NAU's president said she has been kept largely in the dark as her vice president for intercollegiate athletics had applied for and been hired at the University of Texas at San Antonio for the same job, but at nearly double her present salary.
 
Rita Cheng told the Daily Sun she became aware of Lisa Campos' departure only Thursday, the day news leaked out in the evening. Most notably, Cheng acknowledged she was unaware of Campos' interest in the AD positions at both UTSA and the University of Texas at El Paso when Campos made the Sept. 11 announcement of football coach Jerome Souers’ contract not being renewed at the end of this year.

Both positions opened prior to Campos' announcement on Souers’ status, with Bob Stull announcing his retirement at UTEP on Aug. 31 and Lynn Hickey’s resignation from UTSA on Sept. 7. When asked if she would have approved of the nonrenewal of Souers knowing Campos would no longer be at the school or preferred her replacement to make a final decision on the football coach, the president said, “While it would have been an important consideration, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to speculate after the fact.”

Campos' official departure created a whirlwind afternoon Friday for the NAU Athletics Department. Cheng announced that NAU executive vice president and chief of staff Joanne Keene would be in charge of the department on an interim basis.

Keene, a graduate of NAU with a bachelor’s degree in English and broadcast journalism and a master’s degree in public administration, joined the university in May 2015 from Coconino County. While Keene was not given the interim athletics director title, the department will report to her as the search for a new athletic director begins immediately.

HOW MUCH PROGRESS?

At the press conference Friday announcing her hiring, Campos and a host of UTSA administrators touched on the Lumberjacks’ run of Big Sky Conference and Western Athletic Conference championships as well as the school’s Academic Progress Rate scores.

“If you look at how Northern Arizona has ascended in the Big Sky Conference, you would say she has moved a heavy rock up a steep hill in short order,” said UTSA President Taylor Eighmy.

Eighmy cited 32 conference titles, as well as improved APR results, as reasons for the hire of Campos, despite none of the titles coming in the school’s three major sports and scores mostly remaining steady for the school’s most notable teams across the past five years.

Northern Arizona’s football program sat at 957 in 2011-12 according to the NCAA, mostly recorded prior to Campos' March 30, 2012, hiring. In the most recent release for the 2015-16 academic year, the football program was at 940. The men’s basketball program finished the 2010-11 season at 956 and, after moving up and down in recent years, it returned to 956 for the 2015-16 academic year.

Meanwhile, Northern Arizona’s dominance in running and swimming – two endurance sports that take advantage of NAU’s high-elevation training opportunities -- make up most of the school’s conference titles during Campos' tenure. The men’s and women’s cross country teams combined for eight Big Sky titles since 2012, the indoor track and field teams were responsible for seven titles since the 2013 season and the outdoor teams added another eight.

In the WAC, Northern Arizona’s women swimmers dominated the conference with four titles in the past four years.

Of the school’s four most revenue-generating sports -- men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and football -- Northern Arizona captured just one Big Sky title in volleyball and only three postseason appearances, with the volleyball and football teams reaching their respective NCAA tournaments and the men’s basketball team running through the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

'LOVELY ... TO GO TO A SPA'

While statements about Flagstaff were kept to a minimum, with the San Antonio media focusing on the work Campos has ahead at UTSA, Eighmy provided a memorable moment when describing where his new hire arrived from.

“If you look at her record, she has done a fabulous job of hiring coaches out of power five conferences to a place out in the middle of nowhere,” Eighmy said. “Flagstaff is lovely if you want to go to a spa, but it’s a hard place to recruit to if you are interested in Division I athletics.”

Though not addressed directly during the press conference, reports from San Antonino confirmed Campos nearly doubled her pay by jumping schools. Paid $195,532 annually in Flagstaff, Campos’ new contract in UTSA calls for a base salary of $375,000 a year across her initial five-year deal.

CAMPOS' STATEMENT

Not due to begin her new job officially until Jan. 15, according to Eighmy, that date was also included in Campos' farewell email sent to the entire athletics department during the press conference, obtained by the Arizona Daily Sun.

“It is with bittersweet emotions I write this email. This afternoon you will see an official announcement regarding my appointment as UTSA’s new Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics. I first want to thank all of you for this opportunity, as it is because of the tireless efforts you have put into NAU Athletics we have achieved much success over the past few years.

"Darren, Christopher and I have enjoyed our time at NAU and Flagstaff and will miss it tremendously. Most of all, we will miss the daily interactions we have with you and the student-athletes. I would have liked to have called each of you personally to share the news, but that just was not possible.”

Already in the middle of a search for a new football head coach following Campos’ decision not to renew Souers’ contract and celebrate his 20th and final year with the university throughout the season, Cheng confirmed a new search for an athletic director would begin with help from the firm Parker Executive Search.

Cheng added that the new athletic director would be involved in the final decision on a football head coach.

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Cody Bashore serves as the beat writer for Northern Arizona University basketball and football in addition to covering high school sports around Flagstaff for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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