Working quickly to fill its vice president for intercollegiate athletics vacancy, Northern Arizona University announced Mike Marlow as its pick at the Health and Learning Center Wednesday morning.
With less than a month passing since the announcement of Lisa Campos’ departure to the University of Texas San Antonio, Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng found her new vice president in Marlow, who currently serves as the deputy director of athletics at Washington State and will begin his tenure at Northern Arizona in mid-January.
In the meantime, executive vice president and chief of staff Joanne Keene will continue to oversee the athletic department's operations.
“I learned in short order that President Cheng is positively convincing,” Marlow said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I received late afternoon, early evening, a text message from the president’s office, ‘Could you please come by and visit, the president would like to visit with you,’ and I’ve got to say that’s the first time in my career that I have received such a message that I was excited about.”
After hiring Parker Executive Search on Nov. 20, Northern Arizona appointed a search committee consisting of Christy Farley, Chris Bavasi, Tom Cheng, Alisse Ali-Joseph and Mitch Strohman that helped vet candidates before Cheng made her decision to offer the job to Marlow.
Keene, Ken Murphy, Mike Smith, Matt Howdeshell, Robyn Sharp and Daniel Okoli also assisted in the hiring process.
Marlow has been a long-time assistant to Bill Moos, who left Washington State for Nebraska in mid-October. With Moos at Oregon from 1995 to 2007 and Washington State from 2010 to 2017, Marlow spent time with Moos at three different universities.
Entering the world of intercollegiate administration in 1991 after graduating from Washington State, Marlow took the position of assistant director of the Grizzly Athletic Association at Montana when Moos was the Grizzlies’ athletic director. Following a stop at Idaho, Marlow started at Oregon in 1998 and spent 12 years in Eugene until Moos returned from a temporary retirement to accept Washington State’s AD position.
After another seven-year stint with Moos in Pullman, Marlow now lands in Flagstaff.
He thanked Moos, Arizona athletic director and former Oregon coworker Dave Heeke and former Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny, among others, for their help during his career.
“I did get my start in the Big Sky Conference and I have been very proud of that over the years,” Marlow said. “I think it is great for people to start at the Big Sky level, where the team really does come together. You are not overburdened with too much staff and you have got to be efficient.”
Marlow added that while at Oregon in 2004, he considered applying for Northern Arizona’s opening that eventually went to Jim Fallis. With family in the Valley and his parents nearby in Laughlin, Nevada, Marlow said the position had been on his radar for a long time.
With Parker Executive Search also coordinating Washington State’s opening in light of Moos' departure, Marlow was also open about his interest in that position.
“Washington State is my alma mater and I will always cherish my time there both as a student and as an employee,” Marlow said. “Our president was very transparent and I am going to be very transparent with you in my role here. He was looking for an athletic director that had previously been an athletic director, and that’s probably the case at the Power-5 (conference) level 95 percent of the time.”
In his role of deputy director at athletics at Washington State, Marlow served as the day-to-day administrator for football, men’s basketball and baseball as well as overseeing the Cougar Athletic Fund, marketing, ticket operations, communication efforts. He also served as the department’s liaison to IMG College and the Pac-12 Networks.
Marlow’s involvement with the football program included a close relationship with head coach Mike Leach, who submitted a glowing endorsement.
“Mike Marlow will make an outstanding athletics director and is a personal friend who I have tremendous trust in and a great deal of respect for. Any time I am thinking something through, he is a great sounding board and provides a lot of wisdom,” Leach said in a statement released by Northern Arizona with Marlow’s announcement.
Marlow said his interview for Northern Arizona’s opening was his first formal interview in nearly a decade, adding the school’s commitment and community were what drew him in.
“I have not been a person that has looked at a lot of other jobs ... so community is extremely important to me and my family,” Marlow said.
Marlow’s early statements at Wednesday’s press conference included addressing the community of Flagstaff, welcoming everyone to get more involved as he expected the department to increase its involvement as well.
“To the campus and Flagstaff community, we will not operate in a silo; we will be working partners, true partners in a collaborative way with this community, this campus and all of the people involved,” Marlow said.
With the hiring of Marlow coming 26 days after Campos left for UTSA, Northern Arizona worked quickly to ensure it came away with a quality candidate given how many positions are open across the country.
Cheng said she and the committee landed on Marlow after he rose to the top of a large group of applicants, citing his experience and background as keys to the decision.
“Mike has demonstrated that he knows how to recruit and manage coaches and staff, and that he knows how to increase engagement with the student body and build external support,” Cheng said during the press conference. “We are looking to Mike to elevate our students-athletes’ experiences, our competitiveness and the brand so that more people know about the power of our athletic department.”
While the terms of Marlow’s contract could not be confirmed by Cheng yet and are subject to future approval by the Arizona Board of Regents, the standard first contract for most athletic directors is five years.
After thanking those who helped him in his career, as well as Campos for her service to the university, Marlow touched on his work ahead during a Q-and-A session.
Clarifying he first wanted to assure the coaches and staff that he is a believer in teamwork, Marlow said he did not feel the need to immediately come in and make changes.
“I look forward to observing and assessing our organization and structure, and finding out what we are doing well to serve our student-athletes and what we could be doing better,” Marlow said before adding, “I’m more concerned with getting to know people as it relates to our coaches. I want their perspective in terms of where they think they are at, what tools they have in their tool belt, what they don't have and what obstacles we can overcome together as partners.”
Moving on to what he can do to engage the fan base better as the school looks to increase its attendance at games, Marlow said it starts with the students.
“Students create the circus -- for lack of a better description -- and we have got to find a way at NAU to engage our students in a genuine way,” Marlow added. “Let them know that not only are they wanted, but they are needed.”
Additionally, Marlow said facilities were not addressed deeply in the interview process, as Northern Arizona has sought a basketball-specific arena off and on in the past, but did say he recognized the importance of quality facilities as a part of athletics and the campus as a whole.