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The ultimate homecoming: new A.D. Wren Baker ready to right the ship at North Texas

The ultimate homecoming: new A.D. Wren Baker ready to right the ship at North Texas

Wren Baker is the University of North Texas's athletic director. Baker transferred as athletic director from the University of Missouri.

The ultimate homecoming: new A.D. Wren Baker ready to right the ship at North Texas
September 15
09:07 2016

During North Texas’ win over Bethune-Cookman University this past Saturday, freshman quarterback Mason Fine did his best Harry Houdini impression. After avoiding the rush and scrambling for his life, Fine hurled a pass downfield that was caught in double coverage for more than a 30-yard gain.

The play not only invigorated the Apogee crowd, but new athletic director Wren Baker, as well.

“Yeah!” Baker said, pumping his fist. “Just how they drew it up.”

After spending the last five years in athletics administration positions in Missouri and Tennessee, Baker was named UNT’s athletic director and vice president on July 29 – and his comfort level is at an all-time high.

“This is home,” Baker said. “I grew up about 150 miles from here. Being close to where I grew up and where my wife grew up was intriguing. It just feels like your favorite pair of shoes you haven’t had on in a while.”

Originally from Valliant, Oklahoma, Baker graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2001. He obtained his master’s in education leadership from Oklahoma State University, where he worked as a basketball operations assistant.

While with the Cowboys, the men’s basketball team held a record of 102-30, and went to the Final Four in 2004.

Baker shifted career paths in 2006, however, opting for the administrative side of athletics. His first job was Director of Athletics at Rogers State University, where Baker became the youngest athletic director in the country at any four-year university.

Over the next 10 years, Baker made stops at Northwest Missouri State, the University of Memphis and most recently, the University of Missouri. His array of skills is what made him such an attractive candidate for UNT President Neal Smatresk during the hiring process.

“On paper, I loved his experience because he’s done it all from soup to nuts,” Smatresk said. “He’s worked small programs. He’s shown a strong progression of responsibility in all the places he’s been. And he’s been, from what I can tell, uniformly successful.”

Baker’s arrival in Denton comes during a time of rebuilding, as he will now be tasked with orchestrating a complete athletic turnaround.

Last year, Mean Green football went 1-11, a mark that tied for the worst record in school history. Head coach Seth Littrell was hired last December to replace former head coach Dan McCarney, who was fired in the middle of the 2015 season.

On the basketball side, the men’s team has not posted a winning record since head coach Tony Benford was hired in 2012. Softball has struggled the last two seasons, going a combined 41-64, and even missed the Conference USA tournament that was held in Denton last year.

Despite the recent disarray, Baker is adamant he has plans to get things turned around

“We’re going to build on the student-athlete experience,” Baker said. “I think if you focus your athletic department on [that], they’ll want to come. It’s going to be comparable to anywhere in the country. When they come here, they’re going to get coached by some of the best coaches in the country.”

No stranger to revitalizing athletic programs, Baker led the charge at Memphis and Northwest Missouri State, and was a key cog in the success each school experienced. At both locations, he secured the largest donation in university history.

“I’m pumped,” head football coach Seth Littrell said of working with Baker. “I think he’s a great leader. I think he’ll do an unbelievable job. He’s very passionate. I’m excited about our relationship and getting a chance to move forward and build something special here.”

But Baker also has experience overcoming adversity.

Last year, Baker served as the interim director of athletics at Missouri during protests directed at former president Tim Wolfe. Students and football players alike banded together over racial incidents they believed Wolfe did not properly address.

Some football players even threatened to not suit up until Wolfe was gone, and a short time later, Wolfe resigned.

“I learned so much about the importance of open and honest dialogue and communication when we have differences,” Baker said. “I learned a lot about that at Missouri and will certainly carry that forward.”

Even though it feels like home, there are still adjustments Baker will have to make. One of them is operating on a budget that, according to Baker, is three times less than what he worked with at Missouri.

“We’re still kind of sorting through the books in athletics,” Smatresk said. “The first and most critical move for [Baker] has been what kind of leadership is he bringing in, and I think he’s made some good early calls.”

One of Baker’s early calls was the hire of new athletic COO and associate vice president Jared Mosley, who will serve on the leadership team for Baker. Formerly the CEO and President of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Director of Athletics at Abilene Christian University, Mosley has over a decade of athletic administration knowledge under his belt.

“I think it’s a great hire,” Smatresk said. “Having someone with that level of experience, a senior hand who has been there and done that to support Wren is a strong move. It’s an indication of the kind of decision making you’re going to see from this athletic director. I think he’ll build a winning team.”

For Baker, things have come full circle in a short amount of time. Despite having the opportunity to interview and be chosen as the permanent athletic director at Missouri, a Power Five school, Baker had his eyes fixed upon North Texas and the challenge that awaited.

And now, he is the one UNT will turn to to right the ship.

“I always felt like this was the place for me to be,” Baker said. “I felt like I could come here and be a part of something special.”

Featured Image: Wren Baker is the University of North Texas’s athletic director. Baker transferred as athletic director from the University of Missouri. Hannah Breland

About Author

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell was the Editor-in-Chief of the North Texas Daily from May 2017 to December 2017. He previously served as the Sports Editor and Senior Sports Writer. Reece also worked at The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV.

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