Interim UMD athletic director not among job candidates
Interim athletic director Karen Stromme was informed March 15 she wouldn’t be interviewed for the position she has filled since late December.
Minnesota Duluth was set to begin interviewing applicants for its athletic director opening this week, but one person who will be noticeably absent from the process is the person they chose to fill it on a temporary basis.
Interim athletic director Karen Stromme was informed on March 15 that she wouldn’t be interviewed for the position she has filled since late December after UMD athletic director and football coach Bob Nielson resigned to take the head football coaching position at Western Illinois.
“Unfortunately I was informed that I was not selected as a finalist by the search committee,” Stromme said in statement. “I’m a Duluthian, I’m proud to be a Bulldog and I look forward to working with the new athletic director at UMD.”
Stromme would not elaborate further, though some people close to the UMD community have struggled to understand the logic in the search committee’s decision.
Stromme, 53, has worked in the UMD athletic department for 30 years. She has served since 2003-04 as the Bulldogs assistant athletic director and senior women’s administrator.
Nielson made an annual salary of $168,830 in his dual role as AD and football coach; Stromme earns $83,980 as assistant AD.
“There has to be something wrong here, because why would you select someone as the interim athletic director who you wouldn’t so much as interview for the full-time job,” said retired UMD professor Bob Powless. “That makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
Powless said he has had a hard time finding answers.
Vince Magnuson, chairman of the Minnesota Duluth Intercollegiate Athletics Search Committee, said much of the search process is confidential. Magnuson heads the 14-person committee in charge of finding applicants for the position. The committee selected by Chancellor Lendley Black is diverse, with seven women, including UMD’s women’s hockey coach Shannon Miller. Former Duluth police chief and UMD football player Scott Lyons and former Bulldogs basketball standout Harry Oden are among the men on the committee.
Magnuson said six to eight candidates likely would be interviewed for the AD opening. Three finalists will eventually be selected with the goal of finding a new AD by early April. Ultimately, Chancellor Black will make the final decision.
“The limits of how many people we interview is determined by the chancellor in terms of trying to cast a wide enough search to find an ideal candidate who fits our needs,” Magnuson said. “We’ve spent a considerable amount of time and dedication in determining those six to eight candidates. The work was very challenging. You don’t flip a coin and you’re done.”
Scott Hanna, who retired last spring after 44 years as a Bulldogs player, coach and equipment manager, was baffled Stromme wouldn’t be included in that group.
“I was shocked. Absolutely shocked,” Hanna said. “When you look at what Karen has done in this community, what she has done for UMD, how could she not even get an interview? It doesn’t make any sense.
“Are you telling me there are eight people better for this job than Karen Stromme? No. Is there one person better? Well, maybe. Are there three people better? I don’t know, but eight people who are better? Who do they have lined up, (Wisconsin and Minnesota ADs) Barry Alvarez and Norwood Teague?”
Stromme, a former Duluth Central and St. Olaf basketball standout, had a 440-184 record in 21 seasons as UMD women’s basketball coach. Stromme’s teams won 12 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles and never had a losing season. She is married to UMD director of development and former men’s basketball coach Gary Holquist.
If Stromme lacked experience in business or management, Hanna said, she would have quickly adapted and would have been the perfect fundraiser to head UMD’s sports programs.
“These past few months, where Karen has been running the show, she has proven she is very, very capable of doing the job,” Hanna said. “Karen has been a winner her entire life and she would have been a winner in this job, too. Everybody loves Karen. Try finding one person who dislikes Karen. You just can’t. I just don’t get it. Right now, I’m embarrassed to be a Bulldog.”
Magnuson is a longtime UMD chemistry professor and former vice chancellor for academic administration, so he has been on search committees before. Magnuson would not speak about any candidates specifically but spoke in general terms about what goes into the process.
Magnuson said UMD’s success in college hockey, football and other sports generated tremendous interest in the athletic director opening. He said all candidates were weighted the same, whether they were internal or not.
“In the business world, in the education world, in any world of employment, there is no guarantee that internal candidates win the prize,” Magnuson said. “I can think of plenty of internal candidates at UMD who appeared to fit the bill but weren’t selected. It might not always be popular, but it’s not unusual. We hope we can make everyone happy, but that is unlikely.”