Steve Cottingham was named Marquette's permanent athletic director Thursday after a 14-month interim stint. Cottingham, 46, took over as interim athletic director in January 2007 following the retirement of Bill Cords and was charged with leading the search to find a full-time replacement.
At several points throughout the search, Cottingham stated he would not be a candidate for the post. Just a few weeks ago, however, Cottingham underwent a change of heart.
"I think it sounds perhaps a bit corny to people who aren't a part of the Marquette experience and the Marquette family, but it really is as uncomplicated as a sort of Ignatian, Jesuit discernment," Cottingham said Friday in his office at the Al McGuire Center. "As I thought about what was important to the department and what was important to the university, about the experiences I've had here and reflecting on those experiences, I sort of came to a late conclusion, I guess, of what was best for the university. I think it's certainly a great opportunity for me."
Cottingham said his overarching plan for the Marquette athletic department is to ensure the success and improvement made under Cords, who retired in December 2006, continues.
"In a broad sense, the principal goal is for the 14 teams in the department to be competitive at a high level in the Big East Conference," Cottingham said. "We're confident that if they're competing at a high level and successfully in the Big East, they're competing at a high level nationally."
Once Cottingham concluded he would indeed like to be considered as a candidate for the position, the search was suspended. None of the 60 applicants were interviewed for the position.
As a private institution, Marquette is not required to conduct interviews with any specific number of applicants.
According to a statement made via e-mail from Senior Director of University Communication Mary Pat Pfeil, Cottingham's appointment as athletic director was made by university officials, namely University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild, Senior Vice President Greg Kliebhan and Interim Provost David Shrock.
Cottingham previously served Marquette as associate senior vice president but said he would be relinquishing that title and its responsibilities.
The decision to hire from within the university was met with unanimous praise among the coaches the Tribune was able to contact for this story.
"We're not in a transition stage anymore; that's the most important thing," Head Men's Basketball Coach Tom Crean said. "With Steve's leadership and with the abilities Mike Broeker.and everybody else upstairs, everybody has a role to play. There's a lot of room for growth, and I think Steve is going to do a great job, a great job, and he's already shown it, a great job of running the athletic program here."
When reached by phone Friday regarding his interest in the athletic director position, Broeker, Marquette's deputy athletic director, said such questions should be directed to Cottingham. "He's run the department for the past year," Broeker said. "He ran the process. He understood my level of interest. That's more for him to say than for me."
In an e-mail sent later that day, Broeker wrote: "I had officially applied for the opening but, as Steve stated (Thursday) to (the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), no formal interview of candidates ever took place."
Mike Cleary, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, said it would not be likely that a public institution could have avoided interviewing any applicants for such a position but that "it's not that farfetched at a private institution."
Cottingham said once he explained his conclusion to university leadership, "other people stepped in at management level to handle the particulars." He referred questions regarding the decision not to interview any candidates to those people.
Before joining Marquette's Office of the General Counsel in July 1995, Cottingham worked in private practice for a law firm currently known as Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren, S.C., based in Milwaukee. He became associate senior vice president in September 2003.
Cottingham takes over an athletic program that offers 14 Division I teams and generated $21.8 million in revenue in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007. Cords, who served as the university's athletic director for 20 years, said he was consulted during the search process and had been aware Cottingham was a possible permanent replacement.
"It's great for him," Cords said. "The most important thing is that an (athletic director) has been named, and now everyone can move forward."