Jarnigan’s journey of becoming the new face of Saluki athletics

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

The Southern Illinois University Athletics Department has undergone a lot of changes within the past year, with perhaps one of the biggest changes taking place last week.

Effective immediately on Sept. 16, former athletic director Jerry Kill stepped down from the position with Liz Jarnigan being named his successor. Kill will be taking a new position on the Virginia Tech football staff.

Jarnigan joined Saluki Athletics last year when she replaced Kathy Jones as senior woman advisor. In addition to fulfilling this role, she was also named executive senior associate AD.

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Jarnigan said Kill played a large role in her decision to take a position within the Saluki athletic department in the first place.

“Coach Kill absolutely is the person who convinced me to come here to Southern Illinois,” Jarnigan said. “He offered me a wonderful opportunity.” 

SIU’s associate athletic director Tom Weber, who oversees communications for the department, said Jarnigan brings the Salukis a lot of experience within the realm of collegiate athletics.

“Liz has a tremendous administrative background,” Weber said. “She’s really smart in terms of overseeing budgetary issues, organizing the academic support team and everything related to the student-athlete experience. She has a tremendous amount of experience and know-how.”

Jarnigan’s career in collegiate athletics began with her being a varsity player for the St. Olaf College Oles, and continued with her studying sports administration at Fort Hays State University. She also has past experience as a collegiate volleyball coach at Bethel College, Briar Cliff College and Carleton College.

Prior to coming to SIU, Jarnigan’s most recent position was working as the senior woman administrator at the United States Air Force Academy. 

Jarnigan said after two years at the Air Force Academy, she didn’t know if she was ready to take a new position at SIU, but it was the atmosphere that helped her make the decision.

“I wasn’t sure I was ready for another career move at the time that [Kill] talked to me,” Jarnigan said. “But he brought me on a visit, and I really loved the campus and the people I met with.”

Before her two years spent in Colorado at the Air Force Academy, Jarnigan worked at San Jose State University and the University of Tulsa.

At San Jose State, she served as the director for student-athlete success and senior woman administrator. At Tulsa, she was an associate athletic director and coordinator of student services. 

Weber said he believes it is a combination of Jarnigan’s work at previous institutions along with what she’s been able to do at Southern Illinois University that qualifies her for the athletic director position.

“I think she has had firsthand experience in all the decisions that have been made since she’s been here,” Weber said.

Jarnigan said it is all of her previous positions collectively that have prepared her for the new position here at SIU. 

“There was no single one of them that really prepared me; it’s just the mass total of those experiences and responsibilities, I believe, [that] make me ready for this new challenge,” Jarnigan said.

Jarnigan said in her time with the SIU athletic department, she, along with Kill, have been able to accomplish a long list of achievements. 

“[We have accomplished] everything from hiring coaches, addressing some of our budgetary issues, our processes and procedures within the department related to budgeting and financial aid, compliance, academic support [and] summer school,” Jarnigan said. 

One individual Jarnigan was able to lend a hand in hiring for the Salukis was head volleyball coach Ed Allen, with whom she worked with during both of their times at the University of Tulsa.

“Liz had everything to do with me being here,” Allen said. “The experiences that we had together at Tulsa, the support she was able to provide the volleyball program there, really enticed me to take a look at this situation [here at SIU].”

Jarnigan made it clear that while the athletic department has a lot of work that still needs to be done, she and Kill worked very closely and shared a lot of the same vision for Saluki athletics. Therefore, she isn’t looking to make radical changes. 

“Really, my message first has been don’t panic,” Jarnigan said. “We’re going to continue on the same trajectory. The very first day, on Monday, when this happened was important to me to get in front of each one of the head coaches and reassure them that sweeping changes aren’t coming.”

Jarnigan said she will be working closely with all of the leaders in the athletic department.

“I also aim to strengthen the relationships that we have with leadership across the campus and departments and entities across campus, such as the registrar’s office, financial aid, admissions, faculty senate and academic entities,” Jarnigan said.

Weber said Jarnigan’s ability to understand these departments across campus brings them into good relation with athletics.

“She understands the campus administration and the importance of building relationships and working well with all of our partners on campus,” Weber said.

Allen said Jarnigan has made it clear that supporting the athletic programs is a very large priority to bringing the Salukis success.

“Liz has made it clear from day one that we want to create a culture of champions, and we will do that by supporting our athletic programs,” Allen said.

Weber said Jarnigan’s leadership abilities will be a large asset for the athletic programs.

“She’s a really talented leader,” Weber said. “She’s got leadership skills that inspire people to work, do a good job and contribute to the team.”

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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