are not afraid to say 'We want to win championships,'" he said.
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Mullens replaces Lorraine Davis, an Oregon administrator and faculty member who came out of retirement to serve as interim athletics director after Mike Bellotti resigned in March to become a college football analyst for ESPN.
The UK athletic department's operating budget expanded by nearly 70 percent during Mullens' eight years at Kentucky and fund-raising hit record levels each of the past seven years.
In May, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart tabbed Mullens as a liaison between the athletics department and the UK men's basketball program.
"(Mullens) has played key roles in managing large and complex organizations at the University of Kentucky and the University of Maryland, and those universities have flourished as a result," Oregon President Richard Lariviere said. "His management and financial expertise will be invaluable to the UO."
Mullens is the fifth administrator under Barnhart to be named athletics director at a BCS school, joining Mike Hamilton (Tennessee), Bob De Carolis (Oregon State), Greg Byrne (Mississippi State, Arizona) and Scott Stricklin (Mississippi State). Mullens, Byrne and Stricklin all worked under Barnhart at UK.
"It's a life-changing event," Barnhart said of Mullens' hire at Oregon. "You're entering a brand- new world with a lot of responsibility, and you have the opportunity to provide for your family. It makes you feel very good that you had a small hand in helping their progression."
Mullens will make $450,000 a year and can earn up to $150,000 more if the Ducks achieve certain academic and athletic goals, the university said.
Mullens had been a finalist for athletics director jobs at LSU, Miami (Fla.), Maryland and his alma mater West Virginia before finally breaking through at Oregon.
"Much like a coach working their way up the ranks, it's a difficult path," Barnhart said. "I've seen great people wait their entire careers and never get the opportunity, and sometimes you have to wait a few times before you get your shot."
Barnhart said the process to replace Mullens will be a gradual one and it was uncertain if the next hire would take on Mullens' day-to-day administrative role with basketball.
"I'll miss Rob's friendship and professionalism, and when a person of his talents moves on, you have to just take a deep breath," he said. "With talented people, you know there's a chance they could move on, and I've had some thoughts in preparing for that. But we're not in a rush. The department is running smoothly, the fiscal year is done, and now we're just preparing for the 2010 football season and our fall sports. We don't feel like we have to make a massive overhaul right now."