Moccia enters final days as athletic director

By Tony McDaniel

While SIU was not necessarily home to the athletic director, he still held his position for more than eight years and built as many relationships here as anywhere else.

SIU athletic director Mario Moccia accepted an athletic director position at his alma mater, New Mexico State University, and is in his last month as SIU’s athletic director.

He said the most difficult part about leaving SIU is the relationships he is leaving behind.

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“When you’re at a place for eight plus years you make a lot of relationships and friendships,” Moccia said. “It never seems like work.”

He will spend his final days in control helping prepare documents for the next athletic director.

“I want to tie up all the little loose ends, that if I was coming into this job, I would want tied up,” he said.

Moccia said he made suggestions to SIU president Randy Dunn about the interim athletic director selection. He would not say who his suggestions were, but did mention the next athletic director will have to be an extrovert in order to help raise money and secure donors.

One thing the new athletic director will have to deal with is the remaining debt on the Saluki Way project, an $83 million project to update SIU’s athletic facilities. Moccia said the new athletic director will have to work on phase two of Saluki Way, which will be a debt reduction plan.

Itchy Jones Stadium, which cost roughly $4.2 million was part of the project.

“It would have been difficult to get done without Mario, I’ve been here 25 years, and nobody had done it before,” baseball coach Ken Henderson said.

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The swimming and diving teams did not receive major renovations during Moccia’s tenure, but Moccia said it could be in the plans for the next athletic director to create separate locker rooms in the rec center for them.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions whether the rec center would allow us to do something like that,” swim coach Rick Walker said. “That obviously would be a major boost for our program.”

SIU softball coach Kerri Blaylock was on the committee that hired Moccia. She said SIU was in dire need of facility updates at that time.

Now, SIU has some of the best top to bottom athletic facilities among Football Championship Subdivision schools, Blaylock said.

Despite bettering athletic facilities, Moccia said helping athletes better their academic standing and become successful is his biggest accomplishment.

“I could tell a million stories about kids who have flourished while they’re here,” he said. “That’s the most personally rewarding thing, versus christening a building and hitting a champagne bottle on a building as if it was a ship.”

Moccia said during the press conference he received several emails from former and current SIU athletes thanking him for his services. One such athlete was junior tennis player Jonny Rigby.

Rigby said he has become close with Moccia since he came to SIU to play tennis.

“If I ever got an award or anything he would always congratulate me,” Rigby said. “I would see him quite a lot at baseball games and he would always stop and talk to me.”

He said he hopes to maintain some kind of relationship with Moccia, but the distance will make it difficult.

Overall, he said he has done an above average job at SIU, but wishes the basketball and football programs were still perennial postseason tournament teams.

“I don’t want to get a C+, I’d rather get a B-,” Moccia said. “I’m never going to give myself an A.”

Moccia begins his tenure at New Mexico State on Jan 5.

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @Aarongraff_DE or 536-3311 ext. 269

Tony McDaniel can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @tonymcdanielDE

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