UC interim athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois and UC president Dr. Santa Ono listening to outgoing AD Whit Babcock speaking on Saturday, January 25 2014.
CINCINNATI – The news that Whit Babcock is leaving as athletic director at the University of Cincinnati for the same position at Virginia Tech is a punch to the gut. Or at least it should be. Maybe UC has taken so many of these stomach shots it has developed a rock hard six-pack.
When UC president Dr. Santa Ono introduced Desiree Reed-Francois as the interim AD on Saturday there was anything but the feel of a department staggered. Babcock was there to say thanks and good-bye. It was an unusual gesture for such a situation, a classy move, and is part of the reason why Bearcats fans should feel confident of the future.
Babcock didnât take any questions, instead speaking for about five minutes and then walking out of the room after hugging Ono.
It’s now up to Reed-Francois, who came to UC last March as the senior associate director of athletics and senior woman administrator, to guide the department, at least until Ono and the search committee can find a full-time replacement. It may end up being her. She wouldnât say if she was going to be a candidate but Ono encouraged her to apply. It could be some other name. Ono said he’s already begun a national search and he and others say there has already been contact made with good people in the business.
Whoever it ends up being has some big shoes to fill in Babcock, even if he was only in Clifton for 27 months. Babcock built relationships in the UC community, around Cincinnati and outside of the area.
It’s no secret that UC was left out in the realignment shuffle of college athletics. It had worked hard to get into the Big East but when the Big East split up and Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were accepted into the ACC, and Rutgers into the Big Ten, the likes of UC and Connecticut were left behind. They are in conference purgatory, also known as the American Athletic Conference.
But that wasn’t Babcock’s perspective or attitude. Instead, his belief was that whatever conference UC was in the goal had to be the best it could be regardless.
In his time at UC the athletic department began a program to fully fund the scholarships of its Olympic sports. Nippert Stadium is undergoing an $86 million renovation and expansion. He created a strategic three-year plan – named One Team – that covers the goals and their implementation for all of the athletic programs.
The thought is that while realignment is kind of quiet now, if there are going to be any changes in the future UC needs to be ready to act. The new AD is going to have to buy into and expand on these initiatives.
"This is a strong program and there is already a long line of people forming that what to be the athletic director," said Ono, who said there is no exact time table on the hiring process. "When we get the right person. We will do our due diligence and evaluate these different individuals who have expressed interest and engage with some industry experts to see who else might be available."
Basketball coach Mick Cronin has been through this before. He’s an alumnus of UC, was an assistant to Bob Huggins and returned to take over the program in March 2006 following the Nancy Zimpher vs. Huggins soap opera.
"Three-three-four," said Cronin. "Presidents, ADs, football coaches."
That’s how many different changes in the various positions of power at UC there have been since Cronin came back.
"Having been in college sports now for 18 years, I knew Whit was going to be able to name his job once jobs started opening. I didnât know when the day was going to come but I knew it was going to come," said Cronin. "My message would be to our fan base is that they are the key. Not myself, not the athletic director, not coach (Tommy) Tuberville. Fans, alumni, students, former players – you’re only as strong as the people who support you as an athletic department.
"Sure, I know people are frustrated in times like these but I’ve been here eight years and we’ve improved in lot of areas. Like I said, three-three-four, but we’ve continued to improve in a lot of areas."
Cronin gave Reed-Francois a call Friday night when it became official that Babcock was leaving. He was calling to give her a heads-up on what was to come the next 24 hours-plus beyond her normal duties which included getting ready for the women’s basketball game in the afternoon. She also is in charge of the athletic departmentâs communication, marketing and new media.
"Mick told me it was going to be crazy, and I think I got about two hours of sleep," said Reed-Francois. "My sole focus right now is just being effective and efficient in leading this athletic department. This is a great institution. That’s all I’m focused on right now."