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Brady Barke begins new role as Southeast Missouri State interim director of athletics
A sign outside the door to the director of athletics office at the end of a hallway at the Southeast Missouri State Athletics Administration building still read "Mark Alnutt" on Wednesday afternoon.
A step inside the room revealed bare white walls with nail holes where frames had once hung and other signs it'd been recently departed by its previous occupant.
Five Ohio Valley Conference championship trophies remained sitting high on top of a shelf, and among a few items that had been moved into the room over the previous weekend was a nameplate that had "Brady Barke" engraved on it.
Barke, senior associate to the president at Southeast, has begun his new role as interim director of athletics. Alnutt's resignation, which was announced on July 6, went into effect Friday and after three years at Southeast he'll begin his new job as deputy director of athletics at the University of Memphis on Aug. 10.
"It's certainly not as much about me personally," Barke said of his new role. "You know, I've told a few people that I didn't go looking for this. I certainly had plenty that I was doing over in the other position. But at the same time, I'm excited to be able to do it. Obviously athletics is something that I'm passionate about."
Barke, who has worked at Southeast since 2008, couldn't help but laugh at the "comical" timing of his new position. His wife, Halley, is due to give birth to their third child on Aug. 10, although Barke was told it was likely to happen anytime in the next week.
The couple, who both were student-athletes at Webster University in St. Louis, have a daughter, Mabrie, who will turn 5 this month and a 3-year-old son, Jackson.
On top of the new addition to his family, Barke said he was finishing his Master of Business Administration last week.
Other than the timing of it all, Barke had little trouble adjusting to being the new leader of the Redhawks' athletic department.
"I've tried to prepare as much in those three or so weeks of transition so that I didn't have to do that when I got here, and we were actually able to move forward and make some decisions," Barke said. "So far I think it's working well."
Barke played both basketball and golf at Webster while Halley (Spann) Barke played basketball and softball and was inducted into the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 2010.
He earned a bachelor of science degree in biology from Webster in 2004 and received his juris doctorate degree from the Southern Illinois University School of Law, where he worked as a law clerk in SIU's athletics department.
Following his stint with the Salukis, he worked at the NCAA's national office.
He came to Southeast in 2008 as the assistant director of athletics for compliance and eligibility and was promoted to associate director of athletics for compliance and student support services in 2011. He was appointed senior associate to the president in 2013.
"Athletics has always been a major part of who I am," Barke said. "I played sports ever since I was probably 3 years old, and I played basketball and golf in college and wasn't ready to give it up. I went to law school with athletics in mind -- either working in compliance or a sports agent or something along those lines. I always had athletics in mind. And to be honest, two years ago when the opportunity came for me to go over to the President's Office, it wasn't something that was on my radar, it wasn't something I had in mind. I always just envisioned a career in athletics."
He believed the opportunity to learn more about higher education in general was a positive one and knew there was going to be a change in leadership when former President Dr. Kenneth W. Dobbins retired earlier this summer. Barke relished the chance to help with that transition.
Barke was aware that Alnutt had interviewed for the Memphis opening, and the pair had a meeting the morning of July 2, which was new President Dr. Carlos Vargas' second official day on the job.
Shortly after their meeting, in which Alnutt said he was going to accept the position, they met with Vargas to share the news and discuss the future.
"It wasn't surprising, it was how quickly it happened that really kind of made it a little bit more difficult to process," Barke said, noting that he'd known Alnutt's dream of becoming the athletic director of a Power 5 Conference and the move to Memphis puts him one step closer to someday achieving that.
Vargas asked Barke if he'd consider serving as the AD in the interim to which Barke responded, "I want to do what's best for the institution."
Barke said although the president's office is still transitioning after the presidential change, he felt the staff in place there was equipped well enough to allow him to adapt to the new role.
He also felt it might be challenging for the athletic department to have to fill Alnutt's spot with "a pretty small staff relative to everything that you have to do with the department," and didn't want them to have to work with one fewer person.
"For the time being I'll be doing somewhat double duty, but I've moved over here. And I'll be over here every day and working primarily over here," Barke said.
Barke will still do some of his duties with the Board of Regents because he thought it would be less taxing than having someone new learn them. He'll also assist with the ongoing provost search at the university and continue to help Vargas transition.
In the weeks since the announcement of his interim role, Barke sat down with each of the head coaches at Southeast. It was an introduction for those who didn't already know him as well as a time for him to listen to any concerns.
He also met with nearly every staff member in the department -- formally or informally -- at some point and attended the OVC football media day and athletic director meetings two weeks ago in Nashville.
While the title is a new one, he feels comfortable with the responsibilities because of his previous experience in the department. In addition to his vast understanding of compliance and eligibility, he also oversaw several other areas -- men's basketball, football, baseball, track and field, cross country, strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic services -- at varying times. He also closely assisted Alnutt in two of his most recent coaching searches, which led to the hirings of football coach Tom Matukewicz and men's basketball coach Rick Ray.
"Having to understand budgets and football scheduling and personnel and all of those things are things that certainly aren't new," Barke said. "It's a little bit different anytime you're the final say on things and you're the one that naturally has to defend or justify decisions that are made and those types of things."
Barke's goal is to continue developing the department and all of its programs the way Alnutt has over the past three years.
The influx of new coaches in the university's most visible sports -- football and men's and women's basketball -- is something Barke's excited about seeing in the coming year as well as the renovations to the Show Me Center, which includes a videoboard.
Some of his priorities in his interim role are to find ways to generate additional revenue and to find ways to allow the athletics programs to keep up with those of other schools so Southeast can provide a positive experience for student-athletes and help coaches to be competitive when recruiting.
He also wants to continue to keep student-athletes visible in the community and provide more opportunities for them to prepare themselves for life after athletics through mentoring and networking.
When asked if he's interested in the position out of the interim, Barke smiled.
"It's not a reason that I'm doing it," Barke said. "It's not something that I will go out and publicly say yes or no that I'm interested in the position. I think a lot of it depends on how things go. ... This is the first opportunity for me to do this. And certainly it's something that for a number of years that's what I thought that I wanted to do. And now I've gone on a little bit of a different path, so my mind wasn't to this. Getting back into this certainly puts that taste back in your mouth, and you kind of sometimes forget the things that you really enjoyed about it and what you missed. And students are certainly one of those. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to interact with students and be around them a little bit more than what I was in the president's office. But at the end of the day, I don't know."
Vargas and Barke planned to discuss the timeline and process for filling the position but haven't had much time as Vargas has been attending retreats, including a new president's academy last week.
"So we haven't had as much time as we would like to have to be able to sit down and talk but what I've told him is as long as I feel like things are still progressing to where we're getting better and as long as our coaches and staff feel that way and as long as the community feels that way and it's working, then whatever timeline he thinks he needs to use, I'm fine with," Barke said.
Barke said he's mindful that the hiring of a provost could push off an athletic director hire. He also was sensitive to the fact of how switching leadership during basketball seasons that span both school semesters for a pair of new coaches might not be the best scenario.
"At the time that I don't feel like it's in the best interest of the institution for me to do an interim, at that point I'll tell him I think it's my recommendation that we go ahead and do a national search and get this position filled," Barke added.
Barke said there have been search firms which have reached out to the university with interest, but no decision has been made about whether a firm will be used in the national search when the time comes.
"There's a lot about the position that's going to be attractive for people, and naturally a search firm could help with that. But at the same time, based on the interest that I've kind of heard and seen thus far, I don't think we'll have a hard time attracting a pool of interesting candidates."