As a reminder, NEXT UP are senior level administrators, handpicked by some of the most respected athletic directors in the industry, who are believed to be ready to take the next step as athletic directors in their own right. Out of those nominated by our panel, we selected 13 NEXT UP recipients from across the country to represent this year’s class. The only limiting factor is that none of the nominees could have served as an AD previously, beyond an interim role.
Over the next few days we are revealing the honorees selected by our panel. Out of respect for those panel members, we are keeping their names anonymous, but we’re more than happy to share a few details on what qualifies them to spot up-and-coming talent.
Without further ado, here are the final four members of the 2017 class of NEXT UP presented by adidas.
TONY HERNANDEZ, TEXAS TECH
Deputy Director of Athletics
Career to Date: Miami (1998-2017)
Strengths: Compliance, NCAA Governance
Why is he NEXT UP?: If the name Tony Hernandez sounds familiar, it’s because it should. Hernandez has served on so many so many compliance and eligibility committees, often as Chair, it would be fair to say that he has been a player of shaping our modern compliance landscape. Incredibly intelligent and reliable, after Kirby Hoccutt’s departure in 2011, Hernandez was named Acting Athletic Director at Miami. “Tony is the smartest athletic administrator I’ve ever worked with,” offers the now Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt. “Tony’s understanding of intercollegiate athletics, especially the business and internal side is second to none. He has a great ability to work with and lead coaches, and relate to coaches. He is skilled at having challenging conversations. He has the ability to bring the group together as a whole, keeping the best outcome for the organization in mind while offering tremendous perspective and insight. Simply put, Tony is one of the most talented athletic administrators that I have ever worked with. There is no doubt he has the capability to be a very successful leader as an athletics director.”
OMAR BANKS, VIRGINIA TECH
Senior Associate AD for Finance and Administration
Career to Date: Cincinnati (2009-2017); Virginia Commonwealth (2007-2009); Hampton (2005-2007); NC State (1998)
Strengths: Financial Management, Organizational Management
Why is he NEXT UP?: Banks is another senior level administrator on the move. Now serving as CFO for Virginia Tech, he gained plenty of experience during his eight years with Cincinnati, but Banks is truly an NCAA success story. The former Richmond defensive back entered college athletics administration as a media intern before joining the private sector. Upon his return to athletics in 2005, he began a steady march up the administration ladder, all while earning his Masters from VCU and graduating from the NCAA’s Leadership Institute. His rise has been well earned, as noted by his new boss, Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock. “Omar is an outstanding athletic administrator who also happens to be a product of the student-athlete himself. His leadership qualities; his character and competence are what truly set him apart. He has an extremely bright future and is well deserving of this recognition; we are proud of him and so glad to have him on our ‘team’ at Virginia Tech.”
ROCKY HARRIS, ARIZONA STATE
Chief Operating Officer
Career to Date: Houston Dynamo Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer (2008-2012)
Strengths: Marketing, Strategic Planning
Why is he NEXT UP?: “Rocky Harris possesses all the skills that allow him to be one of the top administrators in collegiate athletics.” Those strong sentiments come directly from Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson, and although this is Harris’ first job in college athletics, he isn’t wrong. Harris comes from the world of professional sports where he lead marketing for MLS and NFL franchises, including marketing and media relations leadership roles in an all-star game and three Super Bowls. He’s a perfect example of the crossover capabilities of sports professionals outside the college athletics sphere. ”His strategic business expertise is an incredible asset as well as his role in the execution of our vision within the Sun Devil Athletic program. However, what also makes Rocky special is his ability to relate, motivate and encourage his colleagues to be great Sun Devils in all regards. As a team member, he is a valuable asset because he always makes the group better.”
SCOTT WETHERBEE, MISSISSIPPI STATE
Deputy Director of Athletics
Career to Date: Fresno State (1999-2002); San Diego State (2002-2003); East Carolina (2003-2013)
Strengths: Communications, Organizational Management
Why is he NEXT UP?: Wetherbee knows what it’s like to be the man in charge. It was brief, but while Mississippi State conducted a search to ultimately name its baseball coach as top administrator, Wetherbee served as Interim Athletic Director. It was a role he was suited for having been Scott Stricklin’s right hand man before taking the same job at Florida. In his time with State, Wetherbee has built award winning marketing and media relations departments. He built a video department from the ground up and has since been entrusted with facilities, licensing, and primary responsibility for the University’s adidas and Learfield contracts. That was all before serving in the interim role. Since being named Athletic Director, John Cohen has elevated Wetherbee even further to Deputy Director of Athletics, stating, “[Wetherbee’s] vision, creativity and passion for intercollegiate athletics and fan experience is of the highest level.” Wetherbee is more than ready to sit in the director’s chair, and for good this time.