Updated August 8, 2021 - 6:32 pm
UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, the first Latina major school athletic director when she was hired in 2017, is leaving the school to take a similar post at the University of Missouri.
Missouri announced the hiring Sunday afternoon.
Reed-Francois, 49, and UNLV officials did not respond to a request for comment. She signed a four-year contract extension with UNLV in April that was to expire June 30, 2026.
She will become Missouri’s first female athletic director, as well as the first to oversee an athletic department at a public school in the Southeastern Conference.
“Desiree Reed-Francois brings an unsurpassed passion for student-athletes and bold, visionary skills that will propel a championship culture at MU,” school president Mun Choi said in a statement. “As a proud member of the SEC, we are energized to go into the next era of Mizzou athletics with Desiree Reed-Francois at the helm.”
UNLV officials are formulating plans for whom to target as her successor. The next athletic director will inherit a program that excels in Olympic sports, fundraising and academics, while its two highest profile and top revenue-producing programs have struggled to win.
Reed-Francois was hired by UNLV in April 2017, replacing Tina Kunzer-Murphy and becoming the first woman of color to work as an athletic director at the Football Bowl Subdivision level. She made eight coaching hires during her four-year tenure, including men’s basketball coaches T.J. Otzelberger and Kevin Kruger, football coach Marcus Arroyo and women’s basketball coach Lindy La Rocque.
Under Reed-Francois’ leadership, the Rebels have won conference championships in women’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s track and field and women’s volleyball. Yet, the men’s basketball program missed the NCAA Tournament in all four of her years, and the football program won 13 games in those four years and failed to receive a bowl bid. The Rebels went 0-6 in the 2020 condensed season, Arroyo’s first as coach.
The school’s student-athletes thrived academically under Reed-Francois, accumulating a collective GPA of 3.0 or better in seven consecutive semesters. Post-graduate employment increased from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Reed-Francois also spurred fundraising efforts that netted “the highest annual fund total, the largest corporate financial commitment to UNLV athletics and the department’s largest-ever estate gift,” according to the news release that announced her contract extension.
“Desiree, if she wants to, she will be a Power Five AD,” Debbie Yow, former Saint Louis, Maryland and North Carolina State athletic director, told the Review-Journal in July. “She’s that talented.”
Reed-Francois is from Fremont, California, and went to UCLA, where she competed on the rowing team before graduating in 1994. She earned a law degree from Arizona in 1997 and began her career in athletic administration shortly thereafter at the University of California.
Other stops included San Jose State, Santa Clara, Fresno State, San Francisco, Tennessee, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, where she was one of four women to oversee football at the Power Five level.
She was a finalist for the UCLA athletic director job in spring 2020, but withdrew before Martin Jarmond was hired from Boston College.
“I didn’t set out to be the first of anything. I just wanted to pursue a dream and do something that I love and make an impact,” Reed-Francois told the RJ in July. “I had never set out to be an athletic director, quite frankly, because I didn’t conceive that possibility of being a reality.”
The search for a new athletic director begins, and that search will not include Kruger’s father, Lon, who coached UNLV’s basketball team from 2004 to 2011 and retired in the spring after 10 years at Oklahoma. He dispelled his candidacy Sunday, explaining that he hopes UNLV will hire somebody “that’s going to do a great job.”
“That’s not me,” he said. “My reasons for making a change were to spend more time with the grandkids and to do some other things. Part of that is supporting the Rebels.”
Lon Kruger said he hopes the university finds somebody who can unite the community, explaining that the “community felt ownership in the Rebel program” when he was coaching at UNLV. “That’s so important. It seems like people kind of align on this side and that side. I think there should be one side, with that being the Rebel program.”
Longtime athletic donor Bill Paulos shared a similar sentiment.
“It’s critical that they put together a search committee that is familiar with UNLV athletics — how it has been running and the people within the athletic department,” he said. “Our last search committee didn’t necessarily portray all of that.”