Ross Bjork’s two-year term as WKU Athletics Director came to a close this week as he accepted the same position at Mississippi on Wednesday.
He took the podium at an Ole Miss press conference on Thursday to officially accept the job.
While he said he was thankful for the opportunity to lead “the best collegiate environment in all of higher education,” Bjork said he wanted to thank all of the WKU community and President Gary Ransdell for his time in Bowling Green.
“It’s a special place at WKU, I can assure you,” he said on Thursday in Oxford, Miss. “Visit there — you’ll find out. It has a lot of the same ingredients here at Ole Miss.”
Ransdell hosted a press conference at WKU on Wednesday to announce Bjork’s departure.
“Ross was a terrific AD for two years,” Ransdell said. “Smart, insightful, well-connected, careful in his decisions — and I mean that in a very positive way — and gave us great leadership for two years. He and I worked exceedingly well together.”
Ransdell announced on Thursday that Todd Stewart, senior associate AD, will serve as interim AD.
Bjork released his own statement to WKU fans on Wednesday to confirm that he had accepted the position at Ole Miss, which had opened up when current AD Pete Boone announced his retirement last November.
“While I was not seeking to leave WKU, the opportunity to oversee and manage the athletics department at a historic and prestigious university in the Southeastern Conference was one that we had to examine and ultimately accept,” he said. “Dr. Ransdell gave me a tremendous opportunity two years ago, and I will always be indebted to him and our friendship.
“While my tenure at WKU has certainly turned out to be shorter than I could ever have anticipated, I have cherished every moment I have worked for WKU and been a part of the Hilltopper Nation.”
Dan Jones, chancellor at Ole Miss, said while a specific date has yet to be worked out for Bjork to fully take on the position, he is committed to starting in the next two to four weeks.
Bjork said he definitely plans to be in control by the time Ole Miss holds its spring football game on April 21.
Bjork’s two-year term at WKU came on the heels of an 11-year tenure by former AD Wood Selig, who accepted the same position at Old Dominion in February 2010. Bjork was hired at WKU weeks later, on March 12.
Ransdell said Bjork first alerted him of the Ole Miss job opportunity immediately following WKU’s NCAA Men’s Tournament loss to Kentucky last Thursday in Louisville.
He said Bjork interviewed with Ole Miss on Monday. Bjork was back in Bowling Green on Tuesday, where he attended a regular monthly staff meeting but didn’t mention the Ole Miss job.
News of Bjork’s hiring at Ole Miss broke on Tuesday afternoon and was confirmed by both schools on Wednesday.
Ransdell had a conversation with Jones on Wednesday about Bjork’s hiring.
Ransdell referenced a condition in Bjork’s contract with WKU, in which Bjork must “encourage” a football and basketball home-and-home series between the Toppers and any potential school which hired him.
“I told (Jones) we look forward to competing against Ole Miss athletically for the next several years as the result of this appointment,” Ransdell said.
Bjork must also pay WKU a $100,000 buyout.
Ransdell continued to say that while he was surprised and disappointed that WKU is losing Bjork, the Toppers will remain an athletic threat in the Sun Belt Conference.
“Am I worried about the future? Absolutely not,” he said. “But sure, I hate to lose Ross, because he’s the best, and Ole Miss is getting a great athletic director.”
Change was an important feature of Bjork’s tenure at WKU.
He was responsible for the firings of women’s basketball head coach Mary Taylor Cowles and men’s basketball head coach Ken McDonald this year. He hired former assistant Ray Harper to replace McDonald and hired current baseball head coach Matt Myers last summer after former coach Chris Finwood left to take over at Old Dominion.
Stewart is expected to be a candidate for the full-time job. Ransdell said he also received inquiries from “a couple dozen” other athletic administrators on Wednesday afternoon interested in the job.
He said a search committee will take its time with this decision more than it would for a potential head coaching search.
“I do not feel a sense of urgency to fill this,” Ransdell said. “There’s not a recruiting date looming on the horizon that you feel like you’ve got to get out in front of in this particular appointment process. “We’ll take our time, and we’ll build a very strong pool, and then we’ll have a search committee and work our way through that pool and arrive at a finalist group.”