Wren Baker, the interim athletic director at Missouri, is the leading candidate for the North Texas athletic director’s job, multiple sources have confirmed to the Denton Record-Chronicle.
The DR-C first reported late Monday night the Baker is a candidate for the job. Those sources later confirmed that UNT is zeroing in on the Oklahoma native as its top candidate for the position heading into a teleconference on Friday.
Sources confirmed that that purpose of that call is to consider a replacement for Rick Villarreal. UNT’s former AD announced he was stepping down in late May. His tenure ended June 20.
A press conference to introduce UNT’s new AD is expected to be held shortly after the call. Baker is expected to be UNT’s selection.
Central Arkansas athletic director Dr. Brad Teague was the other candidate who was strongly considered.
Baker has served as Missouri’s interim AD since Mack Rhoades left to take over in the same capacity at Baylor. He served as Missouri’s deputy director of athletics for external relations prior to taking over the school’s athletic program on an interim basis.
Baker did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Oklahoma native has turned around programs at multiple stops, has regional ties and is the type of young, dynamic administrator with connections that UNT officials have been seeking.
UNT’s board of regents will have to approve a contract for Baker. The school requires its board to approve employment contracts that exceed $1 million for the duration of the deal.
Brint Ryan, the chairman of UNT’s board of regents, said Monday that the school has settled on its choice for an athletic director to replace Villarreal. Ryan expressed confidence that the combination of the athletic director the school has identified and new football coach Seth Littrell would put the program on course to improve dramatically in the next few seasons.
Baker’s varied background is among the reasons he is an attractive candidate for UNT to pair with Littrell, who is also an Oklahoma native. Baker has worked at Power Five conference schools, but also has experience guiding at schools that compete at the Group of Five level and at schools that compete below the Division I level. UNT is a member of Conference USA, a G5 league.
Baker previously worked at Memphis, where he served as deputy director of athletics/external affairs from February 2013 to May 2015.
Baker began his rise as a college administrator as the first AD at Rogers State in Claremore, Oklahoma, where he oversaw the start-up program for five years. He then worked as the AD at Northwest Missouri State, where he oversaw one of the top Division II athletic programs in the country.
Before getting into college administration, Baker was the principal and athletic director for Valliant Public Schools in his hometown of Valliant, Oklahoma. He was the youngest principal in Oklahoma when he was named to the position at 26.
Valliant is 157 miles from Denton and is located in Southeastern Oklahoma.
Baker’s time in college athletics dates back to four years as a basketball operations assistant at Oklahoma State from 2001-05 under legendary coach Eddie Sutton. The Cowboys went to the Final Four in 2004.
Baker graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant, Oklahoma.
If Baker does take the UNT job, he will face a challenging rebuilding process.
UNT has posted just one winning football season in its last 11 and hasn’t finished over .500 in men’s basketball in the last four years. UNT’s women’s basketball program has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons.