Ransdell: Ole Miss getting a ‘great’ AD in Bjork

Former WKU Athletics Director Ross Bjork accepted the same position at Ole Miss on Wednesday. Bjork was responsible for a number of changes in WKU’s athletic programs, including the firing of both men’s and women’s basketball coaches this season.

Lucas Aulbach

It was a familiar scene on Wednesday when WKU president Gary Ransdell took the stage in the Diddle Arena media room.

It had been almost two years to the day since he first addressed the media about the hiring of Athletics Director Ross Bjork. But this time he was there to announce Bjork’s departure.

Bjork officially accepted the position of athletic director at Mississippi on Wednesday.

“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.”

Bjork released his own statement 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.”

Ransdell said he doesn’t know when Bjork will leave Bowling Green and take up the position in Oxford, Miss.

Bjork’s two-year term 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 Ole Miss chancellor Dan Jones about the hire of Bjork on Wednesday.

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.

Ransdell said he will now take a more active role in the women’s basketball coaching search, which he said “will move along quickly.”

Bjork’s departure leaves a gaping hole at the top of WKU’s athletic pyramid. Ransdell said he will likely appoint an interim AD while the search for someone to permanently fill the position continues.

He said the clear favorite to take the interim position is senior associate AD Todd Stewart and there is no timetable to hire a someone to take on the position full-time.

“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.”