STATESBORO — Eagle Nation's biggest fan may leave Statesboro and return to his hometown.
The University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents announced Monday that Georgia Southern University President Dr. Brooks Keel is the sole finalist to replace Dr. Ricardo Azziz as president of Georgia Regents University in Augusta.
A release said the board would take action on the selection of Keel at a specially called board meeting on Wednesday.
"It's an honor to be considered for the role of president of Georgia Regents University," Keel said in a statement. "I love the Eagle Nation and am proud of all we've accomplished together. If fortunate to be selected by the Board of Regents, this would be a unique opportunity to return to both of my alma maters that now comprise GRU."
Georgia Southern spokeswoman Crissie Elrick said the university would have no comment at this time about the announcement regarding Keel.
On campus Tuesday afternoon, several Georgia Southern students were stunned that Keel is likely headed back to his native Augusta.
"I think that Georgia Southern is basically a friendly environment because of what Brooks Keel has done and how involved he is with the students and community," said Rylee Law, a second-year art major at GSU. "I really appreciate everything that he's done for the university."
The Board of Regents recently approved a raise for Keel and other presidents in the University System. As Georgia Southern president, Keel was scheduled to earn $397,304 in salary this year. The last reported salary for Azziz as Georgia Regents’ president was $675,309 in 2014.
Keel became the 12th president of Georgia Southern in January 2010, replacing Bruce Grube. Under his leadership, GSU launched the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology and the Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education. Also, the state of Georgia transferred the Herty Advanced Materials Development Center to management by Georgia Southern two years ago.
"Dr. Keel was really down-to-earth, and he really wanted to put Georgia Southern on the map," said Evan Turkowsky, a junior nursing major. "He was very supportive of the nursing program, especially after the wreck with the nursing students. I just like him because he wants to help us out."
Keel was vice chancellor for research and development and a professor of biological sciences at Louisiana State University immediately prior to coming to Statesboro. He also previously held positions at the University of Kansas and Florida State University.
Keel earned a Ph.D. in reproductive endocrinology from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and a Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry from what was then known as Augusta College. Augusta College, which became Augusta State University, merged with Georgia Health Sciences University in 2012 to form Georgia Regents University.
"I'm really just shocked," said Jason Redhead, an information-technology major, who will be a senior in August. "He was pretty active on Georgia Southern, and he played an important role in getting the school to where it's at right now. So, I'm pretty surprised. I didn't want him to leave at all. I hope all the best for him.”