PORTLAND — The University of Oregon hired Rob Mullens as its new athletic director Thursday as it tries to rebound from a tumultuous spring while preparing to move into a $227 million basketball arena.
Mullens, 41, arrives from Kentucky, where he was the Wildcats' deputy director of athletics. Oregon had been looking for an athletic director since March, when Mike Bellotti resigned to take a job with ESPN. Bellotti announced his departure amid upheaval in the athletic department, including legal problems for several football players and the firing of longtime head basketball coach Ernie Kent.
University president Richard Lariviere stressed Mullens' business background when introducing the new hire. The school paid a $3 million severance to Bellotti, in part because he had been working without a formal contract. Lariviere later said the school failed to follow acceptable business practices with Bellotti and the mistake would not be repeated.
Mullens will make $450,000 per year and can earn up to another $150,000 if the Ducks achieve certain academic and athletic goals, the university said. The contract length has yet to be finalized but it's for at least three years.
The contract stipulates Mullens will not seek or apply for another job without approval from the university president.
Mullens did not specifically address the cluster of arrests involving the football team in the months after its Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, including one that eventually led coach Chip Kelly to boot star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from the team. He said it's his goal for all student-athletes to grow both socially and intellectually.
But wins matter, too, he added.
"One of the things that attracts me to the University of Oregon is folks are not afraid to say 'we want to win championships,'" he said.
Mullens has a degree in business administration and worked as an accountant at Ernst & Young before turning to college athletics.
At Kentucky, where he had been since 2002, Mullens managed day-to-day operations of an athletic department with an annual operating budget of $79 million. Oregon's budget is just shy of $70 million.
"I am ecstatic for Rob and his entire family," Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. "Rob has meant a remarkable amount to the University of Kentucky over the last eight years and the entire UK family is elated for him to have this opportunity. He is a tremendous visionary, a tireless worker and a true superstar in collegiate athletics.
"The University of Oregon made an exceptional hire in Rob Mullens and we wish him and his family nothing but the best as they embark on this new and exciting time."
Mullens' business background could come in handy as the Oregon men's and women's basketball teams prepare to move into the 12,500-seat Matthew Knight Arena, named for the deceased son of the athletic department's No. 1 financial benefactor — Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
On the subject of Knight, Mullens said he had a brief conversation with him on the drive from Portland to Eugene early Thursday. "We share a passion; we share goals, and I look forward to working with all the donors, the contributors, the fans," he said.
The hiring of Mullens continues an exchange program of sorts between Oregon and Kentucky. In Lexington, Mullens worked under former Oregon State athletic director Mitch Barnhart. The head football coach from 2003 to 2009 was Rich Brooks, who led the Ducks from 1977-94.
This is Mullens' first job as an athletic director. He had been a finalist for the position at West Virginia, his alma mater, but said he's over any disappointment from that and Oregon is right where he and his family want to be.
"When one door closes, another one opens," he said. "And sometimes the new door that opens is a greater opportunity."