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West Virginia hires North Texas AD Baker under 6-year deal

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma State

Nov 26, 2022; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers safety Marcis Floyd (24) gestures after an Oklahoma State incompletion late in the fourth quarter of a college football game between Oklahoma State and West Virginia at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Terry-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoman-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia named North Texas athletic director Wren Baker to the same position with the Mountaineers, giving him the task of deciding whether to retain football coach Neal Brown.

Baker replaces Shane Lyons, who was fired earlier this month. He was given a six-year contract that will pay him $1.1 million annually, plus incentives, the university said in a statement. Baker will start on Dec. 19.

“I am thrilled to welcome Wren Baker to the West Virginia University family as our new athletic director and I have no doubt his personality and energy will connect with our student-athletes and coaches, as well as our campus community and alumni,” West Virginia President Gordon Gee said in the statement.

Baker has been at North Texas since 2016 and Mean Green athletic programs have won 17 conference and division titles since he took over. North Texas plays for the Conference USA football championship on Friday at No. 23 UTSA. The Mean Green will join the American Athletic Conference in July.

Baker, who is from Oklahoma, previously worked at Memphis and Missouri. His North Texas biography touts him as having led record fundraising with the Mean Green and at three other schools.

In the statement, Baker said he was “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity and that West Virginia “boasts a powerful brand reputation and a storied academic and athletic history. My family and I can’t wait to get to Morgantown to build relationships and help take Mountaineer Athletics to even greater heights.”

Baker will oversee 18 varsity sports and a department budget of more than $90 million.

“When we began this search, we were determined to find someone who could lead in the modern realities of intercollegiate athletics and build on the legacy of his predecessors,” Gee said. “We wanted someone who clearly understood the dynamics of a fast-changing athletics environment and had found success being at the forefront of this new world that includes managing NIL and the portal. We looked at a number of well-qualified candidates and, at the end of the day, Wren met every one of our needs.”

First, Wren will have to address Brown’s future. When Lyons departed, Gee said his replacement would immediately evaluate the football program.

Brown has a 22-25 record, the worst four-year stretch since the football team went 17-27 under Frank Cignetti from 1976-79. The Mountaineers just completed a 5-7 season, the second time they failed to become bowl eligible under Brown and the fourth time since 2000. Brown’s West Virginia teams have never cracked the AP Top 25 poll or finished higher than fifth in the Big 12.

Yet Lyons, who hired Brown, gave him a contract extension through 2026 after his only winning season in 2020. Lyons took heat from fans for both the extension and its pricey buyout, which currently is $16.7 million.