Richard Sander knew it was going to be an eventful six months when he became the East Tennessee State athletic director on an interim basis in January.
Turns out that six months won’t be nearly long enough.
ETSU president Brian Noland announced Tuesday that the interim label has been removed from the AD’s title. Sander has agreed to a one-year contract extension, and his boss was looking beyond that.
“He’s a wonderful individual who has sacrificed his family to be part of the ETSU family,” Noland said during a news conference in the Culp Center to address the university’s return to the Southern Conference. “He has provided great leadership for our athletics program over the last five months, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“We’re going to have a lot of fun for the next 16, 18, 24 months.”
Sander, 67, was athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth for two decades before retiring from the job in 2006. He went into consulting work and became involved in the Committee for 125 meetings at ETSU last fall.
On Jan. 14, Sander was named to succeed Dave Mullins, who had been athletic director for a decade. Mullins will retire from the university at the end of this month, and was in attendance at Tuesday’s gathering.
“Dave has been very gracious, and I’ve really enjoyed working with him,” said Sander. “Dr. Noland is great, there’s a good staff in place here. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy, and we’ve gotten a lot done, but there’s more to do. I just feel a responsibility to see these things through.”
Sander has indeed had a lot of irons in the fire from day one.
In his short tenure, ETSU has already committed to start a new football program, hired a new women’s basketball coach and accepted a membership offer from the Southern Conference, beginning next June. (A head football coach was expected to be named this week, but Noland said Tuesday that has been moved back to next week at the earliest.)
The preparations for football continue to consume much of Sander’s time.
“It’s the 500-pound gorilla,” he said. “With the situation here at East Tennessee State, it’s such a point of emphasis and has to be done right. It really changes the whole system of the athletic department.
“One thing that became apparent as we started interviewing football coaching candidates was what a big, big job it is to start this thing from scratch. We don’t even own a football.”
Sander obviously has the confidence of Noland as the process moves forward.
“He is an aggressive recruiter, an effective fundraiser and a true advocate for our student-athletes,” said Noland.
He’s also a pretty good neighbor. Sander has been living in the guest house at Shelbridge, the traditional home to ETSU presidents.
“He’s been teaching my son to shoot a jump shot,” said Noland. “I think we’re all going to enjoy having Dr. Sander around awhile longer.”