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Graney: Desiree Reed-Francois lands Power 5 job she so coveted

There is a reason UNLV athletic director Desiree-Reed Francois was listed among candidates for essentially all Power Five openings the past year or so.

Climbers want to climb.

Reed-Francois is off to Missouri of the Southeastern Conference, becoming the first woman and person of color to serve as the university’s athletic director in a full-time capacity.

Hers is a resume that has seen both sides of collegiate athletics, of the rich and poor, the big-time jobs and those of little consequence in the college world. The massive budgets. The ones that annually bleed red.

She knows intimately the haves and have-nots.

A vast difference

It makes all the sense in the world why she chased the athletic director’s chair at a Power Five school. If you’re her, you walk to Columbia, and I’m not sure anyone has ever uttered those words.

But it’s 2021. College athletics is at a tenuous point. Texas and Oklahoma have jumped from the Big 12 to the SEC, while other Power Five conferences scramble to counter what could be a chain reaction of historic movement across the landscape.

What were once whispers have grown to loud conversations about power leagues running from the Group of Five to form their own division. Never has the split between Power Five schools and everyone else been this vast.

Think about it. The SEC distributed $45.5 million to each of its member schools in 2020 and is on pace to take in $1.3 billion in revenue during the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The Mountain West — of which UNLV is a member — is set to pay its schools about $4 million per year from its new media rights deal.

Which is how much the SEC spends on pencils.

That’s why Reed-Francois wanted an invitation to the only party that matters. You can’t blame her. She worked at Tennessee in a previous stop and knows full well the mighty SEC brand.

She arrived to UNLV in 2017 from Virginia Tech as the first Hispanic female athletic director at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. In April, she signed a four-year contract extension through 2026 with an adjusted annual base salary of $420,000.

But how successful her time at UNLV was warrants a major grade of incomplete.

And that’s being kind in the only sports that matter.

Ironic. She is bound for the most powerful of conferences and yet certainly didn’t land the Missouri job for her UNLV hires in football and men’s basketball.

Reed-Francois fired Tony Sanchez as football coach in 2019 and replaced him with Marcus Arroyo. He went 0-6 in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and his second UNLV team has been handed a win total of 1.5. Arroyo hasn’t done anything yet.

She also fired men’s basketball coach Marvin Menzies and replaced him with T.J. Otzelberger, who went 29-30 and didn’t reach the postseason in two seasons before departing for Iowa State.

It’s the only Power Five job Otzelberger could have sniffed at the time, and only because of his close ties in Ames. Reed-Francois replaced him with assistant Kevin Kruger. He hasn’t coached a game.

Some strides made

UNLV has won in sports such as women’s volleyball and softball and women’s basketball lately under coaching hires made by Reed-Francois. It’s nice. It’s not football.

There were major strides made in fundraising and academics.

There were also influential donors who stepped away from the program for various reasons during her tenure.

This was Reed-Francois upon agreeing to that four-year extension: “It has been a fast four years, and while there is more work ahead of us, we are very optimistic for the future. We want the transformation of UNLV athletics to be sustaining and long term, and we are headed in that direction.”

About three months later, she’s gone.

The state of Missouri is part of three mountain ranges. There are around 549 peaks.

Hey, climbers want to climb.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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