Mark Orr, the athletic director at Saint Mary’s College for the past nine years, will be named Sacramento State’s new athletics director Monday at a 10 a.m. press conference at the Wellness Center.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the matter but unauthorized to speak on the record have told The Bee that university President Robert Nelsen selected Orr from a final group of qualified candidates. The short list included: former Sac State fundraising executive Solly Fulp, who is the executive director of University Business Partnerships and Services at UC Berkeley; Brian Wickstrom, the athletic director at the University of Louisiana, Monroe; and Mark Massari, the associate athletic director at Oregon State who withdrew his application within the past two weeks.
The Hornets’ AD position has been fluid since Terry Wanless retired in June 2014. During Wanless’ 11-year term, his accomplishments include upgrading the football stadium, soccer and track fields, and acquiring funding for construction of the Wellness Center. Assistant AD Bill Macriss succeeded Wanless on an interim basis and appeared to secure the job outright.
But Nelsen, as an incoming president and a strong believer in nurturing successful sports teams, determined the athletic department needed a major shakeup. Several weeks ago he reassigned Macriss to an administrative position and lured former Hornets football coach John Volek out of retirement to serve as interim AD. According to two sources close to the most recent developments, Macriss will be retained and Volek will be offered a position – possibly as a consultant, which would enable him to continue his aggressive fundraising efforts and retain a popular presence in the community.
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Orr, who attended Christian Brothers High School, has strong ties to the area. His father, Greg, is a highly regarded Major League Baseball scout. While lettering in football during his four seasons as a defensive back at Cal, he earned a degree in social work. He also earned a masters degree while working in the athletic department in compliance and eligibility issues, his responsibilities increasing by the year.
He joined Saint Mary’s athletic department in 2004, and in 2006, became the youngest athletic director in Division I sports.
Besides supervising 17 intercollegiate sports, including the Gaels’ perennially successful basketball program, he headed the effort to upgrade McKeon Pavilion, acquired another $30 million for a recreation center and improve conditions in several other sports.
Though many within college sports suspected Orr eventually would return to Sacramento – or to a Northern California school with a football program – he undoubtedly is aware of his hometown university’s two thorny issues. There is a lack of funding to construct an on-campus events center to house the basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams, as well as serve as an adequate venue for concerts, speakers series and graduations.
The other issue is the football program’s decline. After UC Davis fired football coach Ron Gould following the 2016 season, many assumed the Hornets similarly would offer Jody Sears a buyout and conduct an extensive search. Though that did not happen – to the dismay of the disgruntled Hornets masses – those close to Nelsen believe Sears will be fired if he doesn’t turn the program around this season.
Orr is expected to give insight Monday on why he was Nelsen’s choice to take on these issues and more at Sac State.