MORGANTOWN, W.Va – Wren Baker is a home run hire by West Virginia University. Even though it’s still the honeymoon period for WVU and their new athletic director, there’s plenty of reason to believe Baker is the right guy to lead the Mountaineers into the future of college sports, wherever that takes them.
The instant reaction to Baker being hired by WVU was far from an unanimous outpouring of love, although hating on a man or move before it even gets underway usually comes off as a bit asinine in and of itself. But with that said, it’s fair to say Baker was not on most people’s radar as far as who WVU would bring in as the replacement for Shane Lyons. However, upon digging into Baker’s background and realizing that he offers exactly what a program like West Virginia needs, the move seems like the right one.
I realize it’s the honeymoon period right now, but I really feel like West Virginia hit a home run by grabbing Wren Baker. He’s been a rising star in college administration and has turned down other opportunities in the past. He picked WVU just as much as the school picked him.
— Mike J. Asti (@MikeAsti11) December 5, 2022
University president Gordon Gee touched on what he was looking for in a new athletic director, only the 13th in the history of the Mountaineer athletic department.
Gee emphasized wanting “a strong leader, someone who would think differently, who would embrace West Virginia and lead us to new heights” as the key attributes he was searching for when on the hunt to replace Lyons. As was announced at the time of Lyons firing, WVU turned to a search firm called Turnkey (pun very much intended) to find its next AD. Gee mentioned that was the same company that led the Big 12 to Brett Yormark as the conference’s commissioner.
The WVU president also pulled the curtain back some during Baker’s introductory press conference. He said “It was unanimous that Wren was the best fit” after making it known that WVU narrowed its list of perspective candidate from 7 or 8 to a final 3 before deciding on Baker.
Leadership qualities are necessary in anyone hired to any leadership position, so maybe just hearing about Baker possessing those type of characteristics isn’t enough to see you. Well, what makes him different and the best choice is that he is unique compared to others in a similar potion. His journey and path has not been a common one. He started off going from a purely academic scholarship, to serving as a graduate assistant under the late Basketball Hall of Fame coach Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, to coming to the realization that he was a better fit in an administration type of role compared to coaching, then going from serving as a school principal at 26-years-old, to eventually working within major institutions like Missouri and Memphis, to finally getting to lead his own school at North Texas and now landing at WVU.
“We all knew Baker was a rising star in the industry of college administration,” is what Brett Vitto, who covered Baker on the North Texas beat at the Denton-Record Chronicle, explained while appearing on the WVSN show “Mike Drop” to enlighten Mountaineer fans about the newest member of Mountaineer Nation. Baker even admitted he was close to taking over at other major programs, but nothing felt as right for him and his family as jumping to join WVU, a program with history and a large brand.
Baker checks off the boxes a program like WVU needs in the person in charge. He built North Texas into a strong “Group of 5” program across the board athletically by being great with money and being able to properly allocate the finances he was offered. He even got North Texas in such a stable position that he was able to green light the building of a baseball field before the school officially acquired a baseball program. He was able to leverage boosters into helping a program that had fallen off the national map, if it ever was on it in the first place. He used his digital acumen to successfully promote the school through social media. And maybe the most important commonality that will be essential as he embarks on getting WVU back to glory, he was able to build and maintain relationships with alums, something that seems to improving at WVU.
“We had a little of that when I onboarded at UNT as well. Initially spent a lot of time just listening to those guys, listen to their experience. You gotta find opportunities to celebrate the past,” Baker said about connecting the present and future of WVU athletics to the greatness of the past. He’s experienced taking over a program lacking a solid relationship with some notable alums and he did what he had to do then, which means there’s no reason to believe he can’t again now at WVU.
Wren Baker may not have been on the top of your mind, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the right person to guide the West Virginia football program back to prominence, help Basketball Hall of Fame head coach Bob Huggins get the men’s basketball program back to making deep runs through March again, assist in the women’s basketball program starting off a new era on the best foot possible, keep the soccer programs winning, the baseball program producing pros and ensure success across the board for all of West Virginia athletics, just as Mountaineer fans feel it should be.
If you aren’t sold on Baker because he has only been in charge of a “Group of 5” school, you aren’t realizing WVU was far from the only major program interested and his resume is no different than most who acquire these kinds of jobs. If aren’t giving Baker a chance because of sins of the past, either by Lyons, or anyone else who has served WVU, that’s just completely unfair. And if you aren’t pleased with the hiring of Baker because the vibe is simply poor these days and it’s tough to be excited about anything WVU sports, most notably football wise, I get it, but that’s shortsighted to say the least.
Give Baker a chance because all signs point to him being the best hire the school has made in a long time.