Ex-Cat Lochmueller is out as EKU AD; Eastern launches national search for replacement

Former Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball and football player Steve Lochmueller is no longer the athletics director at Eastern Kentucky University.

In a release issued early Monday evening, EKU said Lochmueller resigned from the position he had held since April 2015.

Former Eastern athletics director Mark Sandy, who retired as Ball State’s AD in 2018, will fill the opening created by Lochmueller’s resignation on an interim basis. EKU will conduct a national search for a full-time replacement, the school said in its release.

In a resignation letter dated Oct. 18, Lochmueller wrote, “I have made the decision to step down as director of athletics … to pursue a new opportunity. I know the athletic department here at Eastern Kentucky University will continue on and achieve many more successes with the foundation we have built.”

EKU President Michael Benson said in the school’s release, “We would like to thank Mr. Lochmueller for his years of service to EKU Athletics. He has helped provide a quality experience for our student athletes and oversaw some vital infrastructure and personnel changes for our athletics program. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Before leaving for the same position at Ball State in 2015, Sandy spent 10 years as EKU AD. He retired as Ball State athletics director in June 2018.

“I am excited to return to EKU, reconnect with colleagues and make new connections in the athletics department,” Sandy said in the Eastern news release. “I look forward to helping the university navigate this transition smoothly.”

Under Steve Lochmueller’s tenure as athletics director, EKU substantially upgraded several of its facilities in hopes of earning an invitation to join a Football Bowl Subdivision conference that never came. Herald-Leader

Lochmueller, 66, was a surprise choice when Eastern hired him in 2015, having spent his career prior to EKU in private business. Under his tenure, EKU substantially upgraded several of its athletics facilities in hopes of earning an invitation to join a Football Bowl Subdivision conference that never came.

In the most high-profile sports, Lochmueller left his stamp on EKU, hiring new coaches in men’s basketball, women’s basketball and football.

After men’s hoops coach Jeff Neubauer left Eastern for Fordham in 2015, Lochmueller reached into the Rick Pitino coaching tree to hire then-Minnesota assistant Dan McHale to lead EKU hoops.

Over three seasons, McHale went 38-55 and never made the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. After an 11-20 season in 2017-18, Lochmueller and Eastern fired McHale and turned to former Scott County basketball star A.W. Hamilton as head coach.

In his first season last year, Hamilton led the Colonels to a 13-18 record, although the perception is that he is recruiting well.

Lochmueller’s most controversial move as AD was firing Dean Hood as head football coach after the 2015 season. In eight seasons (2008-2015) as Eastern head coach, Hood went 55-38 and led the Colonels to three berths in the FCS playoffs, though he never won a postseason game.

Eastern replaced Hood with Mark Elder, a Butch Jones disciple who was hired off the staff at Tennessee. Midway through his fourth season, Elder is 18-22 at Eastern.

After EKU went 2-27 last season in women’s basketball, longtime coach Chrissy Roberts was not retained. Lochmueller hired Samantha Williams, an assistant at Louisville for Jeff Walz, as her replacement.

At UK, Lochmueller played two seasons of basketball for Joe B. Hall, scoring 179 career points from 1972-74. He then joined Fran Curci’s football Cats for his senior season of eligibility.

“It has been my privilege to serve Eastern Kentucky University,” Lochmueller wrote in his resignation letter.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.