After 17 years as director of athletics at Georgia Southern University, Sam Baker will relinquish his duties as athletic director, according to a statement from the university Friday.
He notified university President Brooks Keel of his decision. Dr. Keel has asked him to remain in his capacity until a new Athletics Director can be identified. A national search will commence immediately.
“I appreciate Sam’s numerous contributions to the University during his 17 years at Georgia Southern,” Keel said. “He has been a strong supporter of our student athletes not only on the field, but in the classroom.”
Keel said Georgia Southern would begin a national search immediately and Baker would continue in his current role until a new athletics director is in place.
“Once a new AD is in place, Sam will transition to serve as a special assistant to the president where he will assist the university with a number of projects including academics and capital construction projects,” Keel said. “With the start of fall semester fast approaching, my goal is to identify the right candidate for Georgia Southern. There is no set time frame for the search, but given the upcoming start of our fall sports season, we would like to have someone in place in the near future.”
During Baker’s tenure, the athletic programs at GSU combined for 32 Southern Conference championships, 29 NCAA championship appearances and, most notably, two Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) national championships, bringing the program’s nation-leading total to six.
Early in his tenure, Baker replaced football head coach Tim Stowers with interim coach Frank Ellwood in 1996. Ellwood was replaced by Paul Johnson, a former Georgia Southern College assistant coach, in 1997. Johnson went 69-10 as the head coach of the Eagles from 1997-2001, including a record of 14-3 in the I-AA playoffs and a 2-1 record in national championship games from 1998-2000.
Johnson left GSU after a run to the semifinals in 2001 to become the head coach at Navy.
Mike Sewak replaced Johnson before the 2002 season and led the Eagles to a record of 35-14, but was controversially let go after the 2005 playoffs following a first-round, 50-35 loss to Texas State.
The controversy continued into 2006, as Baker hired then Jacksonville Jaguars defensive assistant Brian VanGorder, who changed the storied triple-option offense run by GSU and installed a pro style. VanGorder left after one season. He went 3-8 – the worst record at Georgia Southern since the football program returned in 1981.
The drought from the playoffs continued through the tenure of Chris Hatcher, Georgia Southern’s coach from 2007 until 2009. Baker let Hatcher go immediately following the final game of the 2009 season, and replaced him with former Georgia Southern assistant Jeff Monken, who has made it to the FCS semifinals in each of his first two seasons as GSU’s head coach and compiled a record of 22-8.
Baker’s tenure hit an all-time low in 2010, when the men’s basketball program was placed on probation by the NCAA for “major violations,” which included academic misconduct by certain assistant coaches and players.
Under Baker, a number of enhancements to facilities were undertaken, including the addition of the Gene Bishop Field House to Paulson Stadium in 2006, the addition of the soccer and track stadium next to Paulson Stadium, a complete renovation of the baseball program’s J.I. Clements Stadium, the multi-million dollar Bennett-Ramsey Golf Center and numerous other cosmetic enhancements around campus.
Every coach and employee in GSU’s athletic department was brought on under Baker’s tenure.
Baker came to GSU after serving as the director of the College Football Marketing Corporation, the associate athletic director for financial development at Vanderbilt and the director of athletic marketing at Oregon.