At different times this week, four men in suits were paraded across the Sacramento State campus.
They shook hands with faculty, administrators and students and toured the grounds and facilities. And each was given the conference room floor to make his case how to boost the Hornets.
Sac State has narrowed its field of candidates for athletic director to four, with the eventual hire – possibly being announced next week – taking on the task of awakening a sleeping giant of a sports program and making it relevant in the community and competitive on the field and in the arena.
John Volek was hired as interim athletic director in January by Sac State President Robert Nelsen. Both want someone will stay for the long haul. Volek, who coached football at Sac State and bleeds Hornets green and gold, has expressed a desire to remain with the athletic department as a consultant.
The candidates – Solly Fulp, Mark Massari, Mark Orr and Brian Wickstrom – each have Northern California ties, two of them especially so in Sacramento. According to sources with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak on the record, candidates were contacted by a search committee hired by Sac State. Each candidate discussed compliance, fundraising, alumni and community engagement, competition expectations and facility upgrades with the hiring committee.
The new AD will inherit some gems on campus, including longstanding men’s basketball coach Brian Katz, who has worked wonders despite meager facilities, and baseball coach Reggie Christiansen, who had his contract extended into 2021 after being courted by other Division I programs.
Lights were installed at John Smith Field, the home of Sac State baseball, last spring to better illuminate a program that has won two Western Athletic Conference championships in recent seasons with scores of local recruits. Hornet Stadium has hosted the Olympic Track and Field Trials and NCAA Track and Field Championships .
The next AD also must make a decision on the football coaching front. The Hornets have struggled in recent seasons, resulting in losses and sagging attendance. Coach Jody Sears is entering the last year of his contract. Extend him? Start over?
A closer look at the candidates:
Solly Fulp – The executive director of the University Partnership Program at Cal, Fulp once worked at Sac State in marketing and athletics. Fulp has a master’s degree from Sac State and was once Cal’s deputy AD.
Mark Massari – The deputy athletic director at Oregon State, Massari is a Sac State graduate, having played linebacker for Bob Mattos from 1988 to 1992. At OSU, he oversees external affairs, strategic planning and business and fan development efforts, and he is the athletic department’s chief marketing and revenue officer. Massari served as the UC Santa Barbara athletic director for six years and has drawn interest from San Jose State for its vacant AD post.
Mark Orr – An early-1990s football star at Christian Brothers before playing on scholarship at Cal, Orr has been the athletic director at Saint Mary’s for 11 years. Though the school dropped football before his arrival, Orr has been paramount in facility upgrades on campus, and the men’s basketball team has been nationally ranked in recent seasons.
Brian Wickstrom – The Louisiana-Monroe athletic director has worked on the West Coast before, including as the AD at UC Riverside – Volek’s alma mater – and as associate AD at Santa Clara. He is known for his success in facility upgrades and fundraising but lacks a direct connection to Sacramento.