Sayler takes USD Athletics helm

David Sayler couldn't help but chuckle.

As the well-established Division I administrator stood at the podium in front of a large crowd, his three-year-old son, Connor, turned to his mother in the front row and boldly stated, "It's my turn next."

When the brief laughter subsided, Sayler turned his attention back to his vision as the new athletic director at the University of South Dakota.

In other words, what he would do with his "turn."

"This has been a lifelong goal of mine, and achieving it is a great honor for me," Sayler said during his introductory press conference Thursday afternoon, June 24, on the USD campus in Vermillion.

"I'm so excited."

Previously the senior executive athletic director at Rice University in Houston, TX, Sayler, 40, takes over for Joel Nielsen, who left for Kent State this spring.

Sayler, who will assume his duties Aug. 2, has also spent time in athletic departments at Oregon State, Bowling Green, Houston, Hartford and Georgia since 1996.

It's that experience at the D-I level – both at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) levels – that made his hiring an easy choice, according to USD president Jim Abbott.

So much so that the search committee chose Sayler without bringing other finalists on campus.

"In my opinion, the breadth and depth of his experience in all facets of athletics makes him the appropriate and obvious candidate," Abbott told the gathered crowd. "Clearly he is a man for all seasons, and I think a man for all reasons."

During his four years at Rice, a small private school, Sayler oversaw the administration of the athletic department and served as interim A.D. from October 2009 to March of this year. He was also crucial in nearly $80 million worth of construction and renovations to athletic facilities.

Now, he takes charge at USD, which embarks on year three of the five-year D-I transition this fall.

"My vision is to lead the department through the D-I transition through comprehensive excellence in everything we do," said Sayler, who identified six goals he has as USD's 12th athletic director.

Among the goals identified by the Connecticut native were graduating athletes, participating in the "highest level of each sport," developing student-athletes into leaders, integration with campus, resource acquisition (fund-raising) and integrity.

One of the key areas facing Sayler in his early stages will be finding a conference home for the Coyote football program.

For the past two years, USD has competed in the five-member Great West Conference with two California schools, Southern Utah and North Dakota. This week, USD's future home, the Summit League, announced it would look into sponsoring football.

"We've got to find an identity that works for us in a league," Sayler told a small group of local media after his press conference. "The calls I've made so far have been exploratory in nature, trying to get the lay of the landscape. I know it's critical."

The one USD program that already competes in the Summit League is swimming and diving, which was an associate member last season. Head coach Jason Mahowald said now that an athletic director has been hired, he and his coaching peers can look to continue their success.

"There's always some apprehension; you never know what's going to happen," Mahowald said. "From what I've seen so far, I'm very impressed and really anxious to work with him.

"As long as he doesn't bring any cement trucks to the swimming pool, we'll be OK," he joked.

During his brief chat with the media Thursday, Sayler was also asked about the likelihood of a new basketball facility being built in Vermillion.

"It's really one of my top priorities, and the president agrees on that," he said. "It's just a matter of identifying the resources for it. I would love to do it within the first 4-5 years."

With USD's ongoing D-I transition, fund-raising efforts will continue to take center stage, as money is needed for scholarships, increases in coaching salaries, facilities and other issues.

Mahowald said he believes Sayler brings the necessary experience and leadership to make such increases possible.

"The big thing is that we need money right now during the transition," the sixth-year coach said. "And David's got a big task ahead of him, but I'm confident he's the man to do that."

According to Tina Keller, chair of USD's 18-person search committee, the pool of applicants included sitting athletic directors from FBS and FCS D-I institutions. And as Sayler said, it's only natural that assistant A.D.'s eventually develop a desire to want to lead.

"Anyone in this business, as they move along, want to run their own department, and that's always something I've had my eye on," Sayler said. "I know through all the training I've had, I'm ready for this."

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