Randy Eaton, former senior associate director of athletics at the University of Maryland, is the new director of athletics at Western Carolina University.
Western Carolina Chancellor David O. Belcher announced Wednesday the selection of Eaton, who brings more than 20 years of athletics administration experience to the post.
Eaton’s appointment, effective Dec. 14, follows a national search conducted by a 14-member committee working with the assistance of Todd Turner of Collegiate Sports Associates, a North Carolina-based executive search consulting firm.
Eaton had been senior associate director of athletics at the University of Maryland and the athletics department’s chief financial officer since June 2008. He joined the Terrapins’ athletics program in 2003 as associate director in charge of business operations. At Maryland, he was the No. 2 administrator in the athletics department and oversaw a $60 million annual operating budget. He served as interim director in 2010, and recently assumed additional responsibility for new revenues, facilities and operations.
He also has held positions at the University of Houston, Texas A&M University, East Tennessee State University, Ohio State University and the University of Texas at San Antonio, and with the Ohio Glory of World League Football.
Belcher introduced Eaton to the news media, Catamount athletics fans and members of the campus community in a press conference in the in the Peele, Westmoreland Suhre, Hartshorn Hospitality Room of the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center.
“When I talked with the members of search committee last month, I asked them to find someone who is a true leader – someone who has the capacity to hire, retain and mentor excellent coaches, assistant coaches and other athletics staff. I charged them with identifying a director of athletics candidate who shares Western Carolina University’s core values of excellence, student success and external focus. I am extremely pleased that the committee has found just that person in Randy Eaton,” Belcher said.
“What impresses me most about Randy is his unwavering commitment to the student-athlete and the fact that he understands that the word ‘student’ is the most important part of that hyphenated term,” he said. “He is totally committed to the concept that these young people who come to our university are students first, and athletes second. That’s not to say that Randy does not want success on the fields and courts of play, because he shares the same expectations of excellence that I have for all of our sports teams. He has a passion for winning, and for winning the right way. But he also understands the role that athletics plays in the university and that it is not a stand-alone entity apart from the academy.”
Eaton also has strong skills in fiscal management and developing athletics program budgets, which will serve WCU well during times of financial constraints, Belcher said. “His strengths will allow him to construct a strategically designed budget, manage our resources very carefully, and guide the development of new resources through fundraising, increased ticket sales and additional corporate sponsorships,” he said. “He is extremely well-versed in NCAA compliance and issues of gender equity, and has substantial experience in strategic planning. Perhaps best of all, Randy is a great human being with a wonderful personality, and I believe he makes a great addition to our Catamount family.”
Eaton’s career includes nearly seven years as part of the athletics department administration at East Tennessee State University, a former member of the Southern Conference, the intercollegiate conference in which WCU competes.
“From my days at ETSU, my wife and I have fond memories of trips to Western Carolina for football and basketball games, and how friendly and warm the Catamount fan base was to the fans from ETSU. In addition to the affability of the fans, I was impressed that WCU was always a tough opponent, regardless of the sport,” Eaton said. “What solidified my decision to join the Catamount program was the family atmosphere I found on the entire campus during the interview process. This athletics program and the entire university are poised to take off to, and reach, new heights, and I want to be a part of that journey.”
Eaton said he possesses an overarching desire to “win every game, graduate every student-athlete, and do it all with class” that helps him maintain a focus on what is most important – the student-athletes. “Additionally, I believe my years of varied experience within intercollegiate athletics have prepared me for this opportunity and will serve both myself and the entire athletics program well,” he said. “I would also like to think my straight-forwardness and outgoing nature will benefit me in leading this department. I told people during my interview ‘what you see is what you get,’ and I meant it.”
Eaton was selected from among approximately 75 potential candidates for the position, said Shea Browning, WCU associate general counsel and chair of the athletics director search committee. Seven candidates were interviewed by the search committee off-site in Asheville.
“The number of well-qualified candidates in the pool is a testament to how Western Carolina University is viewed beyond these mountains,” Browning said. “I am extremely excited with the selection and hiring of Randy Eaton. I believe his expertise and experience will carry the department of athletics to new heights. I also applaud the effort and the hard work of the search committee. Our task of selecting two finalists to recommend to Chancellor Belcher, from a very strong applicant pool, was a daunting one, especially given our time constraints.”
Belcher appointed the search committee on Nov. 4 and tasked the group to find a permanent successor for C. Joseph “Chip” Smith, WCU’s former director of athletics who held the position from September 2004 until Oct. 25 of this year. Fredrick Q. Cantler, WCU’s longtime senior associate athletic director for internal operations, who retired in March after 33 years of athletics administration, agreed to come out of retirement to serve as interim director of athletics.
Belcher assigned the task force an ambitious, fast-track timetable so that a new leader for Catamount athletics could be in place perhaps as early as January. The first major responsibility of the new athletics director will be hiring a head football coach to replace Dennis Wagner, who resigned from the position Nov. 13 after four years in the post.
Eaton said he is ready to get to work right away on finding the Catamounts’ next football coach. “I will focus on someone who will come in and concentrate on building a program, not simply a team,” he said. “There will be several qualities I will look for in our next head coach. Among them is a strong commitment to our student-athletes and a proven history of success. I also would like someone with recruiting ties and relationships within this area.”
After serving in the U.S. Air Force, Eaton earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1990 and his master’s degree in sports administration from Ohio State in 1992.
Eaton’s boss at Maryland praised WCU for its decision. “He will do a great job as director of athletics,” said Kevin Anderson, director of athletics at Maryland. “In Randy, you get someone with both expertise in college athletics and a person who really cares about the student-athletes.”
Deborah A. Yow, director of athletics at North Carolina State University, called Eaton “…a high-energy and results-oriented professional, held in high esteem by his peers,” while James Franklin, head football coach at Vanderbilt University, characterized Eaton as “…a first-class guy with tremendous experience.”
“He is one of those I’ve worked with in college athletics that gets it,” Franklin said. “He understands college athletics, revenue and nonrevenue sports and how to make them coexist. He is a guy that will represent the athletics department and the university very well.”