AD Brian Faison announces retirement

After ushering in D-I era at UND, as well as on-field and classroom successes, Faison will transition into advisor role

Brian Faison

UND Athletic Director Brian Faison led UND Athletics from triumph to triumph during his tenure, with a national championship in hockey in April 2016, and most recently with four sports programs winning Big Sky Conference championships in 2016-17 – the most titles captured by any conference school in one year. Courtesy of UND Athletics.

The man who has been the face of University of North Dakota Athletics since 2008 – successfully transitioning UND to Division I, guiding the school through logo and budget challenges, and leading teams to record-setting performances on the field and in the classroom – is ready to pass the helm of the Fighting Hawks to the next leader.

UND Athletics Director Brian Faison announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing to a close a nearly decade-long legacy.

Faison will retire from his current post at the end of December, and will become a special advisor to UND Athletics until June 2018.

“I’ve been thinking about retirement for the better part of a year now,” Faison said. “We’re at a point in our program, and our transition to Division I, in which we’ve arrived at a certain high level of competitive and academic achievement by our student-athletes. With the next transition into two new conferences, I just feel like the timing is right.”

“Over the past nine years, Brian has capably guided UND athletics to unprecedented successes in competition, the classroom and the community,” UND President Mark Kennedy said. “His role in achievements such as our Division I transition, conference realignment, ever-increasing conference and national championships, and consistent record-setting years in fundraising can hardly be overstated. We want to extend our most sincere gratitude for his service and wish him all the best moving forward.”

“Brian has played a large role in the success of North Dakota Men’s Hockey throughout his tenure at UND,” said UND Men’s Hockey Head Coach Brad Berry. “Brian will always be known for his integrity and his respect for student-athletes. He will leave UND as a national champion in our program and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with Brian for the last nine-plus years in my capacity as Faculty Athletics Representative,” said Sue Jeno, UND associate professor of physical therapy. “He has met challenges along the way and always faced them with class and dignity.”

Faison led UND Athletics from triumph to triumph during his tenure, most recently with four sports programs winning Big Sky Conference championships in 2016-17 – the most titles captured by any conference school in one year.

With that, he says it’s the right moment to hand off the baton.

“It seemed like the optimum time for the University, and for me, in order to move forward with the progress that we’ve made,” Faison said. “This will allow a new athletic director to come on board after the first of the year and have some impact for 2018.”

UND will begin its search for a new athletics director immediately. A search committee is currently being formed, led by UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Tom DiLorenzo, with the hope of having a new director in place in January.

Brian Faison

Faison will retire from his current post at the end of December, and will become a special advisor to UND Athletics until June 2018. Among other things, he is most noted for soundly completing the five-year reclassification of UND Athletics to Division I, as well as helping to create the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Courtesy of UND Athletics.

Many highs, difficult lows

Faison is most noted for soundly completing the five-year reclassification of UND Athletics to Division I, as well as helping to create the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

“Brian Faison is a person of integrity and class with great ability to be and act as a visionary for those who work with him,” said NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton. “The National Collegiate Hockey Conference owes an incredible amount to him for his work in establishing and building our great organization.”

But some his most critical leadership came in times of struggle. In 2012, UND retired the Fighting Sioux nickname after a lengthy battle with the NCAA.

“The institution will always respect the Fighting Sioux name, but now we’re on to the next thing, and the next thing is being the Fighting Hawks,” Faison said. “I know our athletes wanted to be something, and the Fighting Hawks gave them that opportunity.”

Faison calmly navigated the department through challenging back-to-back state budget cycle reductions with difficult, but bold, decision making.

Throughout, he remained focused on leading his unit into a much stronger future.

UND Athletics produced record revenue in 2016-17 with more than $4,470,000 in ticket revenue and at least $3.5 million in donor dollars, both numbers that saw continued growth over six years.

“Brian has been a valuable partner in our efforts to support UND student-athletes through philanthropy,” said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.  “With Brian’s help, we have also been successful in raising funds for priority needs like the High Performance Center.  We thank Brian for his leadership and wish him all the best in his retirement.”

Coming off of a 2016 national championship in Men’s Hockey, UND captured four more major wins. In the 2016-17 academic year, Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Volleyball, and Football all grabbed Big Sky Conference championships. The Men’s Basketball team earned its first-ever entry into the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, putting them on the “Big Dance” floor in front of 1.4 million television viewers.

Faison set the table for the transition to two new conferences – the Summit League in 2018 for all sports but hockey and football, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. The move will reignite regional rivalries for the fans and make travel schedules easier for student-athletes.

The cherry on top of the sundae of success was Faison’s peer designation as the 2016-17 Under Armour Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Director of the Year.

Brian Faison

The cherry on top of the sundae of success was Faison’s peer designation as the 2016-17 Under Armour Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors of the Year. (Above) Faison celebrates a Big Sky Conference football championship with Fighting Hawks players at the Alerus Center in 2016. Courtesy of UND Athletics.

Classroom wins

But as much as can be said about Faison’s personal success, for him, the greatest victories are found in the grades and community service of his student-athletes.

This year, UND won its first-ever Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Cup, an award based on joint academic and athletic success. UND had the highest collective academic scores of any other Big Sky Conference program for the fifth year running.

“Winning the President’s Cup is the most emblematic of what you want to do,” Faison said. “You want to have the best athletic and academic combination that you can. Our coaches have embraced that, our student-athletes have embraced that, and the numbers are simply amazing – and they get better every year.”

“Our next athletics director will be able to step into the role of overseeing the defending champions of the Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Cup – our campus leaders in action,” President Kennedy said. “The future of Fighting Hawks athletics holds the undeniable promise of continuing the proud legacy that it has created.”

Brian Faison

This year, UND won its first-ever Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Cup, an award based on joint academic and athletic success. And under Faison’s guidance, UND Athletics had the highest collective academic scores of any other Big Sky Conference program for the fifth year running. Courtesy of UND Athletics.

Set for success

In preparation for his departure, Faison tapped a training resource for his senior team that has been successfully utilized by several campus units to help key players bolster their leadership skills and strengthen teamwork.

“As a part of the approaching transition for the department, I elected to take advantage of that for our senior staff,” he said. “It was a good opportunity to set the stage for the next leader.”

Kennedy observed, “Among the more admirable of Brian’s traits is his constant prioritization of what is best for his department and the University.”

As he leaves his top-notch staff, coaches and student-athletes in the hands of the next Head Hawk, it won’t be the trophies and accolades Faison will miss most.

It will be the people.

“Everybody says North Dakota is a special place. It really is,” he said. “Whether it’s presidents or coaches, student-athletes, students, or the community and our alumni, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really special people who have been tremendously helpful.”