John Clay

Moats finds light in the Valley

John Clay
John Clay

Felt the economic employment pinch? Laid off? Shown the door? Can happen to anyone. You can survive, however, and in the end, even thrive. Kyle Moats did.

One August day in 2002, after 14 years at the University of Kentucky, Moats was abruptly fired as associate athletics director for marketing by UK's new athletics director Mitch Barnhart.

"I didn't know it was coming," Moats said Wednesday morning. "I didn't want it to happen, and maybe I was a little naive in thinking that it couldn't happen to me."

And yet, it did. But now, less than seven years later, Moats, 44, is the new athletics director at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference.

"I think it was about Mitch having his own guys coming in," said Moats, reflecting on his UK exit. "Once I kind of understood that, sat down and thought about it, it made me feel better."

It was still painful, to be sure, for both Moats and associate athletics director Kathy DeBoer, who was let go at the same time.

"I knew I wanted to get back in the game," Moats said. "I just didn't know when that would happen."

So even as he spent a year working for Kip Cornett's advertising agency, his ears were open. He heard of a Marquette opening, hooked up with basketball coach Tom Crean at a Tubby Smith clinic, even drove Crean back to the airport. Soon after, Moats got the Milwaukee job.

"It was a different experience there, being at a private school as opposed to a public school," he said. "They don't have a football program, so I worked primarily with basketball. There might not be as many fans there as at Kentucky, but they are very passionate."

June 2005, he moved on to become national marketing director at Louisville. It was a return to Kentucky, and a chance to work again with football, something Moats felt he needed to achieve his AD aspirations. It was also a chance to work for Tom Jurich, whom Moats had watched from down the road.

"Tom is a marketing guy," Moats said. "He's very intuitive when it comes to hiring people. He just has the knack. I think that's one of his greatest attributes. The other part is his sense of urgency. If you're going to do it, get it done now so we can move on to the next thing."

What was it like working for UK's in-state rival?

"People don't want to believe this, but we didn't sit in a Red Room and talk about the Big Blue all the time," said Moats, chuckling. "We had other things to worry about. It was the same way when I was at Kentucky."

But if Moats felt a sense of urgency about his career goal, he also possessed patience.

He become friends with Doug Elgin, the commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference, who served on the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee with C.M. Newton, who hired Moats at UK. It was Elgin who advised Moats to try for the Missouri State job once Bill Rowe retired.

"Doug felt like it was one of, if not the best job in the Valley," Moats said. "The facilities are good. There's a good fan base here. They need a little help with football, but it's a beautiful campus with 22,000 students. Springfield is a very nice place to live, and the people here have been extraordinarily nice."

Not a bad station for one who was once suddenly out of a job.

"I think you always have to assume that you're not going to be there," said Moats, looking back. "That being said, I thought I did a pretty good job of networking and communicating to other people in the conference and throughout the country. I think that's important. ...

"And two, I'm not going to speak for Kathy, but I think both of us handled it the right way. You can do it the right way, or you can do it the wrong way. I think in the long run, people look at how you handle adversity, and that's a big issue on character. And I hope that's the way people looked at me, because that's the way I looked at it."