Search nearing the end

Ohio University is closing in on naming its next Director of Athletics, and brought in four finalists for on-campus interviews over the last week. All four of the finalists have a background in running Division I football programs. The Ohio football program, and Peden Stadium (pictured), were integral parts of the search.

Ohio University’s now two-month search for a new Athletics Director is entering the home stretch.

Ohio had four finalist candidates on campus for interviews over the week, with candidates touring Athens and answering questions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of the previous week.

One of the four finalists is expected to be named Ohio’s next Director of Athletics before the fall semester begins later this month.

The four finalists included:

— Jason Grooms, Assistant Athletic Director – Football at Vanderbilt University

— Jared Benko, Deputy Athletic Director/CFO at Mississippi State University

— Diana Sabau, Deputy Director of Athletics at The Ohio State University

— Julie Cromer Peoples, Senior Deputy Athletics Director, senior woman administrator (SWA) for the University of Arkansas

Grooms visited Athens on Monday, Benko was in town on Tuesday, Sabau interviewed on Wednesday, and Cromer Peoples finished off the week on Friday.

Ohio’s search committee seems to be prioritizing football experience with the search. In addition, a strong focus on fundraising was also a prominent fixture on the resumes of the four finalists.

Grooms has the strongest regional connection of all the finalists. He’s from Frankfort, Ohio — near Chillicothe — earned his bachelor’s from Ohio in 2001 and added his master’s from OU in 2011.

Grooms is well versed in Ohio football. He was a student assistant from 1997-2001 with the Bobcats, then joined former Ohio coach Jim Grobe as a graduate assistant at Wake Forest in 2001 and 2002. After coaching at East Tennessee State and Elon (2003 and 2004), Grooms returned to Ohio as part of Frank Solich’s first coaching staff with the Bobcats in 2005 as the Director of Football Operations.

Grooms was named Ohio’s Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations prior to the 2011 seasons, and in 2013 was named the Director Football Operations of the Year by FootballScoop.com.

Grooms left Ohio for Vanderbilt in 2014, and is soon to begin his sixth season as an administrator with the Vanderbilt Football program — the last four as the Assistant Athletis Director for Football. He oversees all facets of the football program at Vanderbilt, including future scheduling.

Benko has more than a decade of experience in business operations in the Southeastern Conference.

Before joining Mississippi State, Benko was the Assistant AD for Finance at Auburn where he handled financial reporting and budgeting for 21 men’s and women’s sports.

Benko had four years in business operations at Arkansas, including serving as the director of business operations from 2012-15. There, he managed accounting and budgeting processes while forecasting and conducting financial analysis.

Benko began his career at Georgia, where he earned a BA degree (sports studies) in 2005, and then a Master of Public Administration (2007). He also spent seven years in sports communications at Georgia — five as a student — while assisting with the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves.

Sabau has served as the sport administrator for football at Ohio state since April 2017. The Buckeyes, of course, are one of the largest, most accomplished and financially successful programs in the country. Her duties included budgeting, scheduling, negotiating contracts and compliance.

Sabau also oversaw women’s ice hockey, and the co-ed rifle and pistol programs at OSU. She is also a member of the Ohio State Board of Trustees planning and oversight committee.

Sabau was also a Bobcat at one time, and earned an MSA from Ohio University. She also holds a BA from St. Bonaventure University and attended Oxford University, Somerville College.

Cromer Peoples has been at Arkansas for more than five years and, in addition to many other duties, directs the sport administrator group responsible for the day-to-day administration of 19 varsity sports. She also guides sport management specifically with the football and women’s golf programs, leads strategic planning efforts for the executive staff and assists with capital fundraising initiatives.

Cromer Peoples has served on several committees and working groups within the NCAA, and is currently the fair of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics.

Prior to Arkansas, Cromer People spent four years at Indiana University where she was one of the first women in the Big Ten Conference to supervise all football operations. Prior to IU, Cromer Peoples had a 10-year tenure working at the NCAA national office.

An honors graduate of Missouri State University, Cromer People was also the assistant AD and SWA at Wright State University, and began her professional career at the Midwestern Collegiate Conference by working in championships, sport operations and compliance.

Ohio University has been conducting a search for its next AD since early June when former AD Jim Schaus announced his departure to become the conference commissioner for the Southern Conference.

Since July 1, Amy Dean has been acting as Ohio’s interim AD. She was named Deputy AD in 2016, and began working at Ohio University in 1999.

Ohio’s search committee, according to a June 10 announcement, was to feature 15 total members and led by co-chairs Nico Karagosian, Ohio’s Vice-President of University Advancement and CEO of the Ohio University Foundation, and Jenny Hall-Jones, Senior Associate VP for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.

The committee has two representatives who were also on the search committee nearly 12 years ago that landed on Schaus. The returners included Joe Sutton, an Alumni Representative, and current Ohio head football coach Frank Solich.

The rest of the current search committee includes Jennifer Kirksey (Office of the President), Chuck Williams (OHIO Bobcat Club representative), David Scholl (Chair, Ohio University Board of Trustees), Geradine Botte (Distinguished Professor, Russ College of Engineering and Technology), Randee Duffee (Senior Associate AD for NCAA Eligibility), Ali Johnstone (Ohio head field hockey coach), Melissa Koziol (current Ohio student-athlete), Heather Lawrence-Benedict (Faculty Athletic representative), Renee Middleton (Dean, Patton College of Education), Perry Sook (Chair, Foundation Board of Trustees) and Thomas Vander Ven (Faculty Athletic Rep).

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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