Interim AD Kupec extended through May; search for replacement on hold

It has been six months since former Athletic Director Liz Jarnigan was ousted in September. It seems that Saluki nation will be waiting a few months longer to see who will permanently take the position, as interim AD Matt Kupec has been extended through the end of May 2022. Beyond that though, there isn’t much else to report in the way of progress.

After outlining a soft deadline of January to conclude a national search for a new AD, the can has been kicked down the road multiple times. First it was delayed until March, and now to an indeterminate time this spring. With multiple vacancies in the coaching ranks at SIU, the longer the school goes without a permanent solution, the greater impact the interim administration will have on the future.

A spokesperson for the university redirected Daily Egyptian staff to a statement on the matter: “The search for an athletic director is scheduled to resume later this spring. We will notify the public and the news media when we have information to report.”


Details on the hiring process are sparse, and the public is left to wonder how far along it is. The university has yet to even provide a list of finalists, something it did during the 2015 search that led to the hiring of Tommy Bell. Kupec previously stated that none of the candidates included in the search in late 2021, “rose to the level where we wanted to make an offer.”

[see more: Athletic Director search delayed until spring; Kupec to continue as interim AD]

It is not yet known why the process has been paused, or if it had ever been resumed since the initial delay in January.

With this lack of progress, Saluki fans are left to wonder: if the search isn’t actively being done right now, what is going on in the athletic department? In speaking with Kupec, the answer seems to be business as usual.

Kupec’s philosophy for a successful athletic department is winning in three phases: the courts, the classroom, and the community. Facing uncertainty in the second full year of a pandemic and a change in leadership in the department itself, student-athletes have managed to stay true to that philosophy this year.

“Our student-athletes have the best GPA in the conference this past year,” Kupec said. “I think overall, the average GPA is about 3.55.”

Kupec cited the football team, which climbed into the top 5 rankings of the Football Championship Subdivision and reached the quarterfinals in the FCS playoffs, and the women’s basketball team, which won its first regular season Missouri Valley Conference championship since 2007 and qualified for the WNIT, as examples of how Southern Illinois has reached a level of success in the playing field.


Much of the results from this year’s successes can be attributed to the past administration laying the groundwork, and the current one for seeing it through. Continuity is a valuable thing when it comes to changes in leadership. But, as the months go by, more opportunities for the Kupec administration to leave its mark on the department emerge. The most notable of such is the hiring of Craig Roberts to be the women’s soccer coach.

“I’ve been 100% [involved],” Kupec said when asked about his involvement in Roberts’s hiring. “I made the recommendation to our Chancellor, so I’m way in there.”

When hiring a head coach, the hope is that they will be a constant presence in the program for years, and in some cases decades. Kupec’s tenure as the head of the athletic department has always been counted by months, not years, so making increasingly far-reaching decisions might seem out of character for an AD whose job is being listed for hire.

Part of the decision is surely based on circumstances. One cannot expect a program to go without a head coach for so long solely due to uncertainty at the top level. It puts the program at a disadvantage with recruiting, as well as planning and training for the impending season. But, the fact that an interim AD is making the calls in March after being told he’d be out by January is indicative of the struggles Southern Illinois has had in finding a long-term replacement.

Kupec has maintained that whoever replaces him at the desk will be someone whose vision aligns with his own. The results from this academic year paint a good picture of what direction Saluki athletics wants to go in, so the person who takes over would likely be marching to the same beat as the current administration.

“We want to be the best program in the country at our level,” Kupec said. “I don’t think whoever’s in this chair is gonna differ from that.”

Something to watch for in the coming months is the women’s basketball head coaching vacancy. Coming off a regular season championship, the job will likely be one of the most attractive at the mid-major level.

“There’s a lot of interest in this job,” Kupec said in an interview with Bucky Dent of The Southern Illinoisan. He mentioned in that interview that they were actively speaking with “about a half-dozen” candidates.

The Saluki women’s soccer program is relatively new, and has been unsuccessful in getting off the ground. The women’s basketball team, on the other hand, is coming off one of its most successful seasons in decades, and will face a lot more scrutiny when the announcement of a new coach inevitably comes.

When asked about bring involved in this decision, Kupec reassured that his vision is aligned with the vision the university has for its athletic department, and what they will be looking for in a new candidate.

The longer this search goes, the more the ‘interim’ label seems to fade. It remains there, and both the school, and Kupec himself, are insistent that it will not be going away, but after what will be an entire academic year with Kupec at the helm, it starts to look less like he’s guiding the ship through rough waters, and more like he’s piloting it into the future.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.