Search committee chairman Doug Hertz made one thing clear after Tulane’s surprise hiring of Northern Iowa’s Troy Dannen as its athletic director Wednesday.
The decision did not come from left field, and he expects Dannen to give the Green Wave its best chance to hit a home run when it picks a new football coach in the next few weeks.
“His coaches love him, and he’s pretty well connected,” Hertz said. “Not to put pressure on him before he’s ever spent a minute in his new job, but the football hire is going to be the most important hire he maybe makes in his career. His interpersonal skills and his way to reach people are really good. We’re excited about it.”
Dannen, 48, was selected instead of Tulane deputy athletic director/chief operating office Barbara Burke and Baylor deputy athletic director Todd Patulski, the other finalists. Although Dannen’s name never came to public light until Wednesday, Hertz said he emerged as the front-runner early in the process, and Tulane President Michael Fitts said he was the unanimous choice of the search committee.
Rick Dickson, Tulane’s A.D. since 2000, announced his impending retirement in September. Dickson is due to stay on board in a fund-raising capacity through the end of May, but Dannen will handle the football coaching search. He takes over a program that finished below .500 in 13 of 16 years under Dickson’s watch with an overall record of 63-129.
“Troy has demonstrated outstanding leadership and success in every job, at every level,” Fitts said. “His dedication to his student-athletes and his goal to win championships in every sport are testament to his enthusiasm and his dedication to his profession.
“On a personal note, I know that Troy’s engaging personality, warmth and tremendous energy level will endear him to our student-athletes and fans.”
Dannen, who graduated from Northern Iowa in 1989, returned to the school as athletic director in 2008. In 2014, he was one of eight FBS and FCS athletic directors honored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) as Under Armour A.D. of the Year.
Under Dannen, Northern Iowa has received 15 coach-of-the-year and 15 player-of-the-year honors in 11 sports.
The Panthers football team, which will face Portland State in an FCS quarterfinal playoff game Saturday, won three Missouri Valley Conference titles and has reached the FCS playoffs four times in seven years.
The basketball team, which beat then-No.1-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 21, is coming off 31-4 finish in 2014-15 when it rose to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles and was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing in the round of 32 to Louisville. The Panthers advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010 for the first time in program history.
“This is a brilliant hire for Tulane,” USA Today college sportswriter Dan Wolken said. “Troy is very smart, very personable and fund-raised like crazy in a tough situation. He has wanted a shot to be an FBS A.D. I don’t think Tulane could have done better.”
Northern Iowa is Dannen’s only job in college athletics. He served in different capacities with the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union for 18 years before then, including the last six as executive director.
Women’s basketball coach Lisa Stockton, the longest-tenured coach at Tulane in her 22nd year, welcomed him.
“I’m looking forward to hearing about his vision for our athletic program,” Stockton said. “His record of success at Northern Iowa is impressive, and hopefully he can bring that same characteristic to Tulane. It’s nice to be moving forward and not to be in limbo anymore.”
Dannen will be introduced at an 11 a.m. news conference Friday in the Glazer Club at Yulman Stadium. Most of the rest of his time before and after will be spent finding a successor to football coach Curtis Johnson, who was fired Saturday after his second consecutive 3-9 season.
It will be new territory for Dannen in a major sport. He inherited now 10-year basketball coach Ben Jacobsen and 15th-year football coach Mark Farley when he arrived at Northern Iowa.
Hertz said Dannen had indicated he would use about three or four advisers as he vetted candidates, but the ultimate decision will be Dannen’s. There will not be a search committee.
“We had over 30 qualified and interesting applicants that we frankly struggled to get down to six to eight that we all interviewed,” Hertz said. “But at every stage, when he started ranking people based on resumes, background checks, what we know about them, talking to them, Troy’s name was at the top of that list.”
Burke’s role in the new administration or whether she would remain at Tulane is not clear. She has earned rave reviews inside the athletic department since arriving from Eastern Illinois in April of 2014 and taking over the day-to-day responsibilities from Dickson.
Burke, who attended the Tulane-UNO men’s basketball game Wednesday, declined to comment on the hiring.
Dannen, though, was the one earning all the plaudits on Wednesday.
“He just stood out,” said Jill Glazer, another member of the search committee. “You could see it in his eyes. He’s awesome. He’s hungry, he wants to win and he’s going to get right to work.”