Oakland University's next AD 'humbled' by hiring

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Oakland University has dipped into the Big Ten for its next athletic director.

Steve Waterfield has emerged as the choice after a months-long search and was being introduced during a press conference on the Rochester campus Tuesday morning, the university confirmed.

The News first reported the hiring Monday night.

"Steve is a highly experienced and diligent leader and will be a strong advocate for our university, our student-athletes, alumni and all Golden Grizzlies," Oakland president Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said. "He will work with OU leaders and community partners to strengthen our commitment to student success academically and athletically. His contributions to major universities have positioned him well for continued success here."

Oakland University will announce the hiring of its new athletic director on Tuesday.

Waterfield will succeed Jeff Konya, who was hired as athletic director in January by Boston-based Northeastern University. Konya, a Royal Oak native, was at the helm at Oakland for four years, at an annual salary of $210,000 under an extension signed six months before landing the Northeastern job. As  executive associate athletic director at Nebraska, Waterfield earned $222,000 a year.

Padraic McMeel served as interim athletic director following Konya's departure. He's expected to return to his role as senior associate athletic director for external affairs.

Oakland put together a 10-person search committee, chaired by Glenn McIntosh, Oakland’s vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer. In April, Oakland also hired a national search firm.

Waterfield, who oversaw marketing, communications, licensing and branding at Nebraska, will inherit an athletic department with an annual budget between $13 million and $15 million, and oversee a staff of around 70.

"I am honored and humbled to join the Oakland University family, and I am incredibly grateful to President Pescovitz for her confidence in me," Waterfield said. "Together, we will provide a transformative student-athlete experience; we will compete for championships; we will graduate our students; and we will strengthen the connection with the university and with the community. 

"My family and I cannot wait to be a part of an incredible Oakland community and I look forward to getting started."

Among the significant challenges facing Oakland's athletic department are facilities, notably the years-long plan to build a practice facility that would greatly ease the stress of scheduling at the O'Rena — shared by the men's and women's basketball teams, with some overlap with volleyball. Baseball and softball field upgrades also will be a priority.

So, of course, most critical will be fundraising — particularly if Oakland is going to build an ice arena and add men's and women's hockey — as well as marketing and branding, three of Konya's strengths. He helped bolster Oakland's image and national exposure, like the installation of the O'Rena blacktop court.

“We want to take the ball from Jeff Konya,” McIntosh said in April, “and move it forward, not backward.”

Waterfield arrived at Nebraska in 2013 after two years as a senior administrator at Miami (Fla.), where he oversaw capital projects and construction. Before that, he spent seven years at Wisconsin and five years at Ohio State, from where he holds a law degree and two master's. He earned his bachelor's degree from Kenyon College in Ohio. He also was an assistant attorney general in Ohio.

Waterfield is married to Jaime, and they have two sons, Davis and Austin. Jaime Waterfield was a golfer at Michigan State.

Oakland will be the state's fourth Division I school to hire a new AD in the past 15 months, after Central Michigan (Michael Alford), Eastern Michigan (Scott Wetherbee) and Michigan State (Bill Beekman).

There were three finalists for the Oakland job who were on campus for a final round of interviews over the last few weeks, including at least one other from another Big Ten university.