“Challenge accepted,” said new University of Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois as she took the stage for her opening remarks at her press conference held in the Columns Club at Faurot Field.
“Championship cultures require a universal commitment to daily excellence. We will be known for our work ethic, our innovative spirit, and our team mindset. Whether it’s hosting a recruiting visit, greeting guests at games, being a great campus partner, excellence is the expectation,” said Reed-Francois.
She became the first woman and woman of color to ever lead Mizzou athletics, and the first to lead an athletics program at a public institution in the SEC. She joins Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Storey-Lee as female athletic directors within the conference.
Prior to accepting her new position at MU, Reed-Francois served as the athletic director for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for four years, where she significantly increased football season ticket sales and premium revenue while completing facility upgrades worth over $60 million. Her role at UNLV was preceded by over two decades in intercollegiate athletics.
She thanked her previous Rebel colleagues, “where working side-by-side, we were able to enhance the student-athlete experience and elevate the entire athletics program.”
Introducing Reed-Francois were University of Missouri president Mun Choi and chair of the University of Missouri Board of Curators Darryl Chatman. Choi enthusiastically welcomed Reed-Francois and her family to Columbia.
“We’re not going to go from good to great,” said Choi. “We’re going to go from good to becoming champions. The very best. And with the right leadership, the right vision and the investments, we can get there.”
Chatman spoke on behalf of search committee leader Jeff Layman, an MU Curator, describing what made Reed-Francois such an appealing hire.
“Chair Layman describes her as tough, dynamic and an innovative leader who can help build upon our successes and position us to regularly compete at the top of the SEC and beyond,” said Chatman. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Reed-Francois cited former athletic director Debbie Yow and current Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, a former MU athletic administrator who is well-regarded among Mizzou colleagues, as two mentors who contributed to her growth and work in intercollegiate athletics. She also mentioned coaches as mentors, including the late Pat Summitt, Frank Beamer and Bill Walsh.
Another primary inspiration for Reed-Francois’ endeavors is her brother, Roman, who became a quadriplegic after suffering a broken neck as a talented football player in 1994.
“It’s because of him that I got into college athletics… watching him day in and day out achieve the impossible, struggling to accomplish the simplest tasks that we all take for granted, inspires me,” said Reed-Francois. “He is the reason why I do what I do.”
Reed-Francois met with members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council executive team as well as the football team before her press conference, and she spoke highly of the people who “will always be at the forefront of what we do.”
“I was blown away. These are some passionate and talented and committed student-athletes,” said Reed-Francois. “I’m inspired by the perseverance and the resilience and the determination that they bring. I cannot wait to meet all of our student-athletes.”
Reed-Francois has experience within the SEC as an administrator at the University of Tennessee, where she first connected with a prominent figure at Mizzou as the overseer of the Volunteers’ men’s basketball program.
“I was on the hiring committee that helped bring coach [Cuonzo] Martin to the University of Tennessee,” said Reed-Francois, “and we had all these metrics and all these analytics, but when my boss asked me for my opinion, I said, ‘you know, Cuonzo Martin is someone I would want my son to play for.’”
When asked about her impact as a barrier-breaker as a woman in intercollegiate athletics, Reed-Francois looked toward the future.
“I look at my niece, and I have two other nieces, and I look at Sarah [Thompson] that I met this morning, who’s one of our swimmers, and I am so looking forward to the day that when my niece or when Sarah, when they want to be an athletic director or a CEO, I am looking forward to that day when no one has to ask them that question. But I understand the context though, and I understand my responsibility.”
Mizzou’s hiring process was scheduled to last four weeks, according to Choi. “But we always said from the beginning, if we find the right person, we’re going to end the search and make the hire, and that’s what we did.” The search came to an end in just 13 days.
Reed-Francois hopes to usher in a championship mentality across the athletic department, marked by dedication to “serving this great community and our student-athletes, [and] our constituents.
“I know this is the Show-Me State, and I know that our actions and our results will speak louder than my words. But I know this league, and I know we can do this. We can be one of the nation’s best in everything. Everything we do will reflect this.”