NU names new athletic director

Nick Collins

Mark Murphy was introduced as Northwestern’s 20th Director of Athletics on Wednesday and is slated take over for Rick Taylor, who currently fills the position, on June 16.

University President Henry Bienen slipped an NU letterman’s jacket onto Murphy’s shoulders to welcome the former Colgate University athletic director.

“Mark brings an extraordinary set of qualifications to this job,” Bienen said. “Most important of all, they’re the qualifications that matter to Northwestern.”

Murphy guided Colgate’s athletic program — which perennially ranks in the NCAA’s top 10 for student-athlete graduation rate — for 11 years. During his tenure, Murphy dealt with many of the same issues he will face at NU.

Murphy said Colgate’s high academic standards, like NU’s, limited the pool of athletes from which his coaches could recruit.

“But the flip side is, you’ve got the best education to sell,” Murphy said. “There are not many schools at the Division I level that talk about their ‘student’ athletes where you don’t want to laugh. But I feel at Northwestern, the athletes really are students first, and I’m honored to be a part of that.”

If Murphy already sounds like he belongs here, it shouldn’t be a surprise, said John Hardt, athletic director at Bucknell University, which competes with Colgate in the Patriot League.

“I wasn’t surprised he was named (athletic director) at Northwestern,” Hardt said. “The fit seems so natural, it basically had to happen.”

Murphy also knows what it’s like to face an uneven playing field. Just as NU coaches must gauge their potential recruits against stiffer academic standards than their Big Ten conference peers, Murphy faced the challenge of running a Colgate program that doesn’t award athletic scholarships, which other schools in the Patriot League do.

Despite the disadvantage, Colgate’s teams flourished with Murphy at the helm. The football team — the school’s only non-Division I squad — went from an 0-11 season in 1995 to three consecutive appearances in the Division I-AA playoffs. The women’s soccer team won eight Patriot League titles in Murphy’s 11-year tenure. And the men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA tournament — something NU’s squad has never done — in 1995 and 1996.

“He’s a rising star in the business,” Colgate men’s basketball coach Emmett Davis said. “Northwestern’s gain is definitely Colgate’s loss. Mark’s someone you can trust and a person of extremely high integrity.

“He’s very personable and he has a great handle on what needs to get done,” he said. “It’s a credit to his leadership that he gave us the resources to be successful.”

Because Murphy’s predecessor at NU, Taylor, focused most of his nine years at NU on improving facilities, that is one resource Murphy likely will have to work on less.

Under Taylor, NU’s football stadium was renovated and rededicated as Ryan Field. And new multi-million dollar indoor facilities were built for both golf and tennis.

Although Murphy promises to continue raising funds for the department, he said his initial focus will be on creating a game plan with NU’s coaches for the school’s athletic program.

“I hope to take as much time as possible over the summer to sit down with the coaches,” he said. “I’d like to see how I can work together with them to field successful and competitive teams.”